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Advice for college Freshmen:

July 27, 2009
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Since we’re talking about balance, let’s imagine a scale. One side is work, the other side is play. The”play” side is much heavier than the “work” side. Working on balancing it. I’m not trying to be a curmudgeon, I’m only trying to help. You don’t need help getting more leisure.

There are basically three things you can do with your time in college: (1) Study, (2) Drink, or (3) Work at a job/Play a sport. My advice is to pick only 2. You cannot do (1), (2), and (3). Well you can but not well. Options (1) and (2) work together well as do Options (1) and (3). If you pick options (2) and (3), then drop out now and save yourself/your parents/the taxpayers a lot money.” From Robert Lawson.

Know your weaknesses then establish boundaries. I’m a sucker for lame little online games, so I limit myself to two games of Sudoku per day. To get the most of my two games, I play on the hardest difficulty. That means I get more done and my brain gets better exercise.

Eat right and exercise. If you live on campus and/or don’t work, you’ve got no excuse.

Parties are fun, but don’t over do it. You’ll soon find that the best parties are those psuedo-intellectual parties you go to with friends from your major. Also, make sure that when you’re at parties you’re talking about the things you’ve learned at school. If you know it well enough to argue it while drunk, you’ll be good to go on your next exam. However arguing Algebra I while drunk won’t be very fun, or make you look very cool. But that’s alright, you won’t be at these parties till you’re 21 anyways.

Picking Classes:

Get our GE out of the way first.

A lot of GE classes might look pointless or stupid or boring. Try to take the ones that are there for the students and not the departments (e.g. logic is a valuable skill that is widely applicable; underwater basket weaving helps the art department get more funding).

Save your electives as long as you can, you can try many different fields using your GE courses. I used all my electives on a major that I didn’t end up pursuing. I thought I was getting ahead, but really I was putting myself behind.

Electives are supposed to help you be well rounded. If you use them for one subject you’ll have fewer of them to learn something else. I used all mine on art. I enjoyed it and it was a valuable experience, but I could have done without a lot of those classes. I wish I had used them for Math classes and Computer Science.

You might be certain that you’ve found what you want to do, but slow down. Finish your GEs first and give yourself a year to make sure you aren’t going to get sick of your major.

Take the professor, not the class. A good professor will make a boring class interesting and a bad professor will ruin a good class, you’re much better off taking a class you don’t think you’ll like than taking a class you hate all the more because of the professor.

Take right-brain and left-brain classes. Don’t let your semester be dominated by a lot of the same kind of class (this is more true for your first two years than your last year).

Taking classes with friends is alright as long as you are both serious about the class. You’re both at school for a reason Good friends help each other, they don’t get in each other’s way; be a good friend.


You are in school to learn, so work hard and learn a lot. If you are not there to learn you are there to signal to future schools, employers, colleagues and partners that you are worth them investing time in, so work hard and learn a lot. If you are not there for either of these reasons then you are in the wrong place.

Study! Actually do it. There’s no excuse for not getting A’s. Students with average intelligence take 18 units and get A’s, there’s no reason you can’t take 12 or 15 units and get A’s.

There are a few really exception students I’ve met. I have always had a great deal of respect for them. Be more like them.

Changing your mind:

It’s better to take a break out of school than in school. There’s nothing wrong with taking a semester off as long as you aren’t supposed to be in class.

Don’t count on knowing what you want to do for a while even if you’re certain you know what you want to do.

If you like a subject, give it a year before you throw yourself in haphazardly.

Changing the world:

It seems like a nice thing to do, but don’t forget to learn. When the misguided try to change the world things get worse, not better. If you want to help, start by getting informed, then discuss things with an open mind.

It’s better to change your mind and be right than to hang on to a defunct belief set. Being consistently wrong won’t get you points. Don’t attach your ego to your opinions or even what you believe to be facts. If you can’t objectively disprove the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster you probably aren’t infallible.

Anyone who thinks they’re infallible probably isn’t worth hanging around unless most of what they say is right. Just remember that some of it can be wrong.

Drinking and Drugs

You’re in college, there will be drugs and alcohol. The more you stay away from them, the better you will feel physically, emotionally, mentally and financially.

None of these things will help you learn more. They all cost money. Money requires work. Work requires time. When you’re nearing the end of your degree, you’ll probably wish you had spent more time studying than working (or drinking).

Pot makes you dumb. There’s no way around that. If you’re friend tells you they do better on tests when they’re high, they’re either kidding themselves, or they have a problem.

Alcohol makes you fat. There’s no way around that. The “freshman 15” is more likely caused by beer and inactivity than dorm food. Not only that, but the cost of one night of drinking also includes the lost time the next day due to your hangover, the impression of yourself you give to other people (remember, you’re here to learn and to network: you want to remembered as a good sport, but also as solid and dependable), the beer money and worsened health.

Cigarettes are terrible for you and you don’t look that cool anyways (if anything you look like a jerk). They’re also expensive, both in the short run in the long run.

You don’t need help getting more leisure.

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