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August 23, 2004


How to go to college

The New York Times offers some helpful advice today on what is probably one of the easiest things one can do in modern America: being a college student. Chuck Klosterman, our patron saint of metal fandom, reviews a new book entitled Real College: The Essential Guide to Student Life [tx Rungu]. He points out that the most difficult part of college for many students is paying for it--an area of advice that the book's writers mysteriously omit in favor of trickier topics such as "social life" and "studying". Klosterman notes that if your biggest worry about attending college is how to get your roommate to vacuum more, you probably don't really need an advice book: "For those who actually paid for college themselves, the repayment of student loans was the only 'real challenge' higher education ever presented; everything else was just sort of fun and exciting and amazingly drunken."

The breezy assumption that college students' parents pay the bills is one flaw of the book; as far as I can tell, the other major problem is the usage of the name "Rollo" as one of the "real-life freshmen" characters who write in questions about college life to the writers. I mean, is "Rollo" attending clown school? Will his (her?) concerns be relevant to a student who is not taking classses like The Anthropology of Dance or Television and the Nation at UC Santa Cruz?

Anyway, Klosterman comes up with his own bits of practical advice for the kid entering college which strike me as important platitudes for adults to hold onto as well: "if something makes you vomit, don't worry about it; everybody vomits sometimes" and "your parents will never, ever understand anything about you (and it is unreasonable for you to expect otherwise)" are especially relevant.

But perhaps college students really do need book-length advice from authoritarian figures to guide them through higher education. At least, maybe the kids who study a semester abroad need it. It appears that our ambassadors of the American education system have been promoting the ugly American stereotype to our foreign friends: dropping beer bottles onto passing cars from their dorm windows, getting into knife fights, skipping their classes for weeks at a time, getting caught with drugs, and, of course, getting drunk and puking all over everything. The host universities are complaining, and some U.S. colleges are requiring their students to meet some strict academic standards before they are accepted into study-abroad programs, or even take a class before they go on how to be an exchange student without getting arrested.

Kids: if all you want to do in college is drink, you can do plenty of that right here in America--just join a fraternity or sorority. If you want to have a European vacation, just get your parents to pay for one during the summer--hey, they're already paying for college, right? (see above.) What's another couple thousand bucks? OK, some full disclosure: I was one of those college students who studied abroad, and I was even one of the ones who went to a university in an English-speaking country, which college administrators say are "more likely to attract students who have no language expertise or interest in foreign culture." Sometimes I opted to spend an evening in the bar that was in my dorm rather than do my reading for Gothic Literature. But I did manage to vomit exclusively into appropriate receptacles, and never once wore a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt while actually in a Hard Rock Cafe.

categories: Books, Culture, Education, International
posted by amy at 1:31 PM | #