Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What should every university student know?

Part of the fun of teaching is getting off topic. In that spirit, here are ten things that I think that every college student should know or at least think about once. I'll present five today, five later.

What else would you add to this list?

#10. Read the book "What Should I Do with My Life?"
In his late twenties, Po Bronson had a career crisis--having been successful in the financial world and in writing. He asked himself what he should do with his life, and he answered the question like a sociologist--he did a study. He interviewed about 100 people who had answered the question successfully, and he identified common themes across the interviews.

This book helps undergraduates figure out how to go about figuring out what to do with their lives. The various stories that Bronson recounts also serve to lower expectations... very few people figure things out right out of college. It's available used at Amazon.com for a few bucks.

#9. Keep your wheels straight when waiting to turn left
Okay, this may sound silly, but this little driving tip probably saved my son's life once when we were in an accident. If you're stopped at an intersection, waiting to turn left, keep your front wheels pointed forward until you start making the turn. If not, somebody who bumps into you from behind will knock you into oncoming traffic, and you might have a much more serious, head-on collision.

#8. Don't get into credit card debt as a college student
As a marketplace of ideas, the university should have its doors open to all sorts of people. One group, however, should be run off campus--the people who sign up students for credit cards. Let's see--a future compromised by debt for a free t-shirt? Sounds good to me!

I've met more than a few students who had to park their lives in neutral after graduation in order to work to pay off credit card bills. The few years after college are golden in terms of personal freedom--to lose this due to debt is a waste.

#7. The importance of writing

Students have relatively few requirements for formal writing. Classes are larger and use standardized tests, and much of written in day-to-day communication uses short-hand English (e.g., instant messaging).

Ironically, the fewer people that can write well, the more valuable this skill becomes. Most good jobs require frequent writing, and the ability to excel in this will make a difference. If nothing else, Norah Vincent, in her book "Self-Made Man," makes a compelling case that writing well will dramatically improve your love life!

#6. A liberal education

Most professors are somewhere between liberal and very liberal in their personal politics. I've seen estimates for sociology that place the ratio at 20 democrats for every 1 republican sociologist, and even in less "liberal" fields than sociology, professors predominately lean left.
This world view, as with any, can not help but come through when professors teach, and so, in this sense, students are truly getting a "liberal" education.

Whether this good or bad I'll leave for others to debate (I'm not very political--being uncomfortable with both Republican and Democratic approaches). I do, however, want students to understand the perspective from which probably most of their classes are taught.

1 comment:

Knumb said...

I met Po Bronson in San Francisco the night after I was engaged.

Nice Guy, though I didn't speak much with him and have only emailed him a time or two trying to track down a friend.

Said friend of mine is from my days in Australia. He is in "Nudist on the Late Shift."

I should read Po's what to do with your life book.