Posts Tagged ‘College Life’

Starting college? A few tips…

In behavior, domestic life, education, life, parenting on August 24, 2015 at 12:31 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

Is your suitcase full of dreams?

Is your suitcase full of dreams?

Few moments are as exciting, and intimidating, as your first few weeks of college or university. Some students have flown thousands of miles, leaving far behind family, friends, pets and everyone they’ve known, now lost in a sea of new faces and new expectations.

I attended the University of Toronto, traveling a quick, direct 30 minutes from my parents’ home by city bus to campus. The adjustment was mostly intellectual, not physical.

But most of my pals, headed to different schools? And those three super-encouraging high school English teachers who insisted I become a writer?


Instead, I had an English lit professor who wore a bowtie and a cape and who tossed off quotations in multiple languages. Terrifying!

I did like that he addressed us as Miss Kelly or Mr. Smith. It gave our class a gravitas that signaled clearly we had entered a new world. It was time to grow up.

When I taught freshman last year at an expensive private school in Brooklyn last year, it was obvious that some students had no idea what it meant to adjust to a more adult style of behavior: wandering into my class 30 minutes late without apology, blowing off clearly stated deadlines, sitting silent in a class of only six people.

A few tips:

Be careful with alcohol

Be careful with alcohol

Stay sober

If you think college life = getting drunk or high every day, (as, sadly, it does for some), stay home and save yourself, or your poor parents, a ton of wasted money. There’s no way you’ll be able to pay close attention in class, participate effectively or do decent work if the room is spinning or you’re bowing, once more, to the porcelain god.

If you find yourself in this pattern, head to the college counseling service for help.

Get enough sleep

A minimum of seven hours.

Fresh fruit is your friend!

Fresh fruit is your friend!

Eat healthy food

Protein, vegetables, fruit. Drink plenty of water. Carbs are quick, cheap and portable, (e.g. pizza, cookies, chips), but they don’t qualify as a smart steady diet.

Get to know a few of your professors beyond the classroom

Some profs are in a rush to flee after class; many of them are adjuncts, poorly-paid, with no office space and juggling multiple jobs on multiple campuses. Nonetheless, try to find a few whose classes you really enjoy and, if you’ve got time and interest, ask for their class-related advice and insights. Genuine interest in and enthusiasm for a teacher’s intellectual passion is something we enjoy and love to see.

High school, and its expectations, is another universe — don’t expect professors to cut you slack now

The greatest culture shock I saw in some of my students was their disregard for the serious business of higher education. If you’re paying $20,000 to $60,000, (yes, really), for a year of schooling, show up! Do the work on time. No professor wants to hear endless excuses why you can’t.

No monkeying around! Deadlines are real.

No monkeying around! Deadlines are real.

Meet your deadlines

Yes, you’ll get sick. Yes, someone in your family might die. Other than those reasons, get your work done and submitted on time. College is proxy for real life, the world in which your boss(es), every single day, will expect competence.

Develop good habits now and the adjustment won’t come as such a shock after you graduate.

Professors are human

Yes, really.

They may seem scary, or weird, or both. But they/we are human beings, juggling many responsibilities, and your urgent email at 2 a.m. is not going to get read or responded to. We’re asleep! (Or wish we were.)

Remember that your professors are people, too. Smile. Say good morning or good afternoon. If you actually enjoyed a class or lecture or presentation, tell us. Like everyone else, we like to hear good news.

Cute -- but not in my classroom!

Cute — but not in my classroom!

Politeness will go a long way to ease your transition

It’s hard to imagine for some people, but saying please and thank you, arriving to class more than 30 seconds before it starts, never arriving late, (or apologizing sincerely if you do), will make a real difference in how staff, administrators and teachers see and think of you. You’re not just the sum of your GPA.

Say please and thank you to everyone — from department secretaries to the janitors keeping the classrooms and cafeteria clean to dishwashers, groundskeepers, security staff. You never know when you might need their help. And their skill and energy are just as essential to your safe, clean, enjoyable college experience as your teachers or coaches.

