College Bound

As promised in an earlier post, I want to talk about college — and if any of my Loyal Readers have kids (or even grandkids) who are thinking of attending college, you may want to pass this on to them.  Here’s my opening statement:

Most people have absolutely no business going to college.

I know that a college degree is now the same as a high-school diploma was, forty years ago; as the late Joseph Sobran once put it, we’ve gone from teaching Greek and Latin in high school to teaching remedial English in college. That doesn’t matter; here’s where we are now, and that’s all there is to it. The question is: what next? How to make the best of a bad thing? Here are a few observations, based on my being in college in two separate time periods, the early 1970s and most recently the late 2010s. (I was a slacker in the first, and a serious student in the second.)

Most kids are wasting their time in college. Unless they or their parents are independently wealthy, a class in any of the Humanities has no benefit other than educational. (Remember: I have a B.A. summa in History, which qualifies me to do exactly… squat.) As I looked around at the kids in my classes recently, all I could see was a bunch of slackers, stupid people, party animals and future schoolteachers. The guys were even worse. Few of them belonged in college. (No doubt this is not the case in most STEM classes, which is an even better reason not to get a B.A.)

All that said, let’s assume that everything I’ve written so far doesn’t apply to you, and you’re hell-bent on going to college. It’s going to cost a mint — you, your parents or grandparents are going to spend about $50,000 per annum or more — so if you’re going to go, get it done as quickly as possible. I took three years to get my B.A., which means that just about anyone can. So here we go:

Kim’s Rules And Guidelines For College Success

1. Treat college for what it is: it’s a JOB, a job to get a degree or certification. This means going to every scheduled class, lab or tutorial, taking notes, doing the pre-work and homework, and handing in assignments on time (or early). Your job is to ingest and retain educational content, not piss around in frat parties and pep rallies. Just like a job, you should spend at minimum 12 hours per day, whether in class or studying (for each hour of classroom time, add three hours for studying). Over and beyond your regular studying time, you should spend at least 18 hours prepping for a test, no matter how well you think you know the subject. This, by the way, is the kind of daily time that company managers devote to their job, which is why they get the big bucks and why the clockwatchers get stuck with minimum wage / basic salary scale. Work at least six hours per day on weekends if you have to; they’re not holy days, but class-free days in which you can prepare for the following week’s classes and tests. (And if Saturdays or Sundays are holy days for you, you’ll have to make up the missed time during the week.) I know this sounds like a lot of work — but it has a double benefit: you’ll succeed in college, and the work ethic will transfer to your future jobs and make you stick out from the slackers and deadbeats who are your colleagues.

2. Take copious notes. If and only if you can type at 90/90 (w.p.m. / % accuracy), then by all means ask the prof if you can use your laptop to take notes; otherwise write them — and then rewrite or type them up immediately after class while the memory is still fresh and you can fill in any gaps. My experience is that where profs are not allowing laptops in class, it’s because too many idiots are abusing the thing (Facebook, gaming etc) and worse, distracting the other students.

3. Turn off your damn phone in class. This is becoming such a problem that one prof has been known to take a half-filled bucket of water to the classroom, and put it on his desk with a warning sign: “Final destination for ringing phones.” His choice for the students: drop the phone in the water themselves, or leave and be suspended for a week’s classes. One student had to leave an exam — earning him an F — because his phone rang and he refused to dunk his iPhone. He appealed to the college administration, and lost.

4. Always show up early for class, especially on Day 1. The first class is the most important day of the semester, because that’s where you learn about the prof and how he teaches. Many profs are now not allowing latecomers into the first class at all, because of how important it is for the others who arrived on time. For all other classes: be ready to go when the prof is ready, which means arriving at least 5 minutes early and taking your seat.

5. Don’t sit in the back row. Usually, that’s where the screwups choose to sit, and the profs know it. Also, it’s easier to get distracted by other students when you’re in the back. If you inexplicably fear sitting in the front row (are we still in first grade?), then sit in the second row. Finally, don’t sit next to your BFF (this is especially true for women). Once again, we are not in first grade; we are there to study and learn like adults. On a related note: never take food or drink into the classroom. If you can relate a lecture to an important business meeting, then ask yourself this question: would you take out a Big Mac during a corporate budget meeting? (If you answer “yes” to this, you have a career waiting for you at the DMV, and even they don’t allow eating at your desk.) You’re not going to die of thirst in an hour; visit the drinking fountain en route to the classroom, and you’ll survive.

