College Vs. The Real Word (Or, What College Is Vs. What College Should Be)


Like many of my fellow post-grad twenty-somethings, I often reminisce about my college days as if they were a distant utopian dream that I’m not 100% sure was actually real. Even when I think back to all-nighters in the library and OMG midterms and finals week (!), the memories are sparkly and glittery and wonderful, the way I’d imagine a teenage boy might remember a pillow fight he once had with his older sister’s friends at her birthday slumber party. Sure, he got a black eye and his sister’s friends all figured he was gay, but in his memory the scene lives on as a feathery, slow motion, unparalleled moment of glory. Or something.

So, yes, that was a weird example… but let’s press forward.

The point I’m trying to make is this: For many of us, college was a pretty amazing four years. And while there may have been challenges and bumps in the road, there weren’t really CHALLENGES or bumps. in. the. road. At least not the kind that slap you in the face faster than you can say, “John Mayer, your twisted theory about the real world not being a thing was so, so wrong you sick, sick man.”

Having now observed four graduation anniversaries (gradversaries?), and having successfully managed to screw up an impressive number of life things since leaving the Disneyland that was my alma mater, I’ve started to wonder: Why was I so unprepared for the second puberty that is young adulthood? I studied, got good grades, learned the value of a dollar, interacted with humans in a semi-professional manner on most weekdays, and was an overall nice person deserving of moderately good real world karma. Where did it all go wrong? Why have I had such a hard time being a real-life adult person?

In the spirit of externalizing my problems and taking on the persona of the whiney girl from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I offer all those suffering similar fates this insight: It’s not you, it’s them. That’s right, your alma mater, the place you trusted with your very heart and soul, did you wrong. They played you. They told you that if you took out loans and promised your first born, they’d Prepare You For The Real World in exchange, and all would be well…and they LIED. Instead of preparing us for the real world, they built us up, buttercups, and they knocked us down hard.

For the sake of future generations of real world belly-floppers, we must stop the madness. Keeping all of this in mind, here’s a comprehensive list of what college is, followed by what it really, truly ought to be.

1. Friends

What College Is:  Waking up with all of your favorite people in a 100-foot radius. Every single one of them can be accessed by throwing your shoe directly at their faces or shouting “MEET US AT BRUNCH” into the airwaves. If you want to hang out, you basically just roll over and poke someone, causing a chain reaction of bestie pokes and wall knocks that eventually lead to an all-out hang fest. Visiting a friend means putting on underwear, walking a few doors down, and plopping yourself on his or her bed without any invitation to do so.  Since you are with these people pretty much every day, conversations consist of ridiculous inside jokes, tall tales of weekend escapades, and food (mostly food). The biggest roadblocks to chillaxin’ with your friends on the quad are marathon classes and work-study “jobs.” Three or more hours apart results in extreme separation anxiety, which can only be cured by cracking open a Natty Light with your pals on a Wednesday because…Wednesday.

What College Should Be: Dorms should be one room tree houses scattered about campus with Nickelodeon-style obstacle courses in between. You’re feeling lonely and want to hang with da crew? Good luck, Godspeed, and watch out for the green slime. Conversations during the week should be strictly limited to 140 character texts, and phones should have pre-programmed text templates to acclimate students to appropriate lingo (e.g. Ugh, Mondays suck! Miss you! We need to catch up ASAP! We should grab a drink!). Students should be given Tetris-like Google calendars at the start of every semester filled with random events they must attend, or else. Want to plan a brunch gathering? That’s fine, but you must first pass the test of finding a date that works for your entire social circle. Then, and only then, will you be granted access to pancakes and bacon in the cafeteria. But, of course, all of your guests will still have to make it through the slime (text template: Got caught up in something! Running a little late!).

2. Classes & Jobs

What College Is: Rolling out of bed, wiping drool off your face, sniffing your sweatpants to make sure they’re somewhat acceptable to wear, and walking 100 yards to recline in a seat and casually receive knowledge for a few hours. If for some reason you’re sick with a touch of slothdom and can’t make that super early 8 AM class, texting a friend to take notes for you is all you need to do to score some extra hours of glorious sleep. When you do go to class, though, you get to sit in a circle and discuss the meaning of life with a bunch of moderately intelligent people. Your professor encourages you to share your brilliant knowledge and insight, all the while aggressively nodding his or her head as if you, as a sweatpants-wearing, Natty-drinking 21 year old, may actually have the answers to some of life’s biggest questions.

What College Should Be: We should keep the rolling and the drooling thing, but substitute the sweatpants for frumpy, itchy work pants. Roosters should roam campus to ensure that everyone is equally annoyed and/or grunting when they arise at 6:00 AM to line up for their morning coffee.  Professors must never, ever allow students to feel like they know anything about life or could add anything of value by speaking. The more professors channel Sparky Polastri from the 2000 smash hit Bring It On, the better (follow me or perish, sweater monkeys). Praise should only be given when a student masters the art of sending a passive aggressive email through Microsoft Outlook. Extra points should be awarded for aggressively detailed calendar invites and colorful, complicated Excel spreadsheets.  Sunday scaries should be simulated once a week by releasing a pack of wild, flying monkeys onto campus, thus allowing students’ bodies to adjust to fear and panic whilst nursing a hangover.

