It’s either time, or approaching it, when high school students seriously begin sending out college applications. I don’t know how it works in other countries, but here much of it depends on SAT/ACT scores and extracurricular activities, and oftentimes, a letter from the prospective student. When it took the SAT test, it was the first year it had adjusted from the 1600 to 2400 point scale. I was middle of the road, although I admittedly didn’t study for it as much. Admissions at Indiana University didn’t weigh those scores as heavily at the time. And being a professor’s son helped. If you’ve read some of my previous posts about what it meant to be in college, you’ll forgive me for repeating myself. Having the benefit of age – and a diploma – on my side, it’s easier to appreciate college. Last year, I did an interview about what it was like to be in college and autistic. To reiterate what I said: I don’t necessarily regret going to college (maybe a few things, and I’d argue a little regret is good), but I also don’t miss it as much. I felt like I peaked in high school. I wonder if being so close to home had to do with it. I never felt like I belonged in college, both neurologically and geographically.
But I’m writing this post to any student filling out applications for colleges. Hope some of you will consider IU and becoming a Hoosier. 😛 But wherever you go, it’s a whole new level. The work is harder, the pressure is higher, and I’ve seen some of the best people crack. You don’t need me to tell you about the how-to’s of college applications – most students already know (or should know) how to write a coherent essay. You don’t need me to tell you to take deep breaths. I don’t have kids and don’t really want them, so I’d like to think I never have to really give this advice. But if I have any, it’s more about the psychological side of college. The ins and outs – where to go, what to do, etc. – I’ll leave to more qualified people. What I’m hoping to do is try to probe a little deeper into what it means to be a college student in 2018 and beyond. I started my college experience in August 2006, and finished in May 2011. A lot has changed about American colleges since then – not just cost, or classes, but also culture, and expectations. Oftentimes, the invisible stuff, the personal stuff, is what defines our college experience. I still keep in contact with a few college friends, but the connection was always stronger for me in high school. Perhaps I just had an amazing graduating class (my dad agreed with this assessment when I brought it up recently), or perhaps we were old enough to actually remember the pre-technology boom that now seems to pervade our lives. Maybe I’m just getting older. Maybe words from a neutral perspective will help a little bit
If this post does fall short, then I apologize. But I want to give it my best shot. I’ll try to focus on the culture of college, rather than classes or money or anything like that.
Here you go with my advice/tips.
1. Trust is earned, not given.
It can be very tempting to rebel against authority figures. To a certain extent, I understand it. I was actually the other way around. My first experience in a bar was at age 23, right before the beginning my fifth and final year at IU. And I’ve only had one drink in my entire life, and that was a few months ago at age 30. You are welcome to do those things, but don’t be surprised if trouble comes with it. And if it does, own up to it. It will save yourself – and potentially others – from getting in more trouble.
2. Know what you’re risking.
There was a case at IU in fall 2015 about a sophomore who reportedly made racial slurs and then physically assaulted a woman in a restaurant while drunk. He was immediately expelled. The social and political conversations aside, there was no logic to his decision. First, he was underage, so that could also have been disastrous. But think about the deeper psychological context: he was in his first semester of his second year at his school, barely back in school for a few weeks. And just as quickly, he was out of it. I don’t know what happened afterwards, and I’m not sure I want to. All I know is this: the stigma of the expulsion is going to follow him around for the rest of his life. When he applies to colleges now, he’ll not only have to explain that he was kicked out, but why as well. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t stand up for what you believe in. But know that spirit has limitations. In certain cases, you may be risking more than you think.
3. There is freedom in solitude.
This doesn’t just apply in college, by the way. But it seems like it matters more in college. So many college students buy into the stigma about how somebody going out in public alone is either really boring or really depressed. Well, let me clear it up: I did this all the time, and I do it even more now. I can eat what I want, go to any movie I want, etc. Not only do I have the whatever, I have the whenever. I can move at my pace, set my own timetable. In a sense, I am liberated. I am free. Perhaps a generation of helicopter parenting has made their kids afraid to take risks. Perhaps the hubris of youth has forced us to define it a certain way. Even when I was in college, I don’t ever remember getting a single pitying glance at going out for pizza, or going out to the movies, or whatever. I did go to a few college football games (i.e. gridiron football, with the helmets) with my residence hall (several floors did a get-together), but those were fewer and further between. I may have done that only once with that big a group. And here was the other thing about it – IU’s football team wasn’t that good. They’re better now than some of the years I was there, but there’s still not much to brag about. As a result, when a lot of those same people leave early, either to beat traffic (which, fairly enough, is horrible even on a good day at Memorial Stadium) or because they just want to go to the post-game parties, it can be a little awkward wanting to stay because you actually want to watch the game. Yes, there can be some safety concerns about being by yourself, especially at night, and on foot, like I was and am. In those cases, it’s perfectly reasonable to want somebody to go with. But socially, I don’t think it really matters as much as we think.
4. It ends as quickly as it begins.
Admittedly, being a professor’s son, there was always an expectation to go to college. I wanted to put my head down, go to classes, do a few things out of class here and there, and get the degree. If only it were that simple. The beautiful part of college, which we often can’t see for a variety of reasons, is the offer of numerous services, and new potential for growth. I’d argue that it’s fine if you do what I did in college – I did admittedly have a “means to an end” attitude to it. I wanted the diploma. I wanted to be done. And now, at the end of the school years, it’ll be seven years since I’ve been out. I hold two B.A.s from a Big Ten university, with one of the most scenically beautiful campuses in the country. Who wouldn’t take that? I’ve grown up with it my whole life, and it’s hard to get away from it, at least for me. Some can get out of it a lot faster. But wherever you go, whatever you study, anything, I’d argue college is the last bastion of childhood. It’s the last chance to shed your childhood, before making the mandatory step into adulthood. Letting go of it is hard, trust me. I’ve been there. If you can overcome that barrier, you’ll be fine. I think this last piece of advice is the best one I can give. If you can get the degree, then you’ve done something you can be proud of.
Hopefully, this helped. I’m no expert. These are just my thoughts on it. But one of the purposes of college is to expand or redefine viewpoints. Maybe I can do that here. It doesn’t have to come from a classroom.
Best of luck to those students on their applications. Here you go!
Photo courtesy of http://www.hercampus.com.