Friday, July 28, 2006

The College Collage
Why You Will Die Poor And Lonely

Having recently returned from spending some time at an institute of higher learning, I thought I'd share some observations I made about my time spent there.

Supposedly, the progression of change as one advances through education tends towards greater personal freedom. In middle school, you may have some limited choice of courses; in high school, everything is choice beyond the graduation requirements. This is also true in college, but one has many more options and is much less restricted by the need to earn credits. In elementary school, you're in one classroom for everything. In middle school, you change teachers; in high school, you're left to your own devices to do so. In college, of course, you're free to wander the campus as you please. The list goes on, but the final, critical distinction is, of course, that in college, you're no longer living with your parents at home.

All in all, this heightened level of personal freedom creates, for many, an image of an academic heaven on Earth. Indeed, if I had to sum up my experience in a phrase, I would describe it as high school, without the worthlessness. However, all freedom comes with a price.

The freedom you will have in college includes the freedom to fail.

This does not just mean academically, though it certainly does include that. I mean that possibly for the first time, you will be responsible for aspects of your life that are so fundamental, you never even considered their importance to your existence. Many people in my program had never done their own laundry before. Presumedly, this worked out fine for them at home, since they could just wear dirty clothes until their parents got sick of it and did it themselves. At college, nobody will care enough to do anything about it if you never do your laundry or clean your room or brush your teeth or take out your garbage or do your homework or consider in a larger cosmic sense the ramifications of your actions, but you will (maybe for the first time) directly face the consequences of these things, and those consequences are generally not pleasant. It's impressive how quickly one can decline into decadence when nobody really cares.

You will be alone, in every good and bad sense of the term. This is the most important lesson, and greatest shortcoming, of college. Consider "the real world" as the next level of education. The understanding that you could lie down and die and nobody would notice will serve you well later in life, but you can't do that in college. Securing three meals a day may require a little creativity on your part, but it would take a dedicated act of will to starve to death. When a member of any such institution, there is generally a rock bottom that is elevated enough to allow recovery. You can do your best to take very poor care of yourself, and still do all right.

This is also true in the real world, I suppose, but the decline is a lot less pleasant and can go on for much longer. Out there, you are responsible for every single meal you eat. The distinction is important.

Finally, despite the freedom and independence you will have (or perhaps because of it) it is possible to fall into a rut of a routine, and only see a small part of the world every day. This is the first, and possibly last, time in your life when you have the chance to not do that. Don't waste it.



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