I teach a course at my college called First Year Experience 101. It’s an introduction to college life for–you guessed it–first year students. Whether they are traditional straight-out-of-high-school 18 year olds or worked-my-life-away babyboomers, new students at my school go through FYE to learn college-appropriate study skills, life lessons, and time management.
I was approached for the position because I’m still fairly young and fresh out of school; therefore, it is assumed that I can relate to the students because I do not really give the vibe that some of these 20-to-lifers give. I think I have a fresh take on approaching college, and so far, some of my students have actually heeded some of my advice. I’ve also learned the hard way how to avoid many of the pitfalls college students face because I lived them and came out of the experience with the wisdom not to do it again.
Probably the best advice I give them is something I learned the hard way that I think is important enough to make me come up with a cheesy motto: “Say No to the Burrito.”
I developed this phrase when I started graduate school because, as an undergraduate, I was always guilty of cutting mid-day classes to go to the fantastic Mexican restaurant adjacent to our campus. It didn’t matter what was going on, if my friends were going, so was I—test or no test, book read or unfinished, absences left or not. I needed that Baja Bowl or Chile Colorado far more than I needed “The Dream of the Rood.”
On the upside, I had some good times with my friends there. We bonded, we laughed, we fought, and we even had some pretty bland-in-hindsight discussions about things we thought were pseudo-intellectual. On the opposite of that, however, my grades dropped, or rather, plateaued. I was aiming for B’s in the classes instead of the A’s I knew I could earn. I might even get a C in one because absences pushed me over the threshold. And I didn’t care. After all, I had heard grad schools and employers didn’t care about students’ GPAs as long as their degrees were finished.
They care. And they care a lot. Just having a piece of paper saying you’ve gone through a program does not denote that you are worth hiring. Unfortunately, neither my friends nor I understood this when we were undergraduates.
So now, I teach my FYE students that time-management is the most important thing they can learn when entering college. It might seem all right at the time to do “passable” work, but when the real-world comes calling “passable” is anything but. So now I’ve taken to telling my FYE students (and any other student who will listen) to “say no to the burrito” and try to care about their education.
Looking back, I now know that there will always be another Mexican lunch with my friends, but there will not always be a make-up test or time to read that novel again. My buddies would have understood if I had taken the time necessary to study every once in a while. Heck, they might have even done the same by realizing I was on to something.
Don’t think that just because you have a routine that it can’t be broken or just because your friends don’t care about their GPA, you shouldn’t either.
I loved having daily lunches with my friends at the local Mexican restaurant, and I will always cherish those memories. At this point, however, I would cherish A’s in those classes I skipped and the resulting higher GPA even more.