Sunday, April 07, 2002

What I should have done in college

I get a fair number of hits from Campus Nonsense (their URL has changed to That always reminds me of my college days.

What a waste!

It's not as if I didn't learn anything. After graduation I could tell that I was better prepared for my career than graduates from other schools, and I passed professional exams on the initial tries with high scores.

But so much more was there for the taking. I went to one of the finest engineering schools in the country. It had incredible students, staff, facilities and other resources. And it depresses me to think of how many opportunities I wasted or didn't even recognize.

Maybe you have to work a lot to keep the money coming in. So did I. I also took big loads - during one fit of insanity during my junior year of engineering school I signed up for 23 hours of classes while working 2 part-time jobs. But even that might have been survivable if I had managed my time well, and there was still time to "hang out".

Well, you have to have a life, right? Sure. But how much? And can't it happen sometime when you aren't spending so much on college? If you really just want to goof off on someone else's dime, at least find a cheap school and leave a slot for someone with better use for it.

Respect your buddies' time too - don't lead people into sin, especially if you know they can't handle it. And anyone who does that to you is not good for you - surely you can find other friends.

You might think that grades aren't a big deal. Maybe not, for some of you. But I found out a few years after graduation than my mid-700 GRE scores weren't enough to get me into a local, comparatively little known engineering graduate program, because my grades didn't reflect my abilities. And it really wouldn't have taken that much effort to raise them significantly - I simply didn't do what was necessary, and didn't see the need.

Ah, grades, they're about sucking up, right? There's a case for that. And there's a certain number of SOBs out there teaching - I was in one large class where no one got an A, and I had another instructor who had given 60% D's or F's to another class. So some things are outside your control.

But that's no excuse for failing to show up to class, "borrowing" homework, and confining studying to allnighters before big tests. Every slacker work habit you develop here will have to be overcome when you get a real job.

Your professors are probably interesting people. Try to get to know some of them sincerely. You might like them, and even if you don't the day may come when you need a letter of recommendation or just some good advice. Your personal network starts here if it hasn't already.

I could go on for days with this. But I wonder - would I have done things differently if I had known then what I know now?

I'd like to think so. I just wish I'd had the chance to ignore the advice.

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