6. Mimic the study habits of the “A” students. Don’t fall into the slacker category (even though it’s easier or “cooler”). If possible, BE the Smart Kid in the class, the one who’s asked to join a study group rather than the one who’s always begging people to study with them. That said, there’s only space for one name on your degree certificate, so:
a. Avoid study groups. Mostly, you end up wasting your time propping up slackers and/or stupid people. Your education is your responsibility, and yours alone.
b. Avoid group projects, and avoid classes which set lots of group projects, as much as possible. If you HAVE to do a group project, secretly do ALL the work yourself and have it ready for when one member (or more) of the group flakes and doesn’t do their part of the assignment (the chances of this happening at least once during your college career: 100%).

7. Take the free marks. If there’s an attendance grade(!) and/or graded homework which will count towards the final grade, those are free marks. Grab them and get 100%. Think about it: if attendance is 5% and homework is 15% of the final grade, that’s 20% of your final grade in the bag if you get 100% for each. More to the point, NOT getting 100% for the giveaways is throwing marks away. Don’t refuse the gift.

8. Visit the library early and often. Google doesn’t count. Look up related books on your courses, and discuss how those authors differ from your prescribed texts with your prof. He’ll know you’re a serious student, and he’ll take your papers and exams more seriously. And in doing so, you’ll actually learn more about your course of study — which, lest we forget, is a Good Thing. Serious students get As, and if you’re not working towards As and Bs in every single course, you have no business being in college.

9. Enroll in as many summer classes as you can. Three months’ vacation is just wasted time, UNLESS you’re working like hell to pay off your tuition instead of taking out a loan. Also, use spring break to get ahead of your upcoming studies instead of puking your guts out / winning wet t-shirt competitions in Daytona, South Padre or Cabo. People who work in the real world get only two or three weeks’ vacation a year; as a student, you’re entitled to no more. One more time; college is a job, not an opportunity for Bacchanalian excess. Even worse, it’s a job you have to pay for. Treat it accordingly.

10. Choose your courses wisely. Know up front, by the way, that just because a particular course is in the catalog, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be taught during any particular semester. (I missed a French sub-major because the one class I needed for qualification wasn’t offered during my final semester.)
a.) If you’re not going to get a STEM degree, consider carefully whether you should be going to college at all. At worst, you should consider a business degree — a serious one, not “Business Communications” or suchlike nonsense. A serious business degree will involve heavy-duty statistics, math, economics and at least two accounting classes — more, if you’re going to specialize in Finance. If your prospective college’s school of business doesn’t offer such an intensive degree, find another college. Doing well in a business course (MBA, MFA etc.) requires as much work, study and dedication as a medical doctor’s M.D. degree.
b.) Expect to have to look for a job in the global market, so become fluent in a second significant* language, and if you’re of foreign origin and are already fluent in Spanish, Hindi or Chinese, for example, become fluent in a third language. It helps especially if the second language is relevant to your future career. (If you’re no good at languages, you’d better be damn good at something else.)
c.) Don’t take any course with the word “Studies” in its title or catalog description. You will find that “ethnic” or “gender” studies qualify you to do nothing at all. If you have a burning desire to take such courses, postpone the action for post-grad, as “adult education.”
d.) Degrees in “Communications” or “Education” are worthless. They do allow you to say “I have a college degree” but they are a red flag to anyone reading your resume. Ditto all the courses mentioned in c.) above. Here are just two examples relating to this choice of career.
1.) Back in the 1930s, a professor asked one of his students what he intended to do after graduation. When the student said he was interested in becoming a journalist, the professor was appalled, saying “That’s no career for a university man!” Wiser words were seldom spoken.
2.) In this day and age, if you’re getting a degree which (you believe) will get you a teaching job, you will be wasting your time and money. There is a huge glut of teachers, and most college teaching jobs will soon be made redundant by online courses anyway. Public school teaching nowadays is a career for deadbeats and idiots: no matter how dedicated you are, or how much you love the chillins, the public school bureaucracy will stamp that out in a minimum of one year. The dropout rate for new teachers is appallingly high: 60% on average will quit after the second year of teaching, and go on to do something else. If you’re one of the 60%, don’t even think of getting a job in corporate training — your B.Ed will make you the dunce of the applicants, and H.R. knows it. (If you can’t define the difference between training and education, quit now.)

If all the above do not make you want to become a welder, carpenter or electrician, then good luck to you. (The often-scorned “tradesmen” jobs such as the ones listed are actually a far better bet than a B.A. when it comes to long-term financial success, but I’ll be discussing that in another post.)

