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Advice for a freshman

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August 30, 2006

Advice for a freshman

Stephen Baker

I just sent my 18-year-old off to college. As we drove toward the Newark airport through the morning darkness, I tried to come up with advice. He tolerated it, maybe because he was leaving, or perhaps he was fighting off sleep. In any case, here's a selection. If you have objections, amendments, or others to add, please put them in comments.

* Every beer after the third (or fourth) adds only stupor, hangover and fat.

* You don't meet women playing video games and watching sports on TV.

* This is your golden chance to study religion in China, modern dance, agricultural economics, Arabic. Expand.

* Avoid deep-fried food.

* Master the studies first. Then party to celebrate your success.

* Pick the professors, not the courses.

* You're learning not just for yourself, but for the whole family: Tell us what we should know.

03:23 PM


"Pick the professors, not the courses."

Boy, ain't that the truth! I related immediately.

Posted by: PXLated at August 30, 2006 04:24 PM

- Find the relevancy to your life... because in one way or another, it all ties in somehow. This keeps things interesting and, above all, fun.

Posted by: csven at August 30, 2006 05:00 PM

Very sweet, and I think some of us adults would benefit from these too. In fact, I'm sending #2 to a few adult male friends :) And the sad truth of #1 is that it only gets WORSE the older you get! Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: Cyndi at August 30, 2006 05:12 PM

Here's another helpful bit of advice for the freshman: Don't loan money, clothes, CDs, DVDs, your hardbound copy of "Desolation Angels" or your baseball glove to the "friends" you make the first few weeks of school. These are not, for the most part, going to be long-term friends. You've been thrown together in a stressful situation and you'd probably pal around with Charles Manson till you got to know him a bit better. By next year, you won't remember their names. And you'll have to kiss good-bye anything they've borrowed.

Posted by: Dan Cook at August 30, 2006 06:04 PM

to expand on point #3, doing yoga or meditation improves your concentration and biomagnetic power in the body.

Posted by: Somu at August 30, 2006 07:57 PM


*Professors know their topics well, but that doesn’t mean they are not fools in other areas of life.

*Taking Chem 110 does not make you a chemist.

*It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.

*Try to balance a desire to gain a broad knowledge base with the idea that you are looking to get a specific job when you finish – combine the two in harmony.

*Any school can be great (Harvard or State college); if you take advantage of all of its resources.

*Poor people can study abroad too; you just have to fill out more paperwork – the relatively small increase in debt is worth it. How much of a single semester at home will you remember 10 years from now? If you spend a semester in a different country, you will remember a surprising amount of detail for years to come. Everything will still be here when you get back.

*Read the days chapters before the lecture. That way class will be a review and a chance to ask specific questions.

*A full night’s sleep is important for brain power. So is nutrient intake (carb, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, and water – all of them). You don’t have to be perfect, but try and keep it in mind. Some days you might feel rotten; ask yourself, when was the last time I drank some water or ate a good meal.

*A lot of college students waste time on trying to find diet tips, but it’s actually simple. If you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. If you burn more calories than you eat, you will lose weight. Don’t forget that you burn a lot of calories just by living (BMR), and eliminating any one nutrient will lead to failure in the long run.

*Low level science courses in the US are designed to weed out people who aren’t serious; if you stick with it upper level courses will get easier and more interesting.

*Stress (unproductive negativity, obsessing) weakens the immune system allowing for sickness. Going to the bar without a coat during finals week is a recipe for the cold and flu. If you are sick, please carry Kleenex to class; no one wants to hear a sniffle symphony during a test.

*Sex is not that important. Sure it’s healthy and pleasurable, but it’s also a primitive instinct designed to trick us into reproducing. Try and balance emotion with logic.

Posted by: The Walking Dude at August 30, 2006 11:16 PM

Well, there's a set of dedicated books by H. Jackson Brown, Jr, called Life's Little Instruction Books. No need to invent, just take one of these off the shelf :)

Posted by: tdx at August 31, 2006 04:06 AM

Great advice for sure. It IS all about the professors rather then the courses. I'd also add simple "get involved in the campus." So many activities and clubs that it's important to get involved with them. Gets you out of your room, makes new friends and starts building a great network for the future.

I'm not looking forward to the day I do this with my kids. Thankfully I've got a bunch of years before this happens.

Posted by: C.C. Chapman at August 31, 2006 07:39 AM

Here's two:

1. 4 great years or 2 party semesters

2. If a girl wants to dance with you SAY YES!!!

Even if you think dancing is dumb, girls like it and she probably likes you on top of that

Posted by: john at August 31, 2006 10:35 AM

1.) Take a PE class every term. They're 1 credit, they're inexpensive, and the regular exercise will help you in more ways than you expect. Exercise helps keep your weight down, your energy levels up, and helps you get better sleep. It doesn't matter if it's Swimming or Yoga. A class is the easiest way to ensure you're getting regular exercise.

2.) Pick out your class schedule the first day that the new schedule is available. Register for your classes the first day registration is open. You don't need to plan ahead for everything, but you should plan ahead for this one thing at least.

