It’s Back-To-School week at Dr. NerdLove’s secret underground lair. I love this time of year. The very air seems tinged with the promise of change… well, that and the patchouli stink of Trustifarians and faux-homeless returning to The Drag like wildebeest returning to the watering hole. The vague promise in the air of autumn weather finally breaking this infernal heatwave. The drink specials down on 6th Street. . The zap-sizzle sound of the APD tasering another drunken frat boy on a Saturday night. It’s bliss, I tell you.
Now that the high schoolers have started, it’s time to turn our attention to those of you who have escaped that prison and have escaped to college. For many of you it’s your first taste of true freedom; no parents, no rules… no limits. And, critically, no guidance.
As intoxicating as all of those choices can be, they can also be strangely paralyzing. After all, you’ve gone from a regulated and regimented life to one of total freedom… and you’ve been tossed in head first. No matter what advice or guidelines your parents may have given you this is your first real experience of adulthood. You are completely on your own. And nobody has given you so much as a quick-start guide, never mind a user’s manual.
Let’s fix some of that for you, shall we?
You Have Been Lied To. Deal With It.
Not intentionally, really; nobody set out to give you unrealistic expectations of college. But you have to accept that, yes, you have been given a fake bill of goods. Whether you know it or not, your views and expectations of college have been subtly shaped by pop culture. You aren’t going to find open warfare between jocks and nerds, or even between students and the faculty. The science experiments going on in the university labs aren’t exciting projects that will be co-opted by a cynical military-industrial complex. There won’t be any awesome guys on the seven or eight year plan (i.e. refusing to graduate so that mom and dad will continue to subsidize their awesome party-filled life) who really run the school; the ones that have lingered that long in real life are usually either part-time students who don’t have time to study or are just sad-os who can’t get their lives together enough to actually collect the requisite number of credits before the university just kicks them out.
You will need to manage your expectations accordingly. You aren’t going to be stepping into a world where you stumble across crazy adventures and epic drinking with no consequences. No, for what is likely the first time in your lives, you are going to have to create the world you live in.
Your Living Situation Is Your First Priority
Unless your school is oddly progressive, you’re going to be spending your Freshman year living in the dorm with at least one roommate. You will need to establish, if not a friendship, at least an equilibrium with him. In the right circumstances he can be your greatest ally. In others, he will be your biggest nemesis and perfectly positioned to make your life an absolute living hell. Those first few weeks will help determine which of these he may be. You don’t have to make rules immediately; in fact, you should spend at least a week feeling each other out before you try to make any hard and fast decisions about how your lives are going to intersect.
That being said, little things will make your life easier immediately. It doesn’t matter if you’re a little country and he’s a little Death Row with a touch of Dirty South: headphones will make living with each other’s musical tastes bearable. If the two of you are on different class schedules – he’s a night-owl, you’re an all-pre-dawn classes guy, for example – earplugs and sleep masks will help keep you from killing each other. iPhones, iPads, Hulu and Netflix Streaming will help keep the peace if the two of you can’t agree on TV shows. If at all possible, you may want to consider your own mini-fridges, if only to keep the “accidentally” throwing food away to a minimum.
The two of you will also have to learn to accomodate for one another. There’s no guarantee that you will be even vaguely compatible personalities… which is one of the first lessons life will throw at you. Be willing to make concessions for him as much as you will want him to allow for your idiosyncrasies.
And just FYI: everything I said about setting up your bachelor pad? It all applies to dorm rooms too. Just scaled down.
Oh, and for fuck’s sake, don’t set up a “Go away, I have girls in here” code until there’s a real chance that there will be sex involved. First of all, you live in a world of text-messaging, emails and omnipresent cellphones; you shouldn’t need them in the first place. And until there is an actual need, you will just sound like the guy trying to impress others by bragging about all the chicks you will clearly be banging in the future. Maybe. Possibly. And in the event that you do have a girl to bring back to your room, exercise some courtesy. Give him as much advance notice as possible… especially if he’s going to need to be sleeping elsewhere. If he’s got early classes or an exam, you’re not going back to your place. Go to her room. Or, hell, go to the library. There’s almost always some convenient “study” rooms to take advantage of.