Oh, and one last caveat, if you’re absolutely set on going to college: never, ever join a sorority or fraternity, no matter how much you hear about the wonderfulness of being a sister or brother. They are degree-killers, and the failure rate in the “Greek” community is appalling. Animal House was great comedy, but it’s no way to go through life, son.

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*a “significant” language means a major economic country’s language, such as Chinese, Japanese, German, Russian, Hindi, or Arabic. Languages such as Catalan, Celtic or Icelandic, for example, may be lovely romantic choices but they’re irrelevant, economically speaking.

28 comments

  1. Hell of a list, Kim. If my bio students did HALF that stuff, they’d be out the door with a Cum Laude degree in three years (with a nice tuition rebate to boot) and lined up for grad school and a nice job. But Nah. Gotta be cool. Dorks

    On the other hand, my statistics and actuarial science students are the poster kids for Kim’s Rules. They’re so smart they scare ME. The future’s bright for the truly bright.

  2. I didn’t do any of those things and, as a result, dropped out after the second year of a five year course in Architecture (late sixties). My Dad was crestfallen. I went into the profession anyway and ten years later got my license by taking an “equivalency exam”, allowed at the time for those without the required degree. I was then allowed to sit for the architectural exam. There’s no reason to get your architectural license if you are not going to start your own practice. I did it for my Dad and retired it after he passed.

    My younger brother was the one my family worried about being the family screw-up. His draft lottery number was very low so, he enlisted in the Navy before high school was completed and was off to the Great Lakes a week after graduation. Six years in the Navy taught him some of the discipline you write of and four years after he left the Navy, he graduated with an engineering degree with honors.

  3. I gave my daughter a lot of that same advice before she went to school. She was set on a major in Music Performance. So I added the caveat: No debt! None. And I told her she would never make great money. She’s quite abstemious, so we both knew that would not be a problem.

    She took the ACT and got a good score – basically a free ride. We pitched in a couple thousand in the early years. I told her to apply for every scholarship available. She got several based on her grades (4.0) and some because no one else applied for them. In the end, she got a refund from the school that paid for a month for her and her sister in the UK.

    So, I’d add to your list:
    – study your ass off for the ACT or SAT or whatever gets you scholarship money and get the money.
    – do not take on debt. Education debt is an anchor around the necks of this generation. I don’t know how they’ll recover. My daughter has friends who are struggling mightily to make ends meet. She’s doing great.
    – talk to your professors. You touched on this, but I told her to ask questions in class and visit them during their office hours. As you mentioned, they’ll take you more seriously, and knowing you better, they’ll give any oddities in papers or tests a bit more consideration.

    Here’s a post I wrote for my kids with lots of reasons not to go to college: https://weetabix-eclectia.blogspot.com/2015/08/strongly-consider-not-going-to-college.html

    1. Mr. Bix, your article is so much better than mine that I want to cry. For anyone reading this comment who is in the target market, follow Weetabix’s link, and you’ll find happiness, truth and extraordinary wisdom.

    2. RE: “do not take on debt. Education debt is an anchor around the necks of this generation. I don’t know how they’ll recover. My daughter has friends who are struggling mightily to make ends meet. She’s doing great.”

      I agree with the direction of this point, but it is too absolute. Putting money into college is an investment. If you pay for it through cash and carry that is the best, but if you cannot then what? What is the return on the investment once it matures (i.e. you graduate) vs. now? For instance, if you income will triple or more with a degree vs. without (not unusual if you going for some STEM degrees or in other circumstances) then the ROI on that loan will look much better than the ROI of only being able to take a few classes at a time and taking years longer to graduate.

      The problems comes in when these kids go way into debt for some whatsamatter degree the ROI of which is negligible. Of course this is cause because the .GOV guarantees the loans, so they are made without regard to your availability to repay and the kids don’t realize that someone who loans you money you cannot repay is not your friend. To put it simply, going $200k in debt for a photography degree is madness but going $200k in debt for a medical degree is probably a good business decision.

  4. I too went back to school in the time since you stopped blogging. In my case it was ten years between the time I graduated with a BA and the time I started my graduate program. In going back to school, two things stood out the most.

    First, the appalling quality of classroom instruction. The professoriate just cannot teach any more. In today’s university, the only faculty with the ability to stand up in from of a room and deliver a genuine collegiate-level lecture — including the ability to answer questions and handle tangential questions — are those with thirty or forty years of experience. Everybody else just read slides from a PowerPoint deck.* The worst of it was that NOBODY CARED that the faculty couldn’t teach. The students mostly didn’t know any better, and teh faculty no longer thought that was an important part of their jobs.

