5 Things Nobody Says About College (Until It’s Too Late): A Response

Last week I did a response to David Wong’s 6 Reasons the System is Rigged (the name of which later got changed, but I’m sticking with the original one because bugger it all). Writing about my own personal thoughts and experience into the points on the list was so much fun that I decided to do another one for another Cracked.com article that caught my eye. This time Mr John Cheese writes about the post-secondary education situation in 5 Things Nobody Says About College (Until It’s Too Late). Every entry made me nod my head enthusiastically and cry a little for my own four years of wracking up debt, so of course I had to share with you. Be sure to check out the original article as well!

"I went to Cape Breton University and all I got was this stupid t-shirt."
“I went to Cape Breton University and all I got was this stupid t-shirt.”

#5. The First Two Years of College Are a Repeat of High School

The first entry doesn’t apply to me as much as it might apply to some people because I took a trade, which involved a whole lot of stuff that the high school education system does not deem to be important, but even so I do have to agree that there was a lot of crossover. For instance, the degree that I took involved a four-part math program – that is, four semesters of math classes, labeled 1 through 4. I ended up opting for two semesters of Calculus because it was quicker (and thus, cheaper), but not before going through the entirety of “Math 1”, so I can definitely tell you, without exaggeration, that this was basically a repeat of high school math. I absolutely understand the need for halfway-decent math skills if you’re going into a technology-based program, but a lot of it was stuff that you literally cannot graduate high school without having done, so it definitely felt like a huge waste of time and money. And, of course, that’s the point, right? They tack on a bunch of extra courses based on stuff you should (and usually do) already know, because more money for them! It’s not evil at all. No, really. Totally on the up-and-up.
For myself, the math thing is the best example, but for a lot of my friends it was a lot more like what the title of this first entry implies: the first two years of their four-year degrees were almost entirely things they’d already done throughout high school. BA students were re-taught all the language skills they’d been practicing for years, science students had to spend a ton of time and money on the same basic concepts they’d chosen to study in high school, and the technical/engineering students spent their first several semesters doing the same old mathematics before eventually moving on to stuff they’d never seen before.
I’m not saying that college students should be immediately dropped into a shark tank of 100% brand new and confusing information, but those first few semesters really make you feel as though you’re wasting your money on stuff you spent three years learning for free.

#4. You’ll Be Forced to Take Classes That Have Nothing to Do With Anything

Even in my case, taking a trade, this was absolutely true. As near as I can figure, every single college program out there is inflated with courses that you would otherwise have absolutely no reason to take, simply because they need the program to have the “proper” number of courses and they ran out of stuff that made sense before they were finished.
The best example of this in my particular program is the two “Communications” courses I was forced to take as part of my degree: Communications 101 and Communications 201. Knowing that I took a trade based in electronics and industrial instrumentation, you might assume that my “Communications” course would probably have something to do with technical communication…phones and the internet, and stuff like that. You might assume that, but you couldn’t be further from the truth. This particular pair of courses was based on business communication. So, okay, now you’re probably thinking that it has something to do with learning how to properly communicate within a business setting, deal with customer relations, or how to appropriately commerce with employers and coworkers. Sorry, wrong again. We may have spoken about that kind of thing for a single class or two, but that wasn’t the main premise of the courses.
So what did we do in these particular courses? Well, we learned how to write a resume and a cover letter. Oh, and we were taught the proper way to use things like footnotes…that is, if by “proper” you mean “totally-ass-backwards” because our professor for these particular courses was a bit of a lunatic who liked to make things up and tell us that it was the “correct” way to do things. One notable piece of information that she imparted was that your name is the most important part of your resume (I’ll give her that one, but just wait for it…) and thus you should make it as visible as possible. Her suggestion was to make your name a font that allows it to take up the entire width of the page, and to make it bright and colorful so that it’s more noticeable. She actually told us, with a completely serious look on her face, that it would help you get hired if you made your name on your resume bright, fuchsia pink. The woman must have never actually had to apply for a job in her life.
Long story short, other than the different acceptable formats that a resume can take, these courses taught us absolutely nothing that we would ever need to know. Those two courses were $600 each. I spent three hours a week for 24 weeks and $1200 to be told that I should add bright fuchsia pink text to my resume.

#3. Failing Will Cost You Severely

It should come as no surprise that failing a college course – which you had to pay through the nose just to get into – will cost you to fail. You pay for the course before you’ve ever gone anywhere near the classroom, and that money becomes the college’s whether you pass the course or not. That’s the system, and we all know how it works.

But there’s more than just a monetary loss involved in such a failing.

Remember earlier when I mentioned that I chose to take two Calculus courses instead of four more basic math courses? I chose to do that because of the money I’d save and because I was always good at math so I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal. Unfortunately the university that I attended has the market cornered on terrible Calculus professors. There were three to choose from, one of whom was out right off the bat because of the timing of his courses. Of the two who were left, one was lazy as hell and genuinely didn’t give a rat’s ass if a single person passed his course, and the other was an evil bastard who had tenure and used that sense of security to actively attempt to fail as many of his students as possible. I had the first prof. A friend of mine had the second.

