It’s time for the annual college column.

I’ve run this the last several summers and received many letters and calls suggesting that we continue publishing the piece each year. I had decided to retire this column after 2005, but had a few more requests to run it from people last week. This columnist, a 41-year-old who went to Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., from 1987 to 1991 with an early generation home computer and made it through without a cell phone, may not be the right person to dispense advice to Carroll-area kids about their first weeks of college.

But, then again, some may find this useful. Technology changes. Human nature doesn’t.

After a few weeks of college many students and their parents really start discussions about the adjustment, so the timing of this column may be just about right.


1. Getting to class is key. This sounds like some of that “Just say no” advice — so obvious that it isn’t worth mentioning.

But it is.

If you do show up for all your classes or have a solid attendance record, you will be leaps and bounds ahead of your peers in the classroom. Many of them will skip class routinely.

A complete set of notes is worth its weight in gold.  And simply copying someone else’s work won’t cut it. We all take notes and organize them in different ways only we best understand.

What’s more, many professors are arrogant, and they will test you on their interpretations of American history, for example. They are more likely to test on what they say than the assigned reading.

2. Be social. College is as much about making friends and learning from them as it is the books and notes. Simply put, the more people you know, the more enjoyable college will be.

Don’t get bogged down with just one group. It’s fine to be involved in a fraternity as I was or a sorority. (Full disclosure: my fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, was thrown off campus a few years after I graduated. We have since been reinstated.) But don’t limit your social group to just that.

From a purely professional standpoint, the people you meet in college in the next few years may become trusted and valued associates, clients or even employers.

These college bonds and friendships are forged in social settings, not the libraries or classrooms. Spending all your time buried in the books is not just unhealthy, it’s a bad career move, too.

3. Know the school’s “drop-add” policy. This isn’t something to be abused.

But as a new student you may get into a class you can’t handle or land an eccentric professor. Don’t let it drag your grade-point average down, particularly if you plan to attend graduate school or law school or medical school. Drop the class.

4. Use a professor’s office hours. In other professions in the real world it would be considered “bootlicking” to go to your boss and ask questions just for the sake of asking questions. But on college campuses it is often the only way you can get to professors.

If you don’t have any legitimate questions, tell the professor what your “study strategy” is for the course and ask if you are “emphasizing the right things.”

Having a professor as a reference is important when you’re looking for that first job. Many of them have connections in their respective industries. We have hired interns at the Carroll Daily Times Herald based largely on the recommendations of professors at Iowa State University, a school with which we work closely.

5. Read a newspaper every day. A professor I had at Northwestern University said every student should read The Chicago Tribune and The New York Times every day. That’s pretty ambitious.

What he’s basically saying is “keep up with current events.” It helps to put what you are learning in the classroom into perspective.

6. Get to know the janitors, cooks and behind-the-scenes personnel. These people are often some of the most knowledgeable about what is really happening on the campus or in a particular building.

Plus, knowing them can make your day more enjoyable when you leave the dorm in the morning and get a “hello” or a smile.

These people will appreciate your efforts because so many college students look down upon them.

7. Women should always travel with friends to parties. On the college-campus party landscape, women can be in an especially vulnerable position. This goes for universities and small colleges alike.

If you doubt this, ask the directors at the women’s centers on campuses how many calls they get each year about date rapes.

When a young woman leaves her group of friends and goes it alone at a fraternity party, a dorm bash or an off-campus gathering, she is at the greatest risk of becoming a victim.

Remember, perpetrators generally aren’t the guys who pop out from behind trees in the night. They are friends or acquaintances.

My close friend Lynda Waddington, the editor of Iowa and a leading advocate for women in the state, thinks this section of advice is sexist, that women shouldn’t have to think as I’ve suggested. In principle it is difficult to disagree with Lynda, but practically, if had a daughter, I would emphasize the above warning and stress precautions.

8. Never, ever attend a progressive drinking party or mix your drinks. Whether it involves alcohol or sex outside of marriage, the best advice is clearly abstinence.

But officials can’t get that to work even at Brigham Young University.

Alcohol is a part of college life.

It is particularly troublesome for inexperienced drinkers who get caught up in a party environment for the first time. Stick to a beer or two and pace yourself. Don’t do shots or mix beer and liquor, and always eat first.

9. Stay on campus over the weekend.

Have you ever heard the term “Johnny Run Home?” That’s what some people call those students who are always going home to mom and dad on the weekends.

Of course, that’s a good way to stay out of trouble. But cut the cord already.

10. Drop your hometown honey. Based on a more than a decade of reaction to this column this advice is either the best or the worst provided here. If you have a high school girlfriend/boyfriend, then it’s time for the dumping to begin. The last thing you need as you start your collegiate life is all those phone calls to some girl you took to the prom.

A friend of mine had such trouble with his hometown honey, that he failed a bunch of tests early in his freshman year, digging himself a hole academically from the start.