    Second, no one requires any real writing in any of their classes anymore (especially in undergraduate classes). If any of the professors gave a writing assignment, it was usually limited to something like 250 words (or sometimes 500), but never a fully developed essay. (The one exception in my program was the Master’s Thesis which they required because . . . well, that’s a whole essay in itself, once I get started.)

    * One professor in the economics program told me that the textbook companies will, as a sales incentive, give you a full course-worth’s of PowerPoint slides, all arranged by lecture, so that you don’t even have to do any prep. You just require your students to buy that textbook, load the slides, and you’re off to the races. Never mind whether any real learning actually takes place.

    1. Oh, I also wanted to say “welcome back.” I almost fell out of my chair when I saw that you were blogging again, such was my glee.

      Then I read about what brought you back.

      There are no words I could offer that would be commensurate with your loss, but I am sorry to hear of it nonetheless. As glad as I am to be able to read your writing again, I’d even more gladly go the rest of my life without another word of it, if it meant that Connie was still by your side.

    2. Re: no one requires real writing any more – my daughter and I had many hours alternately weeping and laughing over the submissions in her “composition” class that the class was supposed to critique. The submissions were pathetic and risible at the same time.

      1. LOL… in the Beginning Coposition class, I had the great good fortune to meet with the prof before the opening class of the semester — I was the only student there, 5 minutes before — and purely coincidentally, I had a copy of Vienna Days in my bag. I showed it to her, told her about the others I’d written, and she kicked me out of the class (BEFORE it had even begun… dude!). I was sent to the testing center where I “tested out” of the class, which freed up that slot for German I, which I took with alacrity.

        1. I did my first degree at Trinity College Dublin in Medieval History (free tuition since my father was teaching at NUI at the time.) When I moved back to the states due to a severe lack of jobs even if I’d had working papers, I ended up in Iowa, and started the music degree I’d wanted to do from the beginning. (Needless to say, I could have really, really used this advice back then, though I’m not sure I would have been able to go against family expectations.)

          My European degree transcript didn’t even list what courses I had taken and UI wanted me to take “Rhetoric” which was their way of making sure you actually could read and write English before you got into English 101. I went to the head of the English department, showed him my transcript, he agreed that I probably did know how to read and write in English better than the average high school graduate and gave me the waiver.

          I just finished an AS in Accounting this past May, and only had one essay, in my Principles of Finance class. I’m not sure whether it was all the history essays and the years of college or what, but an essay on the History of Wall Street which was supposed to be at least 5 pages long with at least 3 sources turned into 10 pages with at least that many more sources, and still only took me about 15 hours total work to produce for 25% of the course grade. I got an A. I’m afraid to find out whether it’s that I’m that good, or that everyone else is that bad.

          I’m now working on a post-baccalaureate certificate in Accounting online through Post (reputable business program and really good tuition for military and military dependents, including wives of retirees) and most of the students seem to be older, though not quite in my age bracket. We have weekly discussion topics and too much of what I’m seeing is not what I’d hope to see in upper level undergraduates.

      2. The scary thing is that writing ability is a very good marker of thinking ability; if a lad can’t write well, it’s pretty much a given that he can’t think well.

        So, if almost nobody can write anymore, then almost nobody . . .

        [These are the things that keep me awake at night.]

  5. Sigh. I wish I’d known these things in 1981.

    I went to a commuter school, part of the City University of New York (hence cheap, my senior year tuition was about $1,500 for the year, and of course no dorm costs).

    My VERY first college class was Sociology 101 at 8:00 Monday morning. Taught, I later found out, by the chair of the Women’s Studies department. The teacher had IUDs made into earrings and a Dalkon shield made into a necklace. Classy. Lots of middle-aged women in the class, and by mid-term there were only three men left in the class. Everything was our fault. I managed to get an A, largely because I have an excellent memory and can spit back out the bullshit I’m told. Never studied, just gave her back what she gave us. Probably thought she won one for her side, hahahahahaha

    And before anyone makes any jokes about a young guy in a class full of older women, even as an 18 year old virgin Computer Science major, not with yours, with someone else doing the pushing. Yeah, it was THAT bad, the local Catholic school sent around pictures of these women to teenage boys to discourage masturbation. Which may explain the influx of gay priests, but I digress……

    That first semester I got a lot of my not-really-needed-for-major classes out of the way, and in later semesters I spent most of my effort on classes in my major.

