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  • Writer's pictureMichael Colton

A Graduating Senior On How To Best “Do” College

By Michael Colton

In the words of Dean James Valentini and a recent Columbia Confessions poster, “college is meant to be the most stressful time of your life.” But it doesn’t have to be. Getting through the academic and social turmoil of your undergraduate years is as easy as looking out for yourself and prioritizing your mental well-being above all things, save for your GPA, resume, and social pedigree. Read below for some tips on how to best do so during each of your four years of undergraduate life at Columbia.

First Year

Go to the club fair and sign up for everything you can

Finding a community can be difficult once you learn who your NSOP friends really are. Luckily, this school has dozens of clubs and extracurriculars that will help you connect with new people, discover new passions, and forfeit all of your free time (in a fun way!). The trick is to find a club for an activity that you like a little bit, but whose members are the right mix of fun, intimidating, and rude to outsiders. These are the people you’ll be the closest with at Columbia, if you can impress them enough; the key here is to (a) pretend to be someone you aren’t, (b) apply to join the e-board as early as possible, and (c) make the club the sole topic of conversation when talking to everyone else you meet on campus.

Don’t be afraid to ask your professors for help

Transitioning to college-level academics can be tough. And unless you went to one of those Northeastern prep schools that specialize in producing the world’s wokest war criminals, there’s gonna be a learning curve. An easy way to rise to the challenge is going to your professors’ office hours, and doing so early in the semester. Connecting with professors one-on-one is a great way to make a class easier and more enjoyable. Your professors are people, too; they're more than happy to help you with challenging material and surprisingly willing to gossip about your classmates and help you scheme your TA. My only advice is to avoid following them on Twitter, unless you want to see your scholastic deficiencies and intellectual insecurities aired for the nationwide liberal arts gossip network.

Sophomore Year

The Sophomore Slump is real, and everyone goes through it

Although it might not seem obvious, it’s totally normal to struggle academically and socially at the start of your second year. So don’t be alarmed when the thrill of freshman year wears off, your classes get more difficult, and you start wanting to smoke for more than aesthetic purposes. To get through it, just remember that you’re here for a reason, that other people are going through the same thing, and that you’re not technically a “smoker” until you have more than one cigarette every six hours.

It’s not too late to make new friends

It’s easy to feel like you’re locked into your friendships at the end of your first year. But, more often than not, those friendships are going to evolve after spending a summer away from school. Don’t panic when your roommate returns in the fall with a lover whose passion is making lo-fi beats, because the world is your oyster. Plenty of strong friendships come to an end during the second year of college, and frequently, most of those involve disagreements on who was responsible for the breakup, so it’s completely natural. Ultimately, your sophomore year is the perfect time to reach out to your Marriage Pact match from last year, begrudgingly join Greek life, or convince yourself that you can actually find a “friend” on Bumble.

Junior Year

Go abroad!

This school doesn’t have a lot to offer, and least of all the chance to meet new people, take in new cultures, or expand your worldview. So, if the opportunity is there, take the chance to study at a foreign college or university. If you’re unsure of your options, ask an upperclassmen! I know for a fact that there’s no shortage of Columbia students who are willing to tell all about the profound discomfort, culture shock, and personal growth they experienced abroad. I’ve always found those students so brave—those who are willing to leave behind our elite institution in order to immerse themselves in a group of Americans studying at Oxford, or a group of Americans studying in Northern Spain, or a group of Americans studying in Berlin.

Don’t freak out if you can’t find a summer job

There’s a lot of talk about using your junior summer to lay the foundation for your career aspirations. That may be true for some sectors like consulting or finance, which value institutional experience when seeking employees to complete the vital work of counseling ICE on how to improve their public image using TikTok or helping Goldman Sachs evade the Bank Secrecy Act. For the vast majority of us, though, there’s no real make-or-break quality to the work you do in your junior summer, so don’t get too worried if you don’t land that super competitive internship. And take solace in the fact that there are apparently infinite postgraduate opportunities available in the Columbia admissions, advising, and career counseling offices that seemingly require no expertise or practical knowledge.

Senior Year

Join at least one new club

Your senior year is all about soaking up the college experience and making the most of your last year on campus. There’s no better way to do that than by joining a new club and immediately becoming the coolest, most aloof member. Seniors get a free pass when it comes to attending meetings or participating in group events, and they’re the only group who gets carte blanche to haze the dweebs. Case and point is the sparse attendance at Blue and White meetings and frequent bullying of yours truly by staff editor Chloë Gottlieb (Class of 2022). The way I see it, as a new senior member of a club, you get a new activity to brag about and some new parties to be invited to, while the rest of the group gets to sometimes wave at you on the street. Win-win!

Participate in senior class events and traditions!

Your last year is going to go by quickly but, luckily, the school does an okay job at organizing celebrations and opportunities to make it all worth it. Make sure to check your email for notifications from the administration and Student Council, because these events are pretty infrequent, and you definitely don’t want to miss them. I always say that you can’t claim to have really done college if you haven’t received a Mel’s Burger Bar beverage ticket in exchange for a mandatory $100 donation to the class fund. And nothing will charge your school spirit like a limited supply of free mugs being handed out for a 10-minute window in an obscure corner of campus, a Rick Ross concert performed for one-third of the student body, or a Class Day speech given by an All Lives Matter–supporting biotech billionaire.


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