Dear College Freshmen...

Don't bet on football, frat tats are sad, seniors are older not wiser, the world doesn't care if you fail out—here's my (free!) advice for incoming CofC and Citadel students this week

(Photo: 1980: Carl Seibert, Sun Sentinel / March 2, 2010 )


College students are now back in school, and every year about this time I harken back to my college days at Auburn University. College is a strange time, because it is the time when two worlds truly collide: how smart you think you are vs. how foolish you actually are. There's very little preparation for this immersion into adulthood, and most kids screw it up pretty badly, so I've prepared some nuggets of wisdom for those now thrust into the beginning stages of responsibility. 

I gave this same written advice to my nephew when he began his life at Clemson. At the end of freshman year, I asked, "Was I right?" Having ignored every single thing on the list, his response was, "Yup. On every single thing."

So, here you go:

1. First, the seniors at college will look like grown men—wise and experienced veterans, capable of dispensing important insights on life. They aren’t. If you have a question more important than which Zippy Marts accept fake IDs, call your dad.

2. Speaking of fake IDs, avoid bars. They are expensive, illegal for anyone under 21, and tend to attract guys who want to fight (and girls who want to be fought over). Push, shove, swing—there goes your scholarship. That’s a call to your dad you don’t want to make.

3. Sign up for later classes in the fall—it’s cold at 8 a.m. In the spring, sign up for early classes. When it warms up, you’ll want to be outside.

4. In high school, you attended classes and played sports from about 8 a.m. until 3 or 4 p.m. If you can force yourself to maintain that schedule, and view college as a “job” from 8 to 4, you’ll crush it. You’ll be amazed when other people flunk out.

5. Nothing, and I mean nothing, good happens after midnight. After 1 a.m., the police start getting involved. After 2 a.m., it’s the ER. Regardless of your classmates’ preferred schedules, have your fun earlier, and be counting sheep when the cops start pulling out the tasers and pepper spray. If you must stay out late, use this rule of thumb: When the clock strikes midnight, think about what you want to do, then do the opposite. 

6. Speaking of cops, keep quiet. There will be times in the next four years when you will feel called to “reason” with them. Perhaps in your own defense, or for a friend who’s crossed the line. This is a mistake. Cops are not reasonable people after 6 p.m. Until you are 40, the only words you should ever say to a cop are, “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir,” and “I’m happy to comply, officer.”

7. Along those same lines, college professors are fairly predictable, too. In all liberal arts classes, sit in the front row, nod a lot, ask questions, and—this is key—whenever you are answering a short answer or essay question, be a human parrot. When writing your answer, focus on the question, “What does the guy grading my test want to hear?” As an added benefit, this will be good training should you choose to pursue a career in corporate America.

8. Avoid taking advantage of the fact that most college profs don’t care if you come to class. The only reason for missing a class is if an ER physician is standing over you, holding paddles, and yelling, ”Clear!”

9. Parking tickets. The most tireless, obsessed, mean-spirited humans on the planet are not radical terrorists—they are meter maids on college campuses. You have been warned.

10. Make sure your iPod has Andrea Bocelli’s Romanza on it. The chicks will think you are cool and mysterious. If you can stand it, have some jazz, too.

11. If you have a foreign language requirement, remember that the vocabulary words you learn are considered fair game in later semesters. Don’t kill the brain cells that are retaining those words.

12. At Auburn, riding a bicycle was considered “driving.” You might want to check on the local laws. Just saying.

13. Sitting around with friends at the library, laughing, texting, or flirting with girls doesn’t qualify as studying. Sure, that may seem obvious—but you’re about to encounter thousands of people who can’t grasp that concept.

14. You will meet a lot of kids who do recreational drugs. I implore you, don’t go down that road. Make your own decisions regarding beer, but draw a line in the sand with drugs—and seek a reputation as someone who thinks drug users are geeks. You’d also be wise to avoid “trying dip”: I did not, and 25 years later I’m still a nicotine addict.

15. You will also meet a lot of kids who bet on football—don't. Gambling is the surest way to lose everything. Think about it. If Tiger Woods tried to blow all his money on drugs, alcohol, and partying, he couldn’t—because he’d be dead before the money ran out. But gambling? He could lose it all in a week. He could lose it all, plus enough more to have a bookie break his legs. Think about that before you get a taste of the “easy money” that comes with a few innocent bets. 

16. If you want to join a frat, don’t join one that hazes pledges. While the Marine Corps might haze recruits on their way to becoming Marines, it’s necessary. A frat is a beer- drinking club—and hardly worthy of demanding some sort of trial by fire. Along those same lines, if you join the Marines, feel free to get a tattoo. Fraternity tattoos, however, are just sad. 

17. You’re going to encounter lots of kids from different economic backgrounds. There will be rich kids with their parents' credit cards, and there will be kids who are working their way through school without a dime from their folks. Don’t be quick to judge either—you’ll meet good people in both categories. Just don’t try to run with the rich kids, because their parents’ credit cards aren’t yours. Along that same vein, don’t pressure your less fortunate friends to do stuff that costs money, unless you’re going to pick up the tab.

18. Remind yourself how blessed you are. Put an index card on your mirror that says, “Today, someone my age, who couldn’t afford college, may die serving America in Afghanistan or Iraq.”

BOTTOM LINE: At this point in your life, you have no idea what’s at stake—but it’s a lot. The choices you make in college will impact the rest of your life. You won’t believe how quickly the “real world” will pigeon-hole you into the career you choose, which will likely be based on your major. If you sleepwalk thru college, the world doesn’t mind… in fact, the world doesn’t even care. That’s because while the world needs engineers, businessmen, marketers, teachers, warriors, doctors, and nurses, it also needs ditch diggers. Lots and lots of ditch diggers. 

This is your one four-year window to explore the buffet of professions. Talk to peers, adult professionals, professors, and ditch diggers to see what their lives are like, and find a passion to pursue. College won’t go by fast, but it will go by—and when you pop out on the other side, the world will only be your oyster if you know where oysters grow, have a boat to find them, have the tools to harvest them, and have the know-how to crack one open. Remember this: The world and technology have changed more during your 12 years in school than it changed in the previous 1,000 years. The job where you’ll spend your career might not even exist yet. No old dudes like me can help you with this—I come from a generation that could never figure out how to stop the 12:00 on the VCR from blinking. You and you alone need to survey the ice, and skate to where the puck is going to be.

Oh, and go to church. Believe it or not, God goes with you to college.