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Maxed Out

Some (unasked for) advice for my niece

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But look at it this way, you’ve avoided 18 years of me giving you totally un-asked for advice.

Because of that reprieve, I feel completely justified laying this avuncular rap on you now. So here goes.

First, go to school away from home. Yeah, I know, you’ve already decided to do that but don’t waver; stick to your decision. Nothing against your folks; they’re nice enough people. But life’s easier – that is to say it’s easier to find your own life – once you’ve escaped the pull of parental gravity. Trust me, the lure of getting your laundry done for free isn’t worth it.

Don’t be too quick to decide what you want to major in. True, time is money, honey, but this is your life. You’re probably too young to really know what you want to do and besides – this is the good part – university isn’t about getting a job; it’s about getting an education… only part of which takes place inside the classroom. So enter through the portals of higher learning with an open, inquisitive, self-motivated mind.

Don’t look on all the Intro to Whatever courses as dull, meaningless, feedlots of learning. Yes, that’s largely what they are, you and 600 of your closest friends crammed into an amphitheatre being taught by a grad student or, worse yet, watching grainy videotapes of some professor sleepwalk through a course she’s taught several dozen times before. But overcome the mundane. Take a seat in the front row. Take as few notes as possible and listen to what’s being said. If you find it interesting, head to the library and find out more about it because – second really good part – that’s where the bulk of your formal education will take place. Not the classroom or lab.

While we’re on that particular topic, befriend a librarian. He or she will be invaluable and save you so much time you won’t believe it. The Internet is cool and fast but it is to a good library what carob is to chocolate – a pale substitute. Let the librarian teach you how to play the library like the fine instrument it is and it’ll repay your efforts manifold times for the rest of your life.

Take hard courses. Take enough science to either know you hate it or love it; the world doesn’t need another psychologist. Take a broad smattering of humanities; if nothing else, they’ll make you much more interesting to talk to at a cocktail party. Get involved in radical politics. Hang with liberals; hang with conservatives; engage in something you think you don’t believe in; avoid groupthink. Find your inner artist. Avoid sororities.

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