This time of year is when people go back to school. I wrote the below over ten years ago for my brother as he started college, and it covers what a man should expect from academic and dorm life in college.

Academics

Your purpose

GPA is the magic acronym that will rule your life for the next four years. Unlike high school, where it is all the same, in college, people get varying degrees. This is significant because it dictates what you have to do for the degree and makes the whole “let’s take impressive courses to look good for our next school” argument rather irrelevant.

You need to select your degree and then plot out, with the help of the school catalog, what courses you HAVE to take, what courses you COULD take, and what courses you SHOULD NOT take. What every modern college kid needs to understand is that undergrad college is NOT about learning things, it’s about getting a degree of your choice and maintaining a good GPA while doing it.

Employers or grad schools don’t care about your carefully crafted interdisciplinary custom degree to make you the perfect rounded person; they care about whether or not you have the degree they want, and what grades you received while earning it.

Degree. Grades. Then maybe, if possible, learn something along the way.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

In your quest for a good GPA, there are some people you need to cultivate. First, you MUST find some upperclassmen that has been there, and done that in your major. Try to find him (or her) this fall, and buy them a meal or something. Bring your course catalog and a notepad. They will tell you which of the required courses are pains in the rear and which are cake, which professors are closet Nazis and which ones are still part of the human race, and what electives to take and to avoid.

Your faculty advisor does not understand the point of college (outlined above.) He or she will think you need to take challenging courses to make you grow, and interesting courses to expand your knowledge. This would be true if the GPA was not the holy grail that it is. But, since it is, you want to get your chosen degree with the EASIEST course load possible.

An example. Student A takes Required Course 101 with Professor Himmler. Student B takes the same course, but in a different section, and has Professor Buttercup. Both students give it the good effort, and Student A gets a D while Student B gets an A. Both students get credit for the same course, even though the courses were obviously much different in difficulty.

Difficulty, however, does not matter. All that matters is ‘Required Course 101’ and the grade on your transcript. All sections are supposed to be equal, even though they are taught by different profs. However, this is almost never the case, and you MUST find out which sections with which profs to take beforehand and register appropriately. Once everyone finds out what a Nazi Himmler is, they will all try to transfer out to Buttercup’s class and very few will be successful; the rest are boned because it is too late. The most they can do is drop the course and waste a slot in their schedule, and that’s only if you don’t drop below the minimum hours required.

Furthermore, arrange for some one section class to occupy the same slot as Himmler’s section so that they cannot pull bullshit on your scheduling because you would not be able to take that one section class. The registrar thinks all sections are equal; they are not, as outlined above.

Find the upperclassman, and get the info on the department’s faculty and courses and then don’t spread it around. Write it all down and make sure you get the right profs in the right sections. It could mean the difference between an A and a D for the same effort.

As for electives, sometimes names sound overly impressive when they actually are not. “Direct Energy Conversion” was easier than “Heat Transfer,” although it sounds meaner. Think “Which elective will fill this slot and give me the easiest A?” Ask your senior friend about which ones to take.

You need study buddies. Doing homework in groups is much better than doing it by yourself; you can split the work up, check each other’s answers, and learn more, faster. Go to review sessions, go to office hours, look like you care, and you might get a bump up to the next letter grade for a good effort. Many profs will drop obvious hints about what will be on the tests to folks in their review sessions.

“Aren’t you TEACHERS?”

Most of any given school’s faculty and administration don’t care about whether or not you do well. You’re just a number, and if your TA can’t speak English, or your professor gave you a test on a chapter that hasn’t been covered yet, no one will really care.

Some teachers DO care, and there should be ONE dean that will actually listen to a student who needs help. If you find yourself getting screwed, refer to the catalog, prepare your case, make an appointment, and walk in there confident and polite and make your case.

Your Dorm

The room

Respect your roomie’s stuff and privacy, and he should respect yours. Lock the door. Thievery will be rampant, and the targets will be laptop computers, wallets, cd wallets, and anything else that is small, expensive or valuable, and ubiquitous. If the thievery gets really bad, take your keys along with you in your shaving kit. I don’t know how your laptop will lock up, but I’d pick up an Action Packer (plastic container, lock on each end), two padlocks, and a chain. Lock the Packer with the laptop (and other goodies) in it and lock the chain to one of the locks after you looped it through your bed frame.