Take advantage of every student group that can build your social and technical skills

Every school offers a wide range of opportunities to learn new and cool out-of-classroom skills, meet a more diverse group than those sharing your classes and, for those who want it, to develop your leadership abilities. The best experiences I had at school were working on the weekly campus newspaper, (which quickly gave me clips of published work which led to national magazine assignments while I was still an undergrad), and leading an exchange program between U of Toronto and UNC/Chapel Hill, a week spent on each campus. I still recall to this day some of what I saw and heard there, long after I’ve forgotten much class content.


Be sexually smart

Whoever you decide to have sexual relations with, protect your health. Know where and how to readily access affordable birth control and the morning-after pill or, worst case, abortion facilities. Don’t confuse the heady thrill of feeling attractive with thinking someone loves, or even likes, you. Do not drink or drug yourself past the point of informed mutual consent.

If you have been sexually assaulted, please report it, quickly, to campus and city/town police.

Treasure new friends

My best friend from freshman English class, decades later, traveled across the continent for my first wedding (and my second!) We met when we eye-rolled at one another in class. My life has been immeasurably richer for knowing her, and for our long, strong friendship.

We're not robots. We all need a hand, a hug and some help!

We’re not robots. We all need a hand, a hug and some help!

Ask for help

You’ll hit roadblocks — emotional, spiritual, intellectual, physical. But you’re also surrounded now by hundreds of people with wisdom, connections, contacts, experience and compassion. Whatever issue you’re struggling with, let someone know and don’t give up if you don’t get the response you need. Tell someone else.

Find someone to help you.

One of my students had a very difficult time and I was honored that she trusted me enough to share that with me so I knew what was going on and tried to do what little I could to help. Even after she dropped out of the program, she later let me know that my concern for her had made a difference.

Here are even more great tips from current American college students, published in The New York Times; I like all of them except for one — do not, do not, show up to class wearing pajamas. Seriously.

Have a great year!

What exactly is college good for, again?

In behavior, culture, education, life, travel, urban life, US on September 12, 2014 at 12:52 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Pratt's library -- with one of the many sculptures dotting the campus

Pratt’s library — with one of the many sculptures dotting the campus

Have you followed the “debate” begun (again) about the putative value of an Ivy League education?

Here’s former Yale professor William Deresiewicz, in Salon:

In his new book, “Excellent Sheep,” Deresiewicz expands his argument into a full-on manifesto about the failures of the meritocracy. His timing is good. Ambitious families continue to arm their children with APs, SAT prep courses and expensive admissions advisors. At the same time, despite big financial aid packages, the student bodies at elite schools remain staggeringly affluent.

So do the schools. Yale has an endowment of some $20 billion; the University of Connecticut, 90 minutes down the road and with a student body three times as large, has an endowment one-sixtieth that size. As public institutions suffer round after round of cuts, Ivy League endowments keep swelling. When we speak of inequality, it’s not just in individual income where the disparities have grown starker.

And here’s a powerful op-ed  about the value of college from The New York Times’ Frank Bruni:

I’M beginning to think that college exists mainly so we can debate and deconstruct it.

What’s its rightful mission? How has it changed? Is it sufficiently accessible? Invariably worthwhile?

As the fall semester commenced, the questions resumed. Robert Reich, the country’s labor secretary during the Clinton administration, issued such a pointed, provocative critique of the expense and usefulness of a traditional liberal arts degree that Salon slapped this headline on it: “College is a ludicrous waste of money.”

Meanwhile, the sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa were out with a new book, “Aspiring Adults Adrift,” in which they assessed how a diverse group of nearly 1,000 recent graduates were faring two years after they finished their undergraduate studies. About one-quarter of them were still living at home. And nearly three-quarters were still getting at least some money from parents.

But Bruni goes on to make some interesting (to me) arguments in favor of mixing things up on campus, as one of the increasingly few places left (in an economically and racially divided United States) where people can — and should, he argues — meet “the other”.

That might, for the first time, mean meeting someone covered with tattoos and piercings, or someone wearing head-to-toe designer labels.

It might mean working in class on a project with someone transgendered and/or someone happily married, even with a few children. Or someone deeply devoted to their religious life  — or someone fervently atheist.

