5 Things Nobody Says About College (Until It's Too Late)
So you just wrapped up 14 years of learning the absolute basics, much of which you'll never use again for the rest of your life. If you prefer physical labor or low-end jobs, or you have rich parents, congratulations! Your formal education is finally over. For the other 66 percent of high school graduates, don't get comfortable; you're just getting started. And trust me, as much as your college planner has vomited information onto you, there are a whole lot of dry heaves waiting for you to discover on your own once you're locked into the system. For instance, most of us who have already been through it found out the hard way that ...
The First Two Years of College Are a Repeat of High School
One of the most surprising things I found in my first year of college was that it's all refresher courses. I don't mean those borderline classes that could be either high school or college classes (like trigonometry or erotic male dancing); I'm talking about having the same exact chemistry and biology classes that you already took, sometimes right down to using the same textbook. I'm talking about math classes that teach you how to work fractions. Part of my first college-level composition class was learning how to use a fucking library.
Imagine my surprise when I entered my second year and discovered the same thing. Now, you can test out of some of these classes -- for a fee, of course. God forbid you so much as fart without them collecting money for it -- I'm surprised they haven't resorted to putting credit card swipers on the bathroom doors. But many of these courses are required as a part of your "core curriculum," so you're stuck with them, even if you've mastered the subject.
"No, you're teaching it all wrong. Here, just let me do it."
For older students, that can be a good thing. Since you haven't used a lot of the worthless bullshit you learned in high school, you're probably going to need some heavy reminders on naming all the parts of a cell or how to find the exact center of a circle using only your nipple rings and a small amount of goat blood.
For everyone else, it's just money-leeching horseshit. And before you get hung up on the idea of using transferable credits that you earned in high school, know that they generally only apply to specific colleges. Even then, that school can turn them down. Or they can apply those credits, but just in general -- not toward those exact classes. Or the ones that do may not count toward your GPA. Or they'll accept them in full, but you have to blow a horse to prove your loyalty. It's a clusterfuck system that changes with every school, and you'll never know the fine print until some office douchebag is reading it to you during your denial speech.
Here we go, I'll just file that under "Go Fuck Yourself."
No matter what, though, those first two years will be like watching a late-night marathon of Friends reruns while waiting for the new episode of South Park to come on. Of course, when you finally get past those, you can take comfort in the fact that it's all new ground from here on out ... classes that finally relate to the degree you're shooting for. Well, not exactly ...
You'll Be Forced to Take Classes That Have Nothing to Do With Anything
If you've never heard the term, get familiar with the word "electives." Those courses will be both your dream classes and your ever-taunting nightmares. Electives are classes that are not a part of the core set required for your degree. However, you will be required to take a certain number of these, just in general. It sounds weird, and it is, so let me explain.
Say you want to be a math teacher. Your class planner will show you that you need certain science classes, certain math classes, etc. And sometime between now and when you graduate, you also have to mix in so many hours' worth of elective classes of your choice. In that context, no specific elective is required ... but the class type is.
"Yep. I can feel my psychology skills sharpening by the second."
So now, while you're worrying yourself into vomiting bile over passing these extremely important classes that dictate your future career, you're also forced to take bullshit like 1970s Music Appreciation or Buttons to Zippers: A History of Fastening Devices. And yes, they have final exams, just like the rest of your schedule. That's part of the nightmare: staying up the week before finals, listening to Billy Joel's "Piano Man" on a loop to make sure this stupid jackoff course doesn't buttfuck your GPA, and knowing that you could be using that time to make sure you're solid on the classes that actually matter.
The upside is that there usually aren't many people in attendance, so it's less stressful for a person like me who continuously screams if he's in a room with more than five other humans. And the subject matter is usually pretty light and easy to retain, so it's a break from the normal grind. Unless that class is Advanced Grinding for Stress Lovers.
On the bright side, she won't need a bikini wax for a while.
Even outside of electives, many of your required classes won't have anything to do with your actual career. You'll have to take multiple writing and psychology courses, even if you're shooting for a degree in mathematics or coaching dodgeball. What does biology have to do with your aspirations to teach European literature? Absofuckinglutely nothing, besides the fact that ... well, you just have to, because we said so. Please give us money now.
But don't think of your normal classes as more important than the electives, because ...
Related: So You Want to Take an Improv Class?
Failing Will Cost You Severely
You know how when you fail a class in high school you can just retake it in the summer or the following year? It's not that simple anymore. When you fail a class in college, you are forced to get naked and ride a horse with a sandpaper saddle. Well, metaphorically. Unless you're taking the Torture With Horses elective.
But trust me, it will feel that way, financially. If you get a poor grade in certain classes, it can directly affect how much financial aid you receive the following year (or if you receive it at all). If it's enough to drop your GPA below a certain standard -- I think most of the time it's 2.0 -- you will be put on academic probation and not receive any aid or loans until you bring that up. Oh, and you have one semester to do that. And it gets worse from there.
