Things you should know that I didn’t

Editor’s note: In preparation for last year’s orientation issue, I wrote a column attempting to consolidate all the knowledge I had accrued in my college career. Seeing as how this University doesn’t change much over time, I thought the information would still be relevant to the incoming freshmen. However, another year brings another load of advice to be distributed, so I made a few additions on top of my first soap box installment. So, enjoy the knowledge acquired at my expense.

Sorry Miss Grant, it seems our computer system just crashed and we can’t access your account. But if you can figure out how much you tuition bill is and get your check in the drop box by 8 a.m., the University won’t fine you,” the teller said in a pseudo-sympathetic tone from behind the security window in the Bursar’s Office. I nodded with a slight smile, seemingly appreciative for the hot tip on getting the check in before the bursar was even awake.
Sorry, ma’am, I gave up 8 a.m. a long time ago.
As I was walking out of the building, accepting that I would be charged the extra 20 bucks for being late, I began backtracking to figure out why I hadn’t paid my tuition on time this quarter. I concluded it was because I got evicted the month before and never got around to filing a change-of-address form. I’m sure my tuition bill is still floating around the post office today.
But for some reason, the situation didn’t bother me at all. I chalked it up to just another University glitch that students end up paying for. But it was at that moment that I remembered what it was like to be you: Being launched into a world that seemed much colder than Goldy Gopher made it out to be in the brochure. Knowing the University had no interest in my name, and that all they wanted was my seven-digit ID number. Realizing all that knowledge I had stockpiled in high school didn’t seem to amount to much — that here I didn’t feel like I amounted to much.
I suppose it wasn’t all that long ago that I would have been on the phone with my mother, hysterical about paying a fine I didn’t have the money for and feeling defeated and defenseless at this institution. This time, however, I felt triumphant. I welcomed my late fee with open arms and realized I have jumped through the University’s hoops enough to not let this place get to me — even if I fell on my face 90 percent of the time.
But the truth is, orientation is over. And as helpful as the campus tour would have been if you had been paying attention, there are some things they just don’t cover. Thus, I offer some tidbits of advice and a few inevitables I wish I would have found out beforehand rather than in hindsight:
Go to class. I can’t say it any other way to make it more clear. It is too easy to miss class and then feel like you’re too far behind to go to the next one. Pretty soon, you’re spending your energy figuring out how many classes you can miss and still get a C while you watch the “Today” show instead of being in your 8 a.m. Biology 1009 lecture winter semester. This is not a good habit to pick up and will become quite expensive after awhile. On the flip side, know when you need a day off — just be sure to check your syllabus before you turn off the alarm.
Do anything you can to avoid 8 a.m. classes, especially in the winter. I know registration was a pain this time, but don’t worry; next time you register there will be more open classes to choose from.
Take a class that’s fun. I recommend Comedy, Text and Theory with Gary Thomas (Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature) and metal sculpture through the art department. Take advantage of all the things this place has to offer; there is a class on everything.
Don’t declare your major until you’re done with your general requirements. You will undoubtedly change your major — preferably before your senior year. Besides, nobody should be asked to file paperwork on their future at 18 or 19. Take the time to try everything you can.
Use the free resources the University offers you. Sure you have to pay for a lot of silly things like printing cards and your diploma, but there are so many opportunities people don’t know about. Old tests, tutoring, legal services … the list goes on forever.
If you have a foreign language requirement, finish it as soon as possible. I know too many people who are ready to graduate with the exception of this factor. Do not fall into this trap and think no one will notice. Believe me, the University will not let this one slide. Either pick a college that doesn’t demand it, which I actually tried two years ago, or buckle down and do it. I highly recommend Intensive Spanish: very quick and virtually painless.
The good news is that this place is not just about school. In fact, more than half of what you leave this place with happens far away from the classroom. The bad news is that these situations can be much more difficult than dealing with the University.
What you will all soon realize is that sharing a bathroom with 25 other people is not an ideal situation. Dorm life is insane. So when you do eventually move out, choose your roommates wisely. The horror stories you will hear are usually true.
Don’t count on all of your friends being suitable housemates. It doesn’t mean they’re not good people, but there are a variety of definitions for “clean” and “responsible” floating around. Some may be a little off from what you were expecting. Not having a happy home life will most definitely spill over onto your academic and social realms.
I’ll be so bold to say that you should abstain from the greek system until after your freshman year. Give your own social skills a chance before you have to abide by dress codes and are doing keg stands of Busch Light on a Tuesday. I understand the concept of the greeks: networking, community service, campus involvement, etc. But there are too many people who join to get their names on party lists and a free T-shirt for attending dinner every night.
