What you don't learn in college

My cousin Josh graduates this spring. As a holiday gift, my aunt compiled a book of family wisdom about life after college. Here's my story:

"Are you sure you want to go to grad school right away?" My advisor asked when I went into his office to request a recommendation.

I wasn't sure of anything.

All I knew was I was graduating in May, I would turn 21 at the end of July, and I had no idea what to do next. I liked school. I was taking a graduate seminar (with said advisor), and going to grad school seemed to make sense.

"I usually advise students to take a year or two off "&

166;" he continued.

Take a year off and do what? It was all well and good that I studied everything from horseback riding to microbiology at Cornell, finally double majoring in English (literature) and Russian (language) but I had no skills, no life experience, no job opportunities. I paid 20% of my college education by working several jobs and depleting my savings. There was no way I would ask my parents for money (they would have refused) and the idea of working at a bank or a bookstore or some other entry level job depressed me.

So I argued my cause and my advisor came around. "You're an exceptional case," he said. "I think you're ready for more school."

What I was was a mighty good bluffer. What I was ready for was nothing.

In college they don't teach you that:

1) You need to dress nicely for both job interviews and jobs. Your colleagues will judge you on how you dress, even in California, but especially in Washington, D.C. when you are about to go to West Africa for a "fellowship" that you should be thinking of as a job. You can't be too dressed up, but you can be too dressed down. Wear a suit. Wear nice shoes. Get your hair done. Maybe you've grown up to believe that it's your soul that matters not your hairstyle. But Alameda Harper, a buxom matriarch at a national non-profit, doesn't care about your soul. She cares about your shoes.

2) You shouldn't sound as stupid as you are. Don't end every sentence with the intonation of a question? So it makes it sound like you don't know what you are talking about? Even if you don't know, you're going to have to fake your way through a lot of situations once you graduate.

3) You'll catch your vegan friends eating ice cream (real ice cream not Rice Dream) and you may find yourself being seduced by someone purportedly not interested in your gender. Abby thought she was getting an innocent backrub until she realized that her "friend" was experiencing it differently. "You said you were gay," she said, confused. "I am," was his nonchalant answer. Jason wasn't as nonchalant""he was crying""when he told me he loved me. Gay since he was little (and molested by a babysitter), he confessed I was making him question his sexuality. You may question yours.

4) You need a dictionary. Preferably the Oxford English Dictionary. Unabridged. And the first thing you should do wherever you go is buy a good map. Forget the Internet. Get a real map.

5) Nothing is impossible. Even vegans eating ice cream isn't impossible. You can win a Nobel Prize or spend a year in Guatemala. You just need to find a way to make it happen.

In graduate school (at Cal, in Comp Lit) I learned the blossom end of an apple tastes delicious""my miserably insecure friend Lucy taught me that. I didn't learn what Heidegger was really saying or what Hegel meant by the dialectic between the master and the slave. My advisor was right: better to wait. But you have to start somewhere. Why not with apples?

Share This Story