You may be going to the same college as many of your friends. You may be striking out on your own for the first time and starting afresh in a place where you will know absolutely nobody. Either way, your first order of business is to meet as many people as possible. College, especially at the larger schools, can be the epitome of feeling alone in a crowd. Establishing as large of a network of friendly faces as you can will help combat those feelings of loneliness and isolation that everybody goes through.
Every college has a Freshman orientation process, usually filled with inane games that are supposed to help you remember everybody’s name. There will be mixers, social events, campus tours and school-sponsored parties. Most of them will seem silly and childish. And you should go to all of them, even if you’re normally the shy, introverted type. In fact, you should be going especially if you’re the shy and introverted type. The last thing you need is to feel trapped in your own shell, staring out at the world wondering how everybody can have found their friends and cliques so quickly and you’re still trying to find reason to leave your room.
You want to network as widely as possible. College is a time for expanding your horizons and challenging your previously held assumptions and habits. Meeting people from outside your usual social sphere will force you to examine your own life and the decisions you’ve made, and you may well surprise yourself.
Make getting to know new people a part of who you are. Getting in the habit of going out and meeting people in the beginning will pay off for the rest of your life; not only will you become better at networking when it counts, but you will feel far more comfortable approaching that insanely hot girl you see checking her email in the student center.
People will form up into cliques faster than you can believe. This is completely normal. If you’re not in said cliques, you may feel excluded and lost. This is normal as well. This is a reaction to being caught in a new situation; humans are pack animals and we instinctively form into groups in order to foster a feeling of security and normalcy. These groups will frequently dissolve and reform over the course of your college career; in fact many of the friends you have in your Freshman year may well drift away by winter break of your sophomore year. Again, this is perfectly normal. As you progress through college, you will find yourself changing and growing, and you will find that the friends you had initially just aren’t as much of a part of your life as you had thought. Relax. You will find that you are making new friends, ones that you will be connected to for life.
Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts
Some of you will have picked schools without a Greek system. Others of you will be in schools where it seems as though the entire school’s social life demands joining a fraternity. Some schools will allow freshmen to rush; others will not. There will be some pressure to join, especially in larger schools that have a more active Greek system – you will be told that not joining a fraternity will mean exclusion from most of campus life, that you will be missing out on everything that frats have to offer and that only losers try to go solo throughout college.
Fraternities and the Greek system as a whole have immediate negative connotations within nerd culture. Nerds as a whole have a tendency to see fraternity members as drunken sub-literate troglodytes in polo shirts and ragged baseball caps. They’re date-rapists-in-training, the ne plus ultra of douchebags, a celebration of the assholes who beat on nerds and steal all the hot chicks. The only thing frats are good for are semi-homoerotic secret rituals, questionable sex practices and drinking games.
There is no denying that fraternities have a bad reputation, sometimes actually deserved. But at the same time, there are equally as repulsive stereotypes of nerds and geeks… think about it for a moment.
There are benefits to be had to joining a fraternity. You become a part of a community, one that offers to help you live the campus life to the greatest extent. There are the stereotyped parties, drinking, easy access to sorority girls, yes, but there is also valuable networking opportunities; many fraternities and societies at colleges and universities are more famous for how deeply embedded their former brothers are in business or politics.
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide whether you want to join a fraternity. But take the time to consider not just which house you would want to join but whether you would get anything from joining at all that you couldn’t find elsewhere.
Consider Your Classes
Your options for classes in your freshman year are going to be limited under the best of circumstances. You will have fewer choices for times, the best classes will have filled up long before you ever get anywhere near registration and the odds are good you’re going to be stuck in giant lecture halls listening to some teaching assistant drone on and on as you fight back against your hangover from the night previous.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t have some wiggle room however.
Every college will have a list of general pre-requisites, classes you must take in order to graduate. One of your first priorities as a freshman should be getting as many pre-requisites out of the way as quickly as possible. Yes, most of them are bullshit. Yes, most of them will be insanely boring. But the sooner you put them behind you, the sooner you will be able to take full advantage of the classes you really want.
