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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Good and the Bad of Attending Uni

Well, this has been an interesting time these last few months. I've begun university level coursework at University of California, Santa Cruz, and it is proving to be a much different experience than I thought. There are things that really annoy me, misconceptions, etc. that I feel should be addressed for anyone out there thinking of attending a university level college.

Misconceptions:
  • Private schools make the claim that at public universities, like my school for example (and yes, there was actually a private school that specifically targeted my school for this), you will never be able to talk to the professors, your classes will be enormous and only be lectures, etc. This is really somewhat of a lie. I have only taken one course that had more than 80 people in it, and that was a class that EVERYONE has to take (no matter the major, it's a requirement). It's understandable that that course would be full. While the class was only lecture, with some time for discussion, the sections (discussion groups separate from class) were really smile. There were only 15 people in my section for that class. I spoke to my TA every section, directly, without having to beg for an appointment.
    Of my other courses, only one was over 30 students, most were under 25. The idea that you can't approach professors is actually a lie. You can approach them and they encourage you to utilize their office hours, email them, set up other appointments, etc. I get the impression that really students don't bug them enough for their liking. Remember, these people have valuable information. If you have questions, ask them. Professors love answering questions (well not all of them, but a lot do). They like to know you're interested.
  • You will read so much you'll never have fun again (or at least until you graduate). This has more to do with managing your time than having lots of reading. Last quarter I had about 20 books to read, this quarter it is significantly less, but equally difficult. It's actually not that hard to read all that, if you just sit down and do it.
  • Public universities don't help their students in a bind. That's a lie too. While those lovely private schools might want you to think this, it's really not very true. If you have a legit problem, there is usually some sort of help. Talk to your financial aid office. Often times they can work out deals with you, etc.
Truths (the bad):
  • University level work is expensive. Yes, it is. Not cheap. I get my fees, books, travel, and living expenses paid by tax payer's dollars. I'm making good use of that money. I'm not failing my classes, I study, I'm working on going to graduate school, etc. I also paid into this for several years and I am grateful for people who do pay for my college. College is not cheap.
  • Text books are disproportionately expensive. Another great truth. Text books are actually ridiculous, especially at university level. You buy these books for 20 or 30 bucks (we're talking small novels here, not giant science texts) and then when you want to sell them back you can't get much more than 1/10th of that. I list mine on Amazon, because I can get more money back for them. Another problem is that a lot of these books don't get used again for a long time, which further reduces how much money you can get for them.
  • Course Readers are stupid. Yes, they. Here's why:
    When you buy them you can't sell them back, even for a small chunk of change. You also can't sell them online because they aren't actual books, but groups of articles put together by the professor into a ringed binder. Alternately, that reader will likely never be used in the same way ever again or articles will be changed. That means, basically, you've just spend money on something that is useless to anyone else. They're essentially a waste of money.
  • University students bitch and complain about the stupidest crap ever. I've heard this one a lot: "I can't get out of bed by 9:30 to get to class by 10:00. That's too early." Bull. You know what's hard? Trying to get to campus by 7:45 when no buses run that early where you live. Yeah. They also complain about things like "Gosh, I have to read five pages tomorrow" or "I had four weeks to start my essay but now it's due in two hours". I've also heard other complaints that have little to do with school, and they are equally as stupid. Get over it. This is the easy life. Wait for the real world. I've been there. The "I can't get up that early" excuse is a surefire way to get yourself canned. Learn discipline now while you still can. Yes, things can be stressful, but that's no reason to bitch about stuff that, in all actuality, is trivial. You reading five pages is not remotely the same as someone losing their home, or being booted out on the streets, etc.
  • Campus transit is somewhat difficult during the middle of the day. The problem is that university students are excessively lazy. Here's an example: I've seen students take a bus that goes all over campus, only to get off two stops (about a quarter mile) later. Were they late for class? Nope. They were just meeting friends. Now the problem with the transits is that they are overcrowded during the day. Nobody walks. They all cram into the buses. This is stupid and counterproductive. Just walk. It's good for you and you can walk just about anywhere on campus in twenty minutes. I know, I've done it.
  • Some lack of diversity in coursework and difficulty in finding professors with similar interest. If you love science fiction, it's rather difficult to learn more about it in an academic setting in most universities, including mine.
  • Lack of discipline. Maybe this is just something that I have to get used to, but I think there needs to be a serious re-evaluation of how to deal with students. First off, I'm in a class this quarter and the same three people show up 5-20 minutes late every single class. This isn't a large room, but a tiny little place. So it's really noticeable. The professor hasn't done anything about it, though I think she should. The problem is that this is extremely rude. Unless you are cleared to do so with the professor, don't show up late. These students should have their grades docked. This is simply unacceptable at university level. Community college, okay, fine, but not at university.
    Alternately there is an overabundance of students who don't do the work. It's not that hard. Just do the reading and come to class. If something really bad happened to you, talk to the professor beforehand so they don't start calling on you to answer questions. Professors are surprisingly understanding your great aunt Bindy just died in your lap the night before.
  • Lack of basic education. This one drives me nuts. Okay, I'm not a science wiz. I love science. I generally get most of it, and I like doing math and learning about nifty scientific things, but it's not my field. I only have an interest in it as a bystander. But I also took steps to ensure that I can pass basic algebra, etc. First, there is NO reason why an accredited university should be offering rudimentary math courses. Not only is that a waste of money, it is also a waste of time for the professors. How exactly did you get into a university if you can't solve a+16=9? Okay, it's not THAT bad, but you get the general idea. There is a minimum requirement to get into a university either out of high school or a community college. You have to reach those minimums to even be considered. This drives me nuts here. These students shouldn't be here. I understand that math is hard, but you have to work to get to this level for a reason, and the university shouldn't have to put themselves out just to give you a shot. You have to prove yourself. I didn't get into UCSC because I begged them or wrote a nice essay in my application (though perhaps that has something to do with it...the essay part, not the begging). I got in because I have good grades and took all the courses I was supposed to. I worked hard to get where I am and so have a whole load of others, some of which probably worked significantly harder than I did. The universities in this country really need to re-evaluate who they let in. I'm not saying this to be mean, but there is a minimum expectation when you attend uni, and if you don't meet that expectation you don't really belong. The university is responsible for furthering your education, not teaching you what you should have already learned in high school.
Truths (the good):
  • Professors are extraordinarily helpful. Self-explanatory.
  • The TAs are extraordinarily helpful (for the most part). Self-explanatory.
  • The campus is beautiful (I got lucky on this one).
  • It's not more difficult than community college. At least not for me. I find it at about the same level, though a little more reading and the necessity to actually read. A bit more writing too, and shorter classes.
  • Campus food isn't too bad. It mostly tastes good and they have healthy options. Plus I'm convinced that Naked juice is the best brand of fruit juice ever made.
  • Classes are not entirely boring. Some are, but a few of them are quite good.
  • I get to learn stuff for a living (kinda).
  • Lots of cute little opportunities are afforded to university students (such as writing competitions).
I think that's sufficient!

