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Five Things College Students Do to Ruin Their Lives

by on August 9, 2011

black college students, black students

by Dr. Boyce Watkins – Syracuse University

As a college professor for the past 16 years, I’ve noticed two things about college: It can be a place to make your dreams come true, and it can also be a breeding ground for your worst nightmares. So, I thought I would compile a list of things that I’ve seen college students do to ruin their lives over the years. Hopefully, you and your child can learn from what I am about to share.

1) Sex, drugs, alcohol and gambling
College is a great place to pick up a lot of really bad habits. The worst part is that people tell you that these things are ok. It’s not that all of these are bad things to do, but at the very least, they should be done in moderation. It doesn’t matter if you are in college: If you have sex with too many people, you are going to catch a disease or get pregnant. If you use drugs, you are going to become a drug addict. If you drink too much, you will become an alcoholic. Gambling can also ruin your life as much as drugs or alcohol. I have several dozen friends with really messed up lives to this day, all of whom started their downward spiral on a college campus. You should not think that because you are in college, you are immune to these problems. If something doesn’t feel right, then you shouldn’t do it. Be mature enough to make smart decisions.

2) Falling for the credit card scams and ruining your credit
There are no serious credit card scams in college, only the little people who stand out in front of the bookstore trying to get you to take their "free money". Credit cards are very tempting when you are in school, especially since you are broke. If you decide to take one, make sure that you are very careful with how much you buy with the card, and that you have a careful plan to pay it all back. Putting yourself in over your head can easily destroy your credit. That is not a good cycle to get into. Not taking care of your student loan obligations can ruin your credit as well. You should manage your debt as best you can, because if you don’t, it can take decades to fix the problems that are created.
3) Working too much outside of school and forcing yourself to drop out
Getting a job in school is not a bad thing to do. In fact, it builds character. But you should work only to support your basic needs. If you find yourself working non-stop in order to pay for things that you shouldn’t be buying in college, then that is when it is time for you to settle down and reconsider your priorities. Your professors are not going to care if your grades are in the toilet because you are engaged in too many outside activities. It is your responsibility to keep up in class. You will have the rest of your life to work, make money and buy all the things that you want. If you do it all too early, you are going to kill your chance to ever have the finer things in life. My mother used to say to me that "People who work hard before they are 24 get to party hard when they are 30." I didn’t understand that then, but when I was 31 years old bringing in the New Year on a cruise ship in the Bahamas, I understood what she meant.

Additionally, the temptation to leave school for "just a little while" may seem to make sense, but it doesn’t. Most Americans never graduated from college, but most of us went to college for at least a while. For many college drop outs, the distraction may have seemed temporary at the time, but turned out to be quite permanent. Don’t get off the educational track, because the hurdles of the real world can be very deceptive.
4) Screwing up their freshman year
There are a ton of students out there who are spending every waking moment of their Sophomore, Junior and Senior years trying to compensate for the massive mistakes made during their Freshman year. If you get off to a bad start, you’re asking for serious trouble all through college. You will have to do 10 miles of work to get 5 miles of reward. Don’t put yourself in that position if you can avoid it. The best way to avoid problems in the freshman year is to use a consistent study strategy. That means, you should set aside at least 5 hours per day in which you go to a secluded spot in the library and stay there. Make sure that no one else is around. You can do whatever you want for the rest of the day, but make sure that your studies get their proper attention. After you’ve put in your class and study time, you will have a good 5 or 6 hours a day to have all the fun you want, especially on the weekends (remember: there are 168 hours in a week. If you are in class for 15 hours, sleep for 56 and study for 42, you still have about 55 hours left for parties! That’s a lot of party time!)
5) Pledging a fraternity or sorority too early
The quickest way to ruin your GPA and put yourself on a downward spiral in college is to pledge a fraternity or sorority during your freshman year. Some frats and sororities are responsible enough to make sure that they don’t allow freshmen to pledge. But even if they are not a freshman, you should not allow yourself to pledge until you’ve had a good academic year. If you are still struggling academically after your freshman year, you should wait and pledge the grad chapter. You will have the rest of your life to be part of the group, and you can still go to the parties and have lots of fun without being in the organization. I never pledged, but I had friends in every fraternity. The difference was that I didn’t have an obligation to anyone, but I had respect for people in all the different greek organizations.

Education matters more than almost anything you’ll ever do you in life. If you blow the opportunity over foolishness, you’ll spend the rest of your life regretting it.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a finance professor at Syracuse Universityand author of ‘Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about College.‘ To have Dr. Boyce’s commentary delivered directly to your e-mail, please click here.

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2 Comments
  1. Thank you for this. My oldest just graduated from college and she was definitely on the path…maybe still is. But hearing it from me (Mom) seems to fall on deaf ears.

  2. Lisha permalink

    I’m an Academic Advisor at a large public university and agree wholeheartedly with the listed items. In regards to #3, which I see all too often, studies show that working more than 15-20 hours per week has a significantly negative effect on a student’s GPA. The argument most students have when they come to me with struggling grades and working 30 hours a week and is that they “have” to work. More often than not, what they “have” to work to pay for isn’t tuition or meals, its cars, car insurance, off-campus apartments, and the newest clothes and such. Explaining that these things aren’t “have to have” items can be very frustrating and usually goes unheard. I then have to ‘go there’ and tell them that I hope they like that job, because when they flunk out of school they will need to make it full time. The most frustrating part is that a large majority of students that I have this discussion with look at me like I just made the numbers up and have no clue. I still try to get through to them though…..over and over and over…..I try.

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