3.) Meet with your advisor every quarter to plan out the next year's classes. Find out what classes you'll need to graduate, and find out which of those classes are only offered once a year! The last thing you want is to be one credit shy of graduating, needing a class that won't be offered for nine months. The other thing you want to avoid is taking a huge heavy load your last term in order to graduate on schedule.

4.) Take at least one Philosophy class. (Critical Thinking, Introduction to Logic, and basic Epistomology are all good choices) No matter how much you hate math, try to take at least one Statistics class. No matter how bad you are with money, try to take at least one Accounting or Finance class. Understanding the structure of argument, the logic of sampling, and the principle of compound interest are things that will benefit you for your whole life, not just for your employment. I'd add Technical Writing and Speech to that list, but most colleges require that anyway.

5.) Exploit your universtiy's resources, because they're going to exploit yours. Visit your college's career center at least once during your senior year. If at all possible, schedule your last year with extra time for attending recruiting events, and join whatever professional societies exist for your major. If you get free or reduced-cost tickets to your school's sporting events, attend at least one sporting event each season. Attend at least one other campus event (rally, speaker, film screening, panel discussion) at least once a month.

6.) Take care of your teeth. Brush & floss daily, and visit the dentist regularly. If you don't have health care, check to see what your college offers; most have some kind of dental options.

7.) Find out what resources you have for evaluating professors. There are websites ( and your college may have its own internal system for peer reviews. A good instructor can make even a boring topic interesting, and a bad instructor can choke the life out of good material.

8.) Don't buy anything from the University or it's associated stores without first looking on-line or off-site for a better price. On a related note, once you've registered for a class, try to contact the professor before class starts to find out what textbooks are used, and if previous editions of those books can be used instead. Smart on-line shopping, and knowing when an older edition is still good can cut your textbook expense by a third, easily. The only exception to this is software, which frequently has a student discounted price.

9.) If the teacher has a website listed on their sylabus, use it. If the teacher puts up sample quizes or tests, study them. Find out if the teacher uses the test material provided by the textbook publisher; if they do, visit the textbook's website as well. All this material is put out for you to use, and if the lecture notes are available for you to read and print-out before class, there's no good reason not to use them.

10.) Plan extra time into your senior year, and use that time for internships or recruiting events or volunteering. It's a lot easier to transition from college to the workplace with a running start.

11.) Grades matter, but some grades matter more than others. The grades you get in classes that are part of your Major are more important than those PE/Philosophy/Finance/Statistics grades you get. Employers and graduate schools will look at your Major GPA before looking at your overall GPA.

Posted by: Chris D. at August 31, 2006 01:34 PM

thanks for the comments, especially Chris D and Walking Dude, who clearly put lots of thought into it.

I'm not sure I agree with the focus on a job. I think the most important thing in college is to expand horizons and, hopefully, find something you're passionate about. Once you do that, if you want to focus on a job in that field, great. What I object to (and see more and more) is focusing first on a job that pays well, and then tackling the studies needed to get it. If you're interested in the job for the money, you're probably not going to fare as well as others who are passionate about the subject matter.

Another way of saying this: The best way to succeed is to be great at something, and you'll only put in the time and effort to be great if you're passionate about it.

Posted by: steve baker at August 31, 2006 07:01 PM

There are some really great tips here. No, really.

Here's mine. If you're beset by the dry heaves, whether induced by flu, foreign water or alcohol, Gatorade is the only thing that doesn't hurt coming back up.

You may think that's gross. But college is also about surviving without your mommy.

Posted by: Glenn (Customer Service Experience) Ross at August 31, 2006 08:01 PM

One of the most valuable life lessons that should be taken from college is learning how to learn.

Learning is a lifelong endevour and anybody will benefit from the ability to know how to learn.

Posted by: Colin at September 1, 2006 11:46 PM

You're 18, an adult according to the law in every other way. If you're busted for underage drinking, don't just accept it and pay the fine. Go to court and challenge it. Make a project out of researching the constitutional questions. Question how the government can send you to Iraq with a gun to kill and possibly be killed, but won't let you have a beer at home. Stand up for your civil liberties and argue your case in Court. Even if you lose, you will have gained a lot

Posted by: John at September 2, 2006 10:07 PM


Interesting point. Eighteen is our family drinking age (tho he can't drink if he's going to drive.) But from my visits to colleges over the past year, not too many 18-year-olds appear worried about getting busted for drinking.

Posted by: steve baker at September 3, 2006 08:10 PM

What most of the students feel that professors are talking over their head and leaving a subject upto them to read more pages and study hard. Obviously there is one more point that professors are underutilized while they are master in their topics.

Posted by: server management at September 14, 2006 05:33 AM

John, best advise I would give would be on finances, having him put aside even just $20 a week could help in the long run with paying off his tuition, also not loading everything on credit cards. Beyond that..keep your head down..

Posted by: Buy Checks at March 10, 2007 08:02 PM

I feel for you John, Having kids go off to college is a big step, especially if its the last time they will be living at home.

I thought it was funny what you said about how he tolerated it..:) ah how we want to impart some wise truth and have it heard.

Anyway I personally would say having him take additional financial courses outside of his college course can really benefit him in the long run, something like what dave ramsey runs.. there is a lot of great advice out there.

Posted by: Credit Cards at March 20, 2007 08:06 PM

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