Make an effort to find yourself on this campus and not join a set social circle — that’s what high school was for. If it seems like your scene, do it with the good intentions and for the reasons it was established. Because if you do it for the parade floats or because you think it’s too hard to meet people, you will not be any better off when you graduate. The only difference will be that you’re older, you still can’t meet people and there is no parade.
But because you are usually able to locate a keg somewhere on campus, there is an opportunity to really shine as an adult. Bring condoms. And not because you are on some sexual quest, but because you can never predict when you might have those beer goggles on tight enough to stumble upon some company for the evening.
Don’t be embarrassed to ask about people’s sexual history and be honest with others if they inquire. STDs are not how you want to remember college, and you certainly don’t want one graduating with you. There are 40,000 people your age in the area — somebody’s sharing, and I don’t think you want any.
Get yourself tested regularly. It’s not pleasant, but it’s real. Do not hide from it.
Dating, as you may all know too well, is a topic without answers. But I can say with confidence that your function in any relationship is not that of a crock pot. You should be beyond just keeping others warm, so make sure you are not turned on just by the flip of a switch.
Because this place costs money, a job is often required. If you can get away with not working this year, do it. But when you do apply, get a job that will give you experience you can use. Working in a parking booth is great for doing homework. But sitting on your ass and taking money is usually a perk that comes with executive positions — not something you put on a rÇsumÇ as a qualification.
If you can find time in your schedule, volunteer. There are always places that need help, and there are always people who are worse off than you. Also try to get involved with whatever you can. There are plenty of clubs and organizations to pick. If you don’t like any of them, start your own. These are things you would put on a rÇsumÇ.
This place is a lot to swallow at once. That’s why they give you four-plus years to figure it all out. If you’re not ready for college, don’t be afraid to take some time off. If you stay in school, go at your own pace.
Don’t worry about who you were when you got here; your main concern is who you want to be when you leave. The crazy thing about it is that you won’t see the difference until long after it occurs.
But in between there are some things you’ll experience you can’t escape. You will probably be screwed over by a landlord — it’s part of college housing. You will stand in line for half an hour only to be told to go to a different line in a different building. At the University, this can go on forever. Make sure you bring a book.
You will probably get way too drunk some night and do something stupid. The worst part is that your friends will never let you forget about it. The best part is that they will probably do something much more embarrassing, and someone will have a camera.
I don’t expect you to listen to a word I say. You probably assume that I am some old and crusty student who has been here too long and is too bitter to understand your newfound freedom because mine is now stale. But I assure you that I am not far from where you are now, age included.
Appreciate what you have now. It’s good to be broke, away from home and starving for sleep. Because when you do get the opportunity, home-cooked meals, a nap and a few hours of cable are so much better than ever before. And when next fall rolls around, you too will see hordes of freshmen walking down the street in search of “the party.” And hopefully at that moment you will realize how you’ve evolved in one year. And each year after that you will look back and smile at the temper tantrum you had over a silly fine or a class you didn’t get into. As far as I’m concerned, a little taste of self-actualization is well worth the 20 bucks.
The additions:
Learn to be a concise speaker and writer. Remember that more doesn’t mean better, it just means more. Professors will tire of students who try and mask the lack of information in excessive word use. Personally, I’m irritated with myself for writing so much last year.
Start accessing your common sense now. It will be so valuable in the years to come. Don’t walk alone at night; call 624-WALK. Don’t cheat in school; it will be a horrible experience if you get caught. Don’t be that jackass in class whose cell phone rings in the middle of a test. Buy a good bike lock; there are people who pay tuition bills by stripping parts off bikes — they’ve claimed three of my own.
Prepare for the winter to come. Don’t think that because it’s fall and spring semester that winter somehow got skipped. It’s long, it’s brutal and it’s so much worse if you don’t have a good coat. Forget stocks; invest in a NorthFace jacket — just not in yellow.
Enjoy Coffman Union when it opens. Trust me, you’re paying for renovations just like we are. But you’ll actually be around to use it.
Use the Rec Center. Bodies are still good when you’re 18 years old. But the freshmen 15 pounds is a reality, and the longer you wait, the harder it is to get rid of.
Learn how to make Ramen noodles in a coffee maker. Just use the hot plate to heat up the contents in the pot. Same goes for soup and other liquidy meals.
Know that there is a limit to the amount of Ramen you can consume. You’ll reach it some day, and you will never touch it again.
Read the Daily. Read any newspaper for that matter (ours is the most accessible). Keep yourself informed of what’s going on around you; it will make you more interesting to others. My freshman year there was a billboard that read “The Minnesota Daily: read it during your $32 a day class.” It’s the best advice I’ve gotten yet.
And, finally, something very simple — and probably the most important. A friend gave me a fortune card just the other day. It read: “Think for yourself. No one else is qualified.”
Enough said.

Julia Grant is the Daily’s 2000-01 editor in chief and welcomes comments at [email protected]