I remember a preppy blond guy named Chris who was even then active in the Conservative party — my first (and useful) exposure to someone with strong, opposing political views.

Bruni writes:

We live in a country of sharpening divisions, pronounced tribalism, corrosive polarization. And I wish we would nudge kids — no, I wish we would push them — to use college as an exception and a retort to that, as a pre-emptive strike against it, as a staging ground for behaving and living in a different, broader, healthier way.

As we pepper students with contradictory information and competing philosophies about college’s role as an on ramp to professional glory, we should talk as much about the way college can establish patterns of reading, thinking and interacting that buck the current tendency among Americans to tuck themselves into enclaves of confederates with the same politics, the same cultural tastes, the same incomes. That tendency fuels the little and big misunderstandings that are driving us apart. It’s at the very root of our sclerotic, dysfunctional political process.

And college is the perfect chapter for diversifying friends and influences, rummaging around in fresh perspectives, bridging divides. For many students, it’s an environment more populous than high school was, with more directions in which to turn.

I also found this Times story — about how much effort selective American colleges are actually making to attract and retain lower-income students:

I think college-as-sorting-mechanism, as it often ends up being — at least in the U.S. — is a sad misuse of its potential for personal and intellectual growth.

I’m not embarrassed to admit how much I learned by attending the University of Toronto, a huge (53,000) and highly traditional university.

Not only about my subjects of study, but about Marxism, soul music, what it’s like to be married young. I learned it over coffee or at frat parties or while working on the student newspaper, from the people I met, the men I dated, the friends I made and my classmates.

I met the first gay people my age, male and female. (My high school may well have had some, but none were out.) Toronto is an enormous, diverse and cosmopolitan city, but even then I knew who I knew….and not much more than that. As it was meant to, college opened my eyes to other realities and ways of thinking and behaving.

My classmates arrived from homes wealthy and poor, from elegant estates and shared, battered downtown housing.


In my mid-30s, after moving from Canada to New York, I attended another school, The New York School of Interior Design. That experience was wholly different and I loved it. Teachers were demanding and wise, but also nurturing. Classes were small, making my experience pleasant and intimate in comparison to overwhelming and impersonal undergrad.

Now I’m teaching two classes at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, rated one of the 20 best schools in the Northeast U.S. I’m intrigued by the mix of students I see there, all of whom have chosen to attend a school focused on specific crafts and skills, from industrial design to fashion to writing to architecture. There’s a lot of green and purple and blue hair. Many of the women smoke.

One of the issues that I find really shocking is the skyrocketing cost of an American education; Pratt’s tuition is more than $41,000 a year while my alma mater, U of T, is now only $6,040 for my former course of study.

(I paid $660 a year. Yes, really.)

Colleges look so serious and authoritative. They can fail you in life-altering ways

Colleges look so serious and authoritative…don’t they?

If you are a student, what do you want or expect college to “do” for you?

If you’re a professor, how do you feel about the expectation that a college degree is meant as a ticket to a job?


Doing Laundry, Changing Lightbulbs And Other Essential College Skills

In behavior, domestic life, education, family, life, parenting on September 12, 2011 at 3:12 am
U.S. Patent by Thomas Edison for an improved e...

Image via Wikipedia



There are kids going to college who have no idea how to —- change a lightbulb?

According to this recent piece in The New York Times, possibly not:

I will end with a bunch of random, yet helpful, tips garnered from a variety of sources. Make sure your son or daughter knows how to sew on a button or a repair a hem, change a light bulb (yes, honestly some have never done that at home), tie a tie, defrost a refrigerator (some dorm fridges aren’t self-defrosting) and judge how long different foods can stay in a refrigerator before going bad.

And here are a few more: How to tip properly, use a microwave safely, strip and make a bed, pack a suitcase and safeguard valuables.

Rant alert, dearest readers. I was out on my own, living in a minuscule studio apartment on a not-very-good street of downtown Toronto when I was 19, the fall semester of my sophomore year. Was I ready? Not really. But my family had sold the house and were headed off to live on a boat in Europe. Jump!