Your room is not a place to throw parties. Any party, for the next year and some for you, will almost always have alcohol.  Underage drinking is a way of life at college, everyone does it, and only the stupid get caught. I won’t tell you not to drink; I will tell you not to be stupid. Let your friends throw the parties in their rooms, you won’t have to clean up the mess, stuff won’t get dirty or stolen, and you can leave when you’re tired or, more importantly, when the five-o shows up. The quieter, cleaner, and more safe your room feels, the more comfortable you will be living in close quarters with people. Having a couple friends over is different from a party, obviously.

….is that THE mattress?!?!

Your room is not a place to study. Your desk will be small, and taken up with stuff, you’ll want to play music and be distracted by things; it just doesn’t work. Find some area, like at the library, get a big table, and do your homework there. You will be able to do much better work much more quickly. You don’t go to class in your dorm room, you really shouldn’t do homework there either. Writing papers is different; figure out what works for you.

Your room is not yours. The university can come in there any time they want, and do anything they want. If it’s not during business hours, you can be as rude as you want, but they might call the cops. Hide anything you don’t want noticed by the school, like illegal software or weed, in that action packer. The room might be theirs, but they would need a search warrant to break and enter your locked container. Likewise, don’t leave beer in the fridge until you’re of age.

Get to like your roomie, and agree on things like hours, who to let in, and make things work, or apply for a new roommate or a single.

Community bathrooms

Never go into the bathroom barefooted, especially to take a shower. Risking bare feet on the floors of a dubiously cleaned bathroom stands a great chance of getting the funk. Get a pair of sandals and use them for bathroom shoes.

Figure out the showers and use them accordingly. Pressure, hot water capability, and the tendency of condensation to drip cold water on your head all vary from stall to stall.

The proper response to walking into a bathroom and hearing a woman with a guy in the shower or something, or seeing female feet or something, is to quietly walk out. The proper response to seeing or hearing two men going at it varies on your acceptance of that sort of thing.

Be advised, although a man should be allowed to be sick from drinking in his own bathroom in peace, dorm bathrooms are university property, and the paramedics, cops, area residents, resident assistants, and whoever else feels interested, can sit there on your sick self and threaten to take you to the hospital or jail. Be sick in your dorm room into the trash can, especially if you’re underage. It might piss your roomie off, but it’s better than attracting attention.

Put paper down on the toilet seat…same reasoning as rule 1.

Use a bathrobe. You don’t have to worry about the towel falling off your rear, and that IS something to worry about because there WILL be fellow dorm residents of the sort of persuasion that shamelessly stare at guys wearing only a towel in the bathroom there with you, and they’ll start screaming oppression if you call them on it.

If someone heaved and missed the toilet, it’s a biohazard. Stuff a note under the RA’s door and make that guy work for his money.

Bonding BS and other Dorm stuff

You’re there to go to school, not to participate in stupid dorm activities. Unless they have free food, don’t bother with any dorm bonding activity. The first dorm meeting is mandatory and you’ll learn important stuff. Anything after that is somewhat optional, and, if you miss something that they consider important and they bitch you out, say you were working on a group project or something similarly impressive.

The RA is just a student. Keep your music down and your trash out of the hallway and otherwise ignore him. If you make friends with him, make sure he’s your friend first and your RA second. Don’t have a beer with your “friend” and then get busted by him for underage drinking.

The RA, and the head resident have NO power on their own; all the juice they think they have is derived from staff housing directors and the local police. If either of those authorities show up, show respect, but don’t feel you have to defer to the RA. An RA is like student government; it matters to the people that do it, and everyone else thinks they’re just another tool. If the RA wants you to do unreasonable stuff, tell him to kiss your ass or something equally insulting, and it should end there. Powertripping RAs are very common and they can be dealt with by not buying into their BS; if they report you to their boss, and you get hauled in, make him look foolish.

Fire drills. They like to do fire drills early on, and they will schedule one for some evening. Be elsewhere at that time, lest you have to stand around like a schmuck outside the dorm, or leave and get food or something.

Women RAs are REALLY scary. Try not to be alone walking down some girl’s floor (if they divide by floor), even if you are just leaving from some visit. According to modern female college doctrine, any unescorted guy on a female floor WILL rape, pillage, and burn if left alone. A guy I knew got MACEed for just walking down a hallway in the middle of the night in a girl’s dorm.

Conclusion

Other than the opening and closing, I only edited the 2006 original for length. It’ll be interesting to see if its lessons still are valid.

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