And just as a personal tip: Your initial instinct will be to avoid any classes that start before ten in the morning. Fight that urge. Try to concentrate as many of your classes as possible in the morning. Yes, not being able to sleep in will suck… until it’s Friday at 1:3o and you’ve just had your last class of the day. And as an added bonus, by focusing on morning classes, you will be better positioned to not have Friday classes at all. And there’s nothing more glorious than a year of three day weekends that starts on Thursdays at 2.
Girls, Girls Girls
One of the best parts of college? Co-eds.
If you’ve been following my advice, you weren’t sweating dating in high school and spending time practicing your game and improving yourself.
Guess what kiddo? Now’s the time for all of that to pay off.
As far as the world is concerned, you are a blank slate, and you’re on equal footing with the rest of your class. Nobody knows who you are; nobody knows anyone. Right there, you have the first commonality with everyone you meet, including the women you think are currently out of your league. You are in the catbird seat when it comes to meeting attractive women your age; college campuses are ground zero for hot chicks. And if you’ve been reading this blog, you will know how to take great advantage of this opportunity.. Especially since everybody will be going more than a little insane.
Y’see, freshman year of college is a time where everybody goes a little nuts. When you have finally been let off the leash, when you’ve been told that you have full and absolute freedom, you’re going to want to test the waters. You are going to go out, do things you always wanted to do, do things you never thought you would do and generally make up for lost time. This is frequently exacerbated by the hook-up culture that’s become a big part of campus life; casual sex – frequently assisted by booze – is becoming more prevalent amongst college students while relationships seem to be on the decline. Played correctly, freshman year can – and frequently is – a whirlwind of hook-ups and mini-relationships, a sea of sex and heartbreak. You will make mistakes. You will inevitably think that what you feel for someone is real, permanent and true, especially if you don’t have much in the way of experience with relationships. You’ll have your heart broken half a dozen times and if you’re smart, you’ll learn a little bit more each time so that it doesn’t happen again.
It should go without saying that the rule here is safe, consensual and sane… especially when alcohol is involved. Even the best among us will be tempted when a girl is literally drunk out of her mind and practically climbing down your throat. There will be times when booze will seem like an easy shortcut. There will be times at parties where girls are clearly not in any condition to consent at all. These are the times when you are obligated to not take advantage. Be the gentleman in these cases. If at all possible, get them home safe. Yes, you’re missing out on easy sex. Cry to me; the good karma and not being an asshole will outweigh any missed opportunities.
And again, on a personal note: don’t look for a relationship during your freshman year. Your first year will be crazy enough as it is; trying to maintain a serious relationship will be next to impossible and is almost certainly doomed to end. Wait until your sophomore or junior years, when you’ll be far more established – not just in school, but in who you are and who you are becoming.
College is a time for exploration. It’s a time to start testing the boundaries of who you are and what you think you want.
It’s a time to make mistakes and start collecting stories.
You will never be as young as you are right now and it’s time for you to start taking advantage of it. Experiences and stories are part of what makes us interesting and at this age, all of life should be about the stories. So it’s time for adventures, especially ones you’ve never thought you ‘d try before. If there is a course, a club or a trip that you’re even vaguely interested in, sign up for it. Go see bands you’ve never heard of, crash parties full of people you don’t know, explore parts of town that you’ve never had any reason to visit. Go on cross-country road trips for no reason other than to say that you’ve done it.
And take full advantage of being a student. Student IDs frequently mean discounts, especially in college towns. As a college student, you will almost always have access to discounted travel; if you can possibly afford it at all, you should take trips overseas. Live on ramen and instant soup to afford it. Go in a group to help split costs, stay in a hostel, take an insane amount of photos and realize that these are the experiences that will stay with you for the rest of your life. There are few things that you will miss as much as the opportunities you didn’t take, and there’s nothing sadder than a life full of missed adventures.
You’re young. You’re free.