How to survive undergrad: tips from a grad student


Ladies and gentlemen, I am a 24-year-old male with a college degree. Therefore, I have done a lot of dumb things, and that’s why I’m writing you today.

It’s interesting to be back on a college campus, and it gives me a sort of gentle solace. I see underclassmen talking with friends and riding bikes along literal green pastures with their naïve, oblivious smiles; blissfully unaware of the desolate and impoverished lives they and their cohorts will lead in just a few inconceivably quick years.

I was once an 18-year-old freshman who thought he knew everything in the world. I didn’t, but now, six years later, I have pretty much developed into the old wise man of college.

Think of me as Dumbledore, except without the ZZ Top beard and wizardry.

I graduated with a communications degree from a liberal arts college, so thus my opinion should be regarded as irrefutable and incontrovertible fact. And if you took this paragraph seriously, this is going to be a rough time for both of us.

Now that I’ve made it through college life, I’ve developed a few pointers to get you through your own. If you listen to me, someday you too can be a struggling 20-something who just moved out of his parent’s house and is preparing to take on more crushing student loans. Dream big.

Tip No. 1: Skipping class? Not as bad as professors make it seem.

This doesn’t really apply to me anymore because I’m in grad school and my classes have like six people in them, so professors notice my absence. But skipping class is almost a rite of passage, especially if you have a fun reason. I will be skipping class if the Tigers make the World Series. But I knew people in undergrad that made it their goal to never miss a single class throughout college.

Tip No. 2: Worrying about your GPA? That’s silly.

Ever heard a graduate say their college GPA never really mattered? They’re not lying to you. Unless you’re applying to medical school or something, having a good undergrad GPA is about as useful as half of a Frisbee. But before these first two tips make this column seem like an assault on the institution of higher education, let me explain that a bad GPA can indeed hurt you.

Employers don’t want to see a 2.5, so don’t do that, but the difference between a GPA of 3.3 and a 3.6 is pretty inconsequential. Lesson here? Don’t freak out about a 3.0 in one class when you were expecting a 3.5. It literally will make zero impact on your life.

Tip No. 3: Don’t join a fraternity or sorority.

OK this one’s going to make a lot of people mad. I actually don’t have anything against people who go greek, I just don’t have time to learn another alphabet.

Tip No. 4: Be nice to everyone.

This seems more warm-hearted than I meant it to be, so keep reading, because my motives are decidedly impure. The takeaway here is even the most miserable people can bail you out later. Example: I really didn’t like my roommate my senior year of undergrad. Probably because he — no joke — left his toenail clippings on our coffee table on more than one occasion.

I assume it’s because of my Irish heritage that I was able to bottle up my disdain for his everyday demeanor, but I was civil toward him because I knew we had to live the entire year separated by just six inches of drywall.

Then, at the end of the year, surprise! He gave me his gas grill and leather recliner when our lease was up because he “didn’t feel like moving them.” Worth it.

Tip No. 5: Budget for parking tickets.

Am I right? I have already accepted the fact that I will be paying tuition twice: once the normal way, and again because campus parking cops pinpoint failed meters with the precision of a bald eagle hunting a field mouse.

Well, unless you don’t have a car. If that’s the case then way to be, Captain America.

Greg Monahan is a journalism graduate student. Reach him at

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