The 6 Most Counterproductive Things You Learn in College

College can define your future. You may learn useful skills to become a respected expert, or you may learn how to do the bare minimum you've been explicitly ordered to while being stunned at how much money you're spending. The choice is up to you how to use your time there.

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For that price, you should be sleeping on yeti-skin pillows stuffed with baby panda fur.

I've provided exam advice before. But waiting until exam time is what causes so many students to have problems in the first place. The most important lesson of third-level education is the same as that of being a new sewage worker: all this shit is now up to you, and it would be best not to drown. But while each class can impart important information, their organization in college can teach terrible lessons.

#6. Binary Stress

My studies in university revealed that undergraduate life has only two seasons: Endless Relaxation and the Oshitberry Harvest.

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"Oh shit, they were lying about the endlessness!"

College culture coasts on the idea that everything is absolutely fine until it isn't. Exams exist as black holes, theoretical objects that seem to be insane distances away, but the closer you get to them the more terrible stresses you'll encounter, and absolutely everything will lead to those types of stresses.

NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), and R. Gendler (for the Hubble Heritage Team) Acknowledgment: J. GaBany

What happens when even Apollo fails under the pressure.

This single ultimate stress point leads to self-destructive behavior and nonsense, like cramming. You can't wedge an entire course into your head overnight. There's a reason you don't see neurosurgeons hunkered down outside the operating theater flipping through their textbooks. And their entire job is opening up someone's skull and just stuffing things in there. If anyone knew how to cram, it would be them. But when they get something wrong it means someone else is stupider.

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"Oh man, I knew this bit before coming in here."

Worse, this all-consuming examgularity creates a bullshit binary expectation for life: either everything is fine, or there's a problem and all possible efforts must be bent only to its solution. Real life doesn't work like that. Real life is made of ongoing problems, and if one unresolved issue stops you from relaxing, you might as well get started on your heart attack now.

#5. Adopting a Stressona

I learned that any new scientific effect in an academic environment will create a monster, because I watch a lot of stupid movies. Binary stress' monster is the stressona. Yes, that is a bullshit portmanteau of "stress" and "persona." And, yes, that's the best it deserves, because it's a bullshit practice. Because exam stress affects everyone in the area at the same time, you end up with an immense echo chamber constantly confirming the idea that this is truly the end times.

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"Absolutely nothing on Earth is more important than our interpretation of this chapter's subtext."

Convince people that they're in an exceptional situation and many will cast aside every social convention that makes it possible for society to exist without detergents having to advertise how good they are at removing blood.

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"Our new Hemocleanse washes idiot-juice right out of your jacket elbows!"

Many first-year college-goers are just now working out how to deal with life as legally distinct adults. The first thing exam season teaches them is "problems suspend all normal behavior." The resulting panicked-herd instinct encourages more self-destructive behavior than aliens on a starship. They ramp the binary stress up to an entire mode of being. Students talk about late-night cramming, sleep deprivation, and time-saving-via-malnutrition, not as ways to destroy a healthy human body but as new strategies they're inventing and trying out.

#4. Punting Problems

Several friends of mine work in academia, and they've heard more excuses than an alchemist's patron. Resulting in just as much wasted money and bullshit.

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"The nitric acid dissolved my homework. Also, you need to buy more nitric acid."

Some students put so much work into avoiding work that their excuses could probably qualify for independent American citizenship and at least two tax breaks. The rise of the machines won't be caused by a rogue military, but by a computer science student trying to program a computer to do his assignments for him.

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All this work is dedicated to getting an extra week, day, even an extra hour to work on the assignment. I knew one guy who would count on the time difference of a secretary getting back from lunch to finish filing applications. And he was staff. All of this extra work to avoid simply finishing what they can in the time they have. Which is a way, way more valuable skill in life than that week's assignment. And certain patterns of breathing.

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Getting shit done: so useful that banana-fiber smoothies should be an intellectual supplement.

Instead people learn to keep punting problems forward until the last possible moment. Creating a rolling avalanche of catastrophe to chase them through life. And if they trip just once -- they get sick, there's a family emergency, or their buddy Six-Pack-and-Netflix calls too often -- it all comes crashing down on them. Anyone who's worked in an office knows this pattern causes at least a quarter of all e-mail. "I'm asking you this because now I have an excuse not to proceed until you respond, which is why I didn't phone, because then you'd give me an answer immediately."

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Luke McKinney

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