"Now you sit there and think about what you've done. I'll be back with the gimp."
You paid $120 for your biology textbook. You've rescheduled that class for a second try next semester, so you keep the book, rather than reselling it for cash in the bookstore. When the semester starts, you find out that it's been updated with a new edition, effectively turning yours into a lifeless block of dead tree shavings. The new one is $130 ... on top of you having to pay the fees and tuition for the class itself. Again. In the bigger picture, you're redoing a handful of credit hours, setting you one major class behind schedule. Now you have to either add another class to get back to where you were or extend your graduation goal because of it. Or burn that whole motherfucker clear to the ground.
You're now on academic probation, so you have to pay for the next semester out of your own pocket. If you flunk a few classes this time, you'll be put on suspension and not be allowed to attend again for a full year. If you're in junior college preparing to transfer to a four-year university, you might as well hit the reset button and try again from scratch, because until you pull your head out of your ass and redo this clusterfuck, you're not going anywhere.
"Unless you've passed sociology, you'd better get your face out of that wall, mister!"
If that's the case, you might as well say goodbye to your new friends because -- wait, actually, that reminds me ...
The New Friends You Make Will Be Temporary
From the outside looking in, this is a "yeah, no shit" statement, but I'm telling you it's so much different when you're living it. The friendships you strike up in college are every bit as real and meaningful as every other relationship you've been a part of. You can't look at those people as "disposable," because they're not. That connection can't be faked. Or, I guess it can, but you'd be better suited for a life of con artistry than a legitimate job that requires a degree.
When you're fresh out of high school, you're used to the majority of your friends coming from that school environment. So when you step into this new one, it's easy to think that this will be more of the same. The big difference is that, unless you moved around a lot, you spent a decade or more with your old friends. You'll spend four with your new ones -- two if you're in a junior college. Twenty if you're philosophy majors.
If you're lucky, you'll be able to coordinate your schedules to match up for a few semesters, especially if you're just getting the core classes out of the way or you both have the same major. When you start to split off toward the end when you need more specialized classes, you'll still see each other from time to time, but that will start to decay as the classes get harder and you both need to concentrate on studying, rather than cruising through town and leaving ass prints in all the wet cement you can find.
After graduation, it all depends on where you settle down. If you live a few blocks away from each other, congratulations! You'll probably have a very long kinship. If seeing each other means taking a long drive and coordinating days off work and setting up babysitters ... it'll slowly peter out, until one day you find yourself assing a sidewalk and think, "I wonder how Tito Hunchthrust is doing. I haven't seen him in ages."
Such a beautiful, clean canvas, just begging for the art that is my ass.
But while you're there in the midst of that relationship, you'll think it's going to last forever. You won't let that separation happen like everyone else does. Your friendship will be the exception. Some people pull it off, but in my experience, it's as rare as a tattooless porn star. And speaking of porn ...
College Isn't the Booze-Fueled Orgy That Movies Depict
Every college movie eventually has that one party scene where someone's million-dollar home is packed with perfect bodies, loud music, $5,000 worth of alcohol, and the promise of fucking. I once saw a T-shirt that said, "SIU: A $30,000 Bar Tab." When I told my mom that I was going to college, she said, "Don't make me a grandmother before I'm 40."
That's the stigma, though, right? College is full of experimentation. Drugs, booze, sex ... wacky sorority guys throwing kegs filled with other sorority guys off of someone's roof. Hell, I didn't buy my first condom until my first day of class, and since I had certain expectations, I got a box big enough to require a dolly to move. Then I promptly and extensively used none of those.
"The jar? Oh, that's just my art project. I call it 'Good Intentions.'"
The truth is that aside from the occasional party to break up the monotony of class, college is less booze-fueled fuck gatherings and more Red Bull, coffee, and long stretches of silently reading until sunrise and then slugging through the day on two hours of sleep. Even if you made it a goal to party every night of the week, the average person couldn't without crashing ass first into a pile of "get the fuck out of our school, you class-failing douche."
You find out very quickly that every professor believes that hers is the only class that exists, and she couldn't give less of a shit about your personal life. If you don't finish your projects or make the grade, so be it. Shortly after that, you realize that partying costs money that you likely don't have because you're wasting it all on stupid things like food and shampoo. The funny thing to me is that by the time you figure this out, you're too tired to be disappointed.
If nightmares came in shapes, this would be it.
Don't let any of this discourage you. College is a necessity now. Even if it wasn't, you'll learn more about deadlines and personal management in those four years than you did in the previous 18. That is why employers look harder at graduates' applications. That degree instantly tells them that you can commit and follow through with important tasks without someone looking over your shoulder. Now get your ass signed up for classes so Cracked can hire you as interns and make you do all of our shit work.
What the Hell Did I Just Read: A Novel of Cosmic Horror, the third book in David Wong's John Dies at the End series, is available now!