My prof never explained anything anymore than he personally felt he needed to, and never answered questions. By the end of the first semester, almost exactly half of my classmates had flunked out of the course. By the end of the second semester I literally had an anxiety attack that found me in the emergency room of the nearby hospital. It was the night before the final exam and nothing made sense to me. I’d failed a ton of the course’s homework assignments and all I could think about (while I was trying so hard to study) was how if I didn’t make at least a 70% on this exam, I was going to flunk the course. I’d never flunked anything before in my life, so the disappointment was pretty bad. That alone didn’t cause the anxiety attack though; it was a combination of the disappointment, the fact that failure would mean I’d completely wasted $600, and the knowledge that if I did fail I would have to do the whole goddamn thing over again. When you fail a college course you don’t just pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and move on with your life. If you want to continue on with your chosen program you have to take the failed course all over again, which means paying for it again, as well as trying to figure out how to fit it into the schedule – because it might fit into year 2, but there’s no time slot available for it in year 3.

My friend with the devil professor experienced this several times over. He had gone into engineering, and because of the schedule of the courses the evil prof was his only option. He failed the course three times before finally managing to weasel his way into a different prof’s course. He spent $2400 on that one course, and had to deal with a hell of a lot stress in the process.

It’s no wonder that so many college students find themselves having a breakdown at some point.

#2. The New Friends You Make Will Be Temporary

I was never the kind of person who made friends really easily. I was shy and a little odd from other peoples’ viewpoints. That got a little easier when I started college because these were people who were interested in the same things as me, headed toward the same goal as I was. My classes were not huge ones, because the trades don’t attract enormous numbers around here, but the guys in my classes became quick friends. We were buddies, for sure. My husband – who was a year behind me when we attended the same college – had his own set of classroom friends, and I became friends with many of them as well. It was a great time. We spent a couple of good years partying with friends every weekend and just generally being more social than I had ever been in my life.

You know how many of those college friends we still keep in touch with? I have, like…six of them on Facebook. Know how many of them I’ve actually seen, face-to-face over the past year? Two. And only them because it so happened that they were out on the same job with me while I was out West.

The fact of the matter is that college is a stepping stone for most people. The majority of the people you go to college with will move away after graduation (or else return to where they came from, if they moved for college). You might keep in contact with some of them, since social media is such a basic concept of life these days, but chances are you’ll never actually see most of them ever again. It’s just one of those things. Sorry.

 

#1. College Isn’t the Booze-Fueled Orgy That Movies Depict

At first I actually wanted to dispute this particular entry, but when I really thought about it I realized that, yeah…it’s true. I mean, there’s no denying that a certain amount of boozing and sexing goes on in college. That’s part of the experience. For some kids those are the only reasons to even bother going to college. But it’s not even the tiniest bit close to how movies depict it. The guys I hung around with during college loved to drink, but they saved that stuff (for the most part) for the weekends; we weren’t drowning ourselves in cheap beer in between classes and doing shots out of hot girls’ navels every evening. And I honestly don’t know anyone who drank like that, even when considering the people who were obvious party animals. As for the sex part…yeah, college is an excellent place to meet people, share experiences, try new things, and I definitely know some people who took major advantage of that. But it wasn’t a hedonistic den of sin by any stretch of the imagination. Even the guys I knew who were major dogs managed to keep it in their pants the majority of the time.
The simple fact is that college isn’t the enormous party that people imagine it is. There’s tons of fun and friends and being the biggest idiot you can be just for the hell of it, but that’s a byproduct, not the normal flow of things. College students simply are not drunk and having sex 100% of the time. To think that they would be is actually pretty foolish.

So now that I’ve shared my side of the experience, how about you guys? What was college like for you? Did you have to put up with courses full of material you already knew, or even worse, courses that were undeniably useless to you? Did you ever fail a course, and what did it cost you? Have you managed to hang on to any of your friends from college? And be honest…how much boozing and sexing did you really do? I wanna hear about it! Please share!

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2 thoughts on “5 Things Nobody Says About College (Until It’s Too Late): A Response

  1. Oh lord. Gen ed was definitely a useless repeat of high school. I did fail two classes, my third year. It cost me an extra semester and I only graduated six months early instead of a full year.
    I’d say there’s only one friend left from college that I still hang out with regularly. Everyone else is scattered to the winds and caught up in life, which is to be expected.
    We were pretty tame party animals. Mostly only special occasions and we contained our parties to a friend’s off campus apartment. Nothing crazy.

    • I can’t honestly say that we hang out with ANY of our college friends regularly. I often see one of them simply because he works in the same field as me, but the overwhelming majority of them live in every corner of the country so we never see them. We haven’t seen most of them since our wedding, and that was almost five years ago. o.O

      I will say that we partied a LOT, and went out to the bars a lot, but we weren’t party animals by any stretch of the imagination. We just went out, had our couple of drinks, and stumbled home, or else had a house party that kept us all contained. lol

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