Advice for College – The Atlantic


  • Always drink two drinks fewer than you think you want to. You will get more joy out of life if you are alert to it, before that second-to-last drink, when the evening gets slurred. If you drink too much, you lose those lovely, wild moments. You basically miss them. If you master the art of getting just-the-right-amount drunk, you will have more fun.

  • Make sure to talk to your college professors. Maybe because they are intimidated or have more exciting things to do, most undergraduates don’t venture into office hours. Your professors will appreciate your making an effort to connect and discuss things. This will be useful for you later, if you need a recommendation or a job, but it is also the way to get the best possible education. I know this because I am a professor. So many of my most important pedagogical conversations happen in my office or outside of the classroom over coffee.

  • Learn how to read quickly for substance.

  • Don’t ignore boys who are nice. I know narcissistic, damaged, charismatically mean, or ultimately unavailable boys will seem appealing. I know suffering can seem glamorous in love, especially at your age, but this particular fallacy, this romantic view of feeling terrible, will cause you a lot of true pain, and lead you down many bad, distracting paths, so try to at least notice the nice boys when you walk into a room. A subset of this: Men who cook are probably harboring other very good qualities. Another subset: Run in the other direction from an angry man. Anger does not equal passion.

  • Don’t wait too long to learn to drive, like I did. You have to do it before you have a sense of your own mortality, or you will never be a natural driver.

  • Keep a notebook to write down important quotes when you come across them. You will be very happy if you do this,  and can find these quotes when you need them. Otherwise, there will definitely be many times when you think of a quote and can’t quite remember it and can’t find it on the internet and your life will be worse because of this.

  • Write in books.

  • This is for later, but you might as well start thinking about it now: Be independent. Even if you are married, or madly in love, or living with someone, make sure you always have your own income and your own financial independence. This will give you freedom and security if you need to leave (and a healthier, more balanced relationship if you want to stay).

  • Pay more attention to nature and beauty. In this phase of life, you will sometimes think your inner dramas are more compelling than, say, the light in the trees, or the pink-streaked sky you will see when you’re staying up ’til dawn, but you are wrong.

  • This may be one of those things that are so indescribably annoying that you have to tune them out, but I am going to go ahead and say it anyway. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to appreciate what a crazy luxury school is until you are finished with it. Even when you are stressed about an exam, or nauseous from staying up all night writing a paper, or racing to class on a cold day, try to appreciate the onetime splendor of being immersed in friends, eating every single meal with them, discussing blooming dramas in every waking hour, having nothing expected of you from the universe but reading and thinking and arguing and expanding your known world. Later, when many things are expected of you, this time will take on a magical, suspended quality. But even now, in small flashes, you may be able to savor it, apprehend the fleeting pleasure and total, glorious artificiality of college.

  • Find a place in a library where you feel a little bit exalted about your work.

  • Save letters. Print out important emails and save them too.

  • Do not be afraid to ask for more money for a job if you deserve it. I have probably taught you to be too polite and respectful of authority to do this, but ignore me!

  • In all remotely professional emails, write something in the subject line so you can find it later.

  • Do not use parentheses in your writing in a lazy way, when you can’t be bothered to cram all the information into a single graceful sentence. Only use them when they serve some positive stylistic purpose. In other words, use them if you are setting off the information in parentheses for a reason like humor or emphasis.

  • Don’t forget to sleep. When life is so full of people and thoughts and things to read and parties, it is tempting to just not sleep. But one of these days you will wake up feeling an unaccustomed sense of peace and calm, when you are totally un-frantic and un-anxious, and you will think to yourself, Oh this is what it feels like to get eight hours of sleep!

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