  6. I retired as an engineering research manager specializing in electrodynamics. We used to think the same about the snowflakes who majored in “studies”. However, HR departments took them seriously. HR and marketing is now dominated by those fools at the very large semiconductor company I worked at. As a hiring manager you simply cannot hire a white male American engineer. It’s women and minorities first. As a manager you must promote women and minorities ahead of well qualified white men who are doing almost all the work. It was this wholesale change from the dynamic company I first joined that made me retire as soon as I was eligible,
    The snowflakes have brought their moronic SJW attitude (they aren’t social; they have no idea what justice is, and a real warrior would make them faint).

  7. To me, the problem is that too many kids go right into college right out of highschool, and highschool is lousy, terrible, no-good preparation for college. Yes, I get that the young kids want to “find themselves”, but at $50,000 per year, it’s an expensive way to look.
    Now, a really motivated student with perfect grades and tons of scholarship opportunities should go ahead and jump right in to higher education. But, for the rest of us with rectal-cranial inversions, it may be best to do something else for a year or two until maturity starts to kick in. A stint in the military, for instance. Work at an actual job, preferably related to what one thinks they want to do, but even the worst jobs can teach valuable life lessons. Such as “I will do everything possible to work my way into something better!”
    Of course, if one really likes to work with their hands, an actual trade may be a better fit than wasting a few years accumulating massive student loan debt, and then going on into trade school.

    1. One thing cleaning houses taught me is that apparently very few architects or interior designers have ever done professional housecleaning.

  8. Welcome back and sorry for your loss.

    Some of the dumbest people I ever met were in a college classroom. And then there were the students…

    1. When I went back to school full time last year (it’s a long story, tl;dr = Thanks Obamacare!) the first thing I did was set up the “Do Not Disturb” terms on my phone so that it wouldn’t ring from 8am until 3pm, Monday through Friday which is when my classes were, and didn’t turn that off until after I graduated with my AS in accounting this May. Once I get a job, hopefully by the time I finish the post-baccalaureate certificate I’m now working on, it will get reset to cover whatever my work hours are at that job.

  9. I applaud your advice, and that of Weetabix, as well. Would that I had read and heeded it decades ago. I’m an outlier, though. I graduated high school, barely, and then my inheritance began to pay for most of my college coursework. I was drug- and alcohol-addled, hence barely graduating high school. I was also indecisive. I first thought I would try psychology, and quickly realized it’s about as much “science” as is science fiction. Then I thought maybe chemistry, but drugs and alcohol put an end to my college career. I took several jobs, to keep from starving, being a dishwasher, laborer, pizza cook, or cabbie at various times. Then I met “Mrs. O the First,” and we married. Two alcoholics is a bad recipe for happiness. So, in an effort to quit working two shitty jobs, with Mrs. O also working, just to get by, I decided to check into National Guard service to get some training. Long story short, through a series of highly improbable events, I wound up in a career that I absolutely love, and one where I am good at what I do. I also lost the drug and alcohol habits, and tobacco, along the way. The rough draft “Mrs. O” also went by the wayside. I’m now married to a wonderful woman, making what is good money in my own estimation, doing important, challenging, exciting work, and closing in on retirement in seven years. Yes, I’d be much more financially prepared if I had started with a degree and worked a career path all these years, but I have some fantastic experiences, and stories to tell, and I’m reasonably healthy and happy. All in all, I’ll take it. I would NOT recommend backing in to one’s life choices, blindfolded, as a strategy, though.

  10. I’m lucky, timewise. Boomed around the world from age 15 to age 24, including four years in the Army. GI Bill helped me to a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering, 1962. After a year in automotive, moved to civil engineering. After seventeen years as a “sararyman”, I dropped out. Bought a backhoe and dump truck and became the local sand-and-gravel fella. Through the years I had acquired almost every blue-collar skill there is. Because of shade-tree mechanic work, maintaining the old family ranch and not being “all eat up with the I-wants”, life seems to have been busy, easy, fun and remunerative.

    Today’s world? Some area of engineering or else learn a bunch of blue-collar skills. Snowflakes will pay well for maintenance work, as will us old folks. Most of the rest is about as useful as a degree in Underwater Basketweaving.

  11. Good advice. I too took my college career very seriously (perhaps too seriously) and graduated with a double major in Physics and CS in 4 years. My son is now a HS junior and (I’ve always said he was born an adult) isn’t sure if he’s ready for college yet (not for lack of seriousness but because he’s not sure of his path yet) and is considering a stint in the military before college. But when he’s ready, he’ll finish in record time; whatever obstacle or challenge that boy focuses on, will crumble away under his onslaught.

    BTW, I’m glad you’re back. Don’t be offended if I don’t visit daily (life is busy these days) but I enjoy your writing with every visit.

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