3. Dating & Social Life

What College Is: You go to college to meet your bridesmaids, not your husband [insert heart emojis]!! If a relationship happens to blossom, it springs from a beautiful, organic fountain of friendship and drunken affection. If it doesn’t, that’s totally okay too, considering your biological clock feels about as far away as Big Ben on the other side of the pond. When you go out to bars and parties, there’s a built in background check for all members of the opposite sex. Ninety-nine percent of the people around you are friends, friends of friends, awkward classmates, and underclassmen. One can make a fairly strong assumption that there are little to no child predators and/or serial killers in attendance. Even the weird, belligerently drunk kid scream-singing Kelly Clarkson usually has someone to vouch for him (“Nah man, he’s legit”). It’s everyone’s party, and you can beer shower if you want to—especially if “Shout” comes on. If you feel like hooking up with that junior in your bio class, odds are you can make it happen faster than you can say Remix to Ignition. Dance Floor Make Outs (DFMOs) are not only acceptable, they are expected and celebrated. And it’s safe to say that wherever the night takes you, come 11:00 AM, after a quick morning head count to make sure everyone’s alive, brunch will cure all of your hangover woes. Hilarious and cringe-worthy stories will be exchanged, and ultimately, the Weekend Warriors will emerge victorious. 

What College Should Be: There should be a new mantra that goes something like this: “I mean, it makes things a lot easier if you meet your bridesmaids AND husband in college. Sorry to be the one who has to break this to you. Hashtag truth bomb.” Obviously, along with their emails and class schedules, students will be given their own personalized dating profiles at the start of orientation. Students will first be trained intensively on the art of swiping left or right based on first second impression (beware of the group photo!!!). They will then be encouraged to assess potential significant others based on text chemistry, rather than actual, real life chemistry. In terms of the party scene, college administrators should bus in a bunch of random humans from off the streets and give them easy access to all student gatherings. In other words, DFMO at your own risk. If and when a student senses he or she may be developing feelings for someone, both parties will be forced to complete a questionnaire on the topics of religion, politics, and life aspirations. “But we have fun together!!!” they may shout in objection. To which everyone else will reply, “LOL.” Finally, all college students will be shipped to the Hunger Games clock arena once a semester as a subtle reminder that according to the year 1903, they should have at least three kids by now. Instead of fallen tributes, the sky will illuminate with fallen Facebook friends, i.e., those with engagement and/or baby pictures. Tick tock, you guys. Keep swipin’.

4. Lifestyle

What College Is: Five Hour Energy Drinks and Five Hour Naps harmoniously coexist under the mantra Work Hard, Play Harder. Life comes in a series of binges: study binges, drinking binges, paper-writing binges, sleeping binges, cafeteria binges, and late night pizza binges. You name it, and the average college student will most likely binge it. College is also a place where miracles occur daily. You stay up all night, squeeze in a gym sesh before a hangover sets in, and then nap like an infant. All in a span of 24 hours. Like I said, miracles. Rather than judge you for grabbing that second buffalo chicken slice, your friends actively judge you if you don’t go for seconds. Pizza is a god, and you are its temple. And while you become slightly less invincible to its caloric wrath as senior year draws closer, you know you’re in a safe space amongst your pizza loving peers. In college, every pound is a pound of fun.

What College Should Be:  Work Hard, Play…meh. I’m tired. If college students are to truly acclimate to the real world that awaits them, administrators should strictly enforce a no-nonsense No Naps Policy. Students should be taught to wholeheartedly embrace the 10 P.M. to 6 A.M. sleep cycle (the aforementioned roosters will, of course, ensure this regardless). The only type of “binge” allowed should be one that involves kale. Week-long benders should be replaced with seven day juice cleanses. Pre-hangover, adrenaline-fueled gym sessions should be replaced with half-marathon training schedules (13.1 bumper stickers, anyone?!).  Students should receive extra points for choosing 5K races over keg races. In addition, all students should be trained in the art of gluten-free, free range, home on the range, farm to table gourmet cooking. Psychology professors should condition students to run and scream at the sight and/or smell of pizza, Pavlov style. In other words, pizza is the devil, and all things green prevail.

….and yet, despite its lack of real-world-survival preparation programs, if I could do college again, would I do it the same?

Yes. Yes I would.

As I sit here giggling at the thought of these changes actually occurring, I’m reminded why our college days were so freaking important.  For starters, college taught us that the green stuff never, ever tastes as good. But perhaps the most important thing college taught us—or gave us, rather, is the gift of genuine brotherhood, sisterhood, and humanhood. College was, and probably will be, the only time in our lives we were truly a part of something greater than ourselves; a rare and wonderful time we were a part of a true community. A community in which we did everything together at a place we all learned to love and call home.

While college didn’t prepare me for soul-crushing Excel spreadsheets, second puberty confusion, or half-marathon-quinoa-online dates, it taught me the most important lesson: People can be crappy to one another, but when it comes right down to it, we are all basically good. Deep down, we all want the same basic things: namely, to laugh, be weird, learn stuff, sometimes chant stuff, break bread, and feel loved.  So college, while you may have been the source of my real-world belly flopping, I still think you’re doing some real good out there. Keep it up.