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2 comments:

  1. I was one of those people who were five minutes late for every lecture. Except the ones that were straight after a previous lecture in the same room ...

    I have no excuse for that. I'm extremely bad at time management. I used to leave the computer room two minutes before class, when I knew damn well it'd take me four minutes to walk there. Which was dumb, but you know what? It didn't affect anyone but me. I missed the first couple of minutes of the lecturer talking (they were invariably late starting), and I didn't get a good seat, or had to sit next to the smelly person who picked his ear with his pen. I'm sure everyone else noticed me coming in, but you know what else? If they're not grown-up enough to be able to ignore a late-comer, then they're just as bad as I am. They're not five-year-olds who have never seen someone arrive late to class before and can't resist bursting into giggles about it, and it doesn't take a great effort to completely ignore the latecomer and carry on listening.

    The ones who are actually a problem are the groups of 5 people who are continually late, and insist on sitting next to their other friends, who are bang in the middle of a row, and ask several people to stand up so that they can squeeze past, thus making a loud noise and blocking the view of everyone above them. That's annoying.

    Anyway, I think I've rambled enough. Get used to me being late, Shauny. :p

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  2. I am doing a little catch up from the week so great updates on podcasts for writers, and fantasy maps!

    Regarding universities, there are always ups & downs. It is awesome to see you are focused & driven. I had an interesting discussion with a co-worker today that today's generation is lacking upon setting & achieving goals.

    I set desires early in my life upon graduating college & was able to completed it late in life. I was the on-time, dedicated student, but there are truths that bigger univeristies are harder to learn from. It is a blessing for you that Santa Cruz is different. I went to NDSU for 4 years for Engineering. I loved the cirriculum but it was very difficult to get the help I needed when I did did ask the teachers, TA/s, and attended the study sessions.

    In the end, I have my 2 year IT degree from a smaller college with a wide background in manufacturing & engineering. I have an wonderful career now after switching gears.

    All I can say is that everyone has different challenges in life & it is wonderful to see you pushing through yours :)

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