My rent was $165. I was on the ground floor (wrong!) facing an alley (wrong!) in a vaguely seedy/affordable neighborhood. I would not have qualified for student aid or loans and didn’t want dorm life after a childhood and adolescence spent at boarding school and summer camp sharing space with four to six strangers. I wanted privacy.

I still remember the price of a can of tuna then — 65 cents — as I ate a fair bit of it. I was not a very chic dresser as my budget was so tight; it took me months to save the $30 I then needed for tights, a leotard and slippers to take free ballet classes on campus. I bought and cooked my own food, did my own laundry, played “Hejira” on my stereo, entertained members of the opposite sex whenever I felt like it.

I lived there until June when, one terrifying night, a man leaned in my bathroom window and tried to pull me out of the bathtub. It’s true — you can be too scared to scream.

I moved into a sorority house the next week, safely on the top floor surrounded by other young women. That fall I moved into another tiny studio apartment, this one — like where I live now — overlooking nothing but trees, safely completely inaccessible in height and design on the sixth floor in a better area.

I learned a lot by living on my own so young: how to budget, how to deal with adults and professors and landlords without any help or intervention or advice from family; my parents were both very far away, both traveling and often unreachable. Whatever the problem, as an only child and already writing and selling photos to national publications to pay for school, it was mine  to solve.

My best advice to freshmen:

Learn how to get along with your professors. Don’t text them or expect hand-holding. They’re not Mummy. They are professionals paid to help you learn. Period.

Understand and respect the complex interplay between being drunk and stoned and the increased chances of a sexual encounter — or several — you did not anticipate, plan or want. Learn to say no, mean it and leave in sufficient sobriety you remain in control of your safety.

Practice using condoms. Use them.

Practice saying no. Mean it.

Enjoy the extraordinary array of facilities your campus offers you — socially, intellectually, physically. Even getting into a gym or pool as nice as yours right now will cost you a fortune post-grad.

Grades matter, but not as much as you think or fear (short of those applying to grad or professional programs.) That stellar GPA often means very little to most employers — who really crave ethical, hardworking and highly disciplined employees. Yes, a GPA is meant as proxy for all those qualities, but it doesn’t always work out that way. The “skills” you acquire by sitting in a college classroom and (only) striving for top grades may not translate tidily to a job in the real world.

You do not need to keep up with the materialistic cravings of your fellow students, whose parents may out-earn yours by many multiples. College is the first set of steps to adulthood, not four (or five or six) years of shrugged-off do-overs.

Work your ass off. Just do it. If you get into grad school, you’ll need to be in the habit. If you get a job, you’ll need it. If you have to work for yourself, self-discipline will prove far more valuable than your diploma.

A deadline  — i.e.  the paper is due Friday morning —  is not a suggestion. It is not negotiable. Not Friday afternoon six months from now.

Just because your BFFs are: bulimic or anorexic or tattooed or multiply pierced or high most of the time doesn’t meant this is a great trend to follow. College is a great place to locate and stiffen your spine.

Have fun! Get to know the sort of people you never even acknowledged in high school, The real world is going to put you face to face with all sorts of people from now on, so start discovering and enjoying them.

If someone comes on to you — whatever your sexuality or theirs — be flattered and polite, especially if sexual behavior is new to you, but go slowly. Sex is fun, but not worth getting an STD  or pregnant. Don’t confuse attention with affection.

Don’t focus all your energy on how much better everyone else is doing — socially, sexually, intellectually, athletically. If you’ve gotten into a good school, you’re now surrounded by some kick-ass talent. Watch it, learn from it, but don’t let it intimidate you.

Professors are not God. If you have a solidly researched and thoughtful opinion that differs from theirs, share it, politely. But your feelings are not facts. Learn the difference.

Take on leadership roles. You never know until you try if people will follow your lead. If they do, you know you’ve got the goods. They don’t teach that in the classroom, but the confidence it will give you will play out for years to come.

Here’s an interesting ongoing debate at the Times’ website on whether college is even worth it.

What’s your best advice to the class of 2015?


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