Well, you’re here. You’ve had a few weeks to settle in. Now it’s time to start asking the big question: How do you get the most out of your college experience and these “best years of your life”?
First of all, given most of us are paying thousands of dollars for courses and receiving information that can be accessed for free — through websites such as Coursera and Khan Academy — what is the point of a capital-U University?
Due to their actual physical presence, universities offer a gathering place for bright people to meet other bright people and share bright ideas. Video conference technology, for instance, will never be able to simulate the passionate back-and-forths of upper-level seminars. The chance to bring like-minded people together in the setting of a student club — whether the subject is human rights or hula-hoops — is unique to a university setting. However, you might be making a life-altering financial investment just to participate in this intellectual gathering; it’s not a bad idea to stop and think about how you can take command of your time here.
Because of a university’s special knack for gathering incredible people together, it is in your best interest to interact with and learn from as many of them as you can. Granted, as a fairly introverted guy, this was (and still is to some extent) a terrifying prospect for me.
Let’s look at lectures: A good university should bring in an assortment of nationally recognized speakers throughout the year, and MSU is no exception. However, it’s easy to get into the habit of attending a lecture, feigning sleep for two hours in a dimly lit hall, and leaving immediately after the speaker has finished — with a few words of wisdom lingering in your head and two pages of notes you’ll never look at again.
However, we should make lectures — and other campus events meant to spur “student engagement” — memorable and useful by actually interacting with other human beings. These events offer a rare opportunity to be in one room full of many insightful, well-spoken people, and you should try to squeeze as much knowledge out of them as you can. One of the highlights of my college career was being able to have a conversation with “Milk” screenwriter Dustin Lance-Black after his 2011 lecture, as I can honestly say his words played a part in guiding me to the leadership position I hold today.
Meanwhile, we have to find ways to let loose on the weekends, and during my freshmen year I did this by spending a lot of time chilling in South Hedges with my new best friends and fellow hermits. I will admit, for a while, I felt guilty about staying in the dorms on Saturday nights. Being a new college student, wasn’t I expected to manufacture a “quintessential” college experience by spending my weekends playing beer pong in a garage or unapologetically sneaking into bars?
However, I didn’t recognize that, in the long run, I took for granted the uniquely college experience of being able “hang out” in the dorm with my peers. I could go to parties and furiously try to get to know someone in the span of a few inebriated minutes, but the bonds I formed by just playing Scattergories or building pillow forts in South Hedges were far stronger. Hitting the town is fun, no doubt — but don’t dismiss the opportunity to get to know the people living right across the hall from you.
Welcome to MSU. You have four (or five, or six) years here. Don’t waste it.