College Advice I Took (to My Dismay)

By Luis Perez

I recently read an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times by Susan Shapiro entitled "College Advice I Wish I'd Taken" in their On-Campus section. I disagree with almost everything she wrote.

Shapiro gives some solid advice encouraging students to get good grades and to make an attempt to get to know their professors. Not only because it's the right thing to do, but because you can reap benefits from good grades and good relationships with professors. I did some of the things that she suggested and I wish I hadn't. I've got some advice of my own.

I feel it's important to note that I went back to finish the last two years of my undergraduate degree at the age of 31 and earned a masters degree in 2017 at the age of 35.

A's Are Not That Cool
A's are cool and they do come with perks, but you need to know how to leverage them in order to actualize those banefits. For me, caring about grades was more of a hindrance. When I went back to finish my undergrad, I had my sights set on grad school so I really wanted to get the best grades possible. I was also working full-time so I decided to spread out my classes over five semesters instead of pushing to finish in three.

I finished my undergraduate degree summa cum laude with a 3.94 GPA, but because it was my final semester and I was only a part-time student, I was not eligible for scholarships or the honors societies. No perks for me. I had a 4.0 GPA going into my final semester until a professor with inconsistent grading gave me a B. Caring so much about the grades stressed me out and delayed my graduation by a year. As an extra kicker, I was laid off from my job two months later. In grad school, caring about grades kept me from working on my own projects. If I could do it again, I would not care as much about grades and more on the urgency of advancing my career and my projects.

My advice: Grades are not that important. Figure out how grades are calculated and focus your energy on doing well on the biggest projects. Knock out weekly assignments as quickly as you can because trading your time for C's and B's is a worthwhile trade. To be clear, yes you should be reading the material, you should study and yes you should be trying to get A's on all your exams, but you should not spend more than a few minutes on assignments that are worth 1 percent of your grade.  

If You Don't Understand, Show Up but Shut Up
Sit in front and ask questions. Trying hard in class is a good way to start building relationships with your professors, which is important. More important than your grades. What you don't want to be is an inquisitive idiot. One of the best moments in class was when one of my marketing professors finally became frustrated with an overly inquisitive student. The kid kept asking questions unrelated to the course material and pulling the class way off curriculum every time. The professor finally said to the kid, "I usually appreciate when students ask questions, but you don't seem to understand what we're trying to learn in this class. I'm going to ask you, and only you, to save your questions for after class. I would also suggest you go back and review the requirements for this course and refresh your memory on macroeconomics." I mean, sick burn amirite?

My advice: Sit in front. Ask questions. Don't be an inquisitive idiot. Make sure you are adding to the conversation.

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Class Connections can Launch Your Career (In 10 Years)
Class connections can certainly launch your career, but only if your connections are in a position to offer help. Mine weren't and won't be for a long while. I was almost 10 years older than my classmates when I was finishing my undergrad. I already had a decade of work experience, what I didn't have was a degree. It will take another 5–10 years before my classmates are in a position to offer me jobs or launch any part of my career. As for my professors, I had great relationships with them, though I probably didn't keep up with them as much as I should have. To be honest, they didn't seem committed to my education or my career. My undergraduate degree is from a private art school where most of my professors were part-time lecturers meaning that they were teaching as a means to support their creative careers rather than for the love of teaching. In grad school all of my professors had doctorate degrees, but I was part of the third cohort of a new program. The alumni network was, at most, two years out of school and also not in a position to offer help or jobs. 

My advice: Class connections can launch your career, but only if your professors are well connected or if your classmates move up the ladder quickly. 

Professors are Pupils, Too
Professors are indeed people. They are imperfect. I believe that part of the reason I received my only B was because of my relationship with my professor. I always spoke up in class and did my best to contribute, sometimes challenging the premises presented by the professor. Challenging a person who viewed themselves as an authority was a mistake. Throughout the semester the professor would find reasons to dock points on my assignments including referring too much to class material, not referring to class material enough and going over time in a presentation by a few seconds.

My advice: Professors are people. People are flawed. Appeal to whichever notion seems to be most important to them. If they are arrogant, feed their ego. If they are intellectual, introduce new ideas in class. Make the professor look good when you can.

Only Your Journalism Professors are on Social Media
Maybe my professors are less active on social media than others. I barely got a follow back and I think only one professor shares job related posts.

My advice: Follow your professors on social media, but unless they're in tech or journalism they probably don't use social media very often.

You can Socialize Better Over a Drink
Sobriety is preferred, especially if you intend to engage in meaningful discussion. With that said, alcohol, and marijuana, are useful social lubricants. Getting together over drinks was a great way to connect with my classmates. Many MBA candidates have told me that their weekly happy hours where they could have drinks with their professors were some of the best moments of their programs. Like anything else it's all about moderation. Cutting loose is part of the college experience, but pay attention about whether you're getting inebriated to compensate for stress or anxiety.

My advice: Drinking is great. Getting drunk is a problem.

Actually, You are Stuck
If you feel stuck, you are probably for real stuck and need to make a change. Yes you are stuck, but it's OK.

My advice: Read what Susan Shapiro wrote about it in the Times.