The Bitter Old Gen X’er’s Guide to Life

You Can’t Do That Without Special Permission: How to Succeed in University

Advice I Wish I’d Had When I Started Out

So you want to go to university. Well, if you insist on going, perhaps I can at least assist you a little on the subject. I was a university student for some ten years and can recommend the experience. After all, misery loves company.

The world of ‘universitise’ can be a bewildering one at first. Perhaps it would help to begin with an explanation of university terms:

Post-secondary education: The education that you receive after high school, which, secondarily, makes you feel like you’ve been hitting yourself with a post.

Credit: What stores won’t give you any of while you’re in school and not working.

Semester: A four-month period of classes worth a half-credit. Some classes continue into a second semester. This is known either as ‘full-credit’ or ‘failing.’

Lecture: What you get when coming home for Christmas from your parents, i.e. ‘when are you leaving that ridiculous place and getting a real job?’

Major: What you’ll be saying within a few months of attending university, i.e. ‘man, going here instead of trade school was a major mistake.’   

Getting in

Getting in to university can be difficult. Many places require fees, references, statements, notes from your mother, a papal bull, and a presidential seal in order to apply. The good news is that once you are admitted, you’ll already have earned three credits (six in Education faculty). That’s if you’re admitted. Some faculties such as law and medicine are extremely competitive and have very early application deadlines. If you are just getting out of high school, you might wish to apply for one of these programs right away so that your children might be accepted when they reach your age. For you, it’s too late.

Once you’re in, your problems are over, right? Double Hah! Sometimes faculty quotas don’t come into effect until your third year or after. They can also be changed at any time, so that you can find out two weeks before classes that you’re excluded from social work for being left-handed. Universities can also be very jealous of each other, so that if you try to transfer from one institution to another you may encounter resistance along the lines of, oh, the registrar calling you ‘clap-ridden pond scum.’

What to take?

Universities offer a myriad of programs and degrees. Perhaps it’s useful to examine the most common ones:    

B.A.: Bachelor of Arts. This is a good general program for those unsettled in their career plans, or who simply want to learn what words like myriad mean. Students can choose from a variety of humanities majors, all guaranteed to train young minds to be good citizens, expressive thinkers, and good burger fryers; when you graduate, you’ll find that ‘B.A.’ also means ‘barely anything.’ For those who will never need a job, it’s a solid career choice.

B.Sc.: Bachelor of Science. For those bent on careers in science and research, or who like grossing out first year girls with frog brains. Candidates will learn the vital, everyday importance of periodic tables and fruit-fly genetics. Consider it good public relations that universities don’t call this a ‘B.S.’

B.Bus.: Bachelor of Business. Money, money, money! Business students are often accused of being money-grubbing capitalists and intellectual pretenders. For a small fee, any business faculty member will refute this cruel myth over a martini.

B.Ed.: Bachelor of Education. This has the reputation of being the ‘easy’ program for those with grades too low for ‘real’ faculties. This is a lie, as many education students have written to me on construction paper while preparing this book. I could not print any of their comments, unfortunately, as they each demanded three credits for their inclusion.

B.Eng. Bachelor of Engineering. Engineering people are their own breed. They tend to have very wild parties and have strange customs like streaking or tying people up in the woods. If you do engineering and study mathematical formulas for eighteen hours a day while the drama majors are partying in the hallway every night, you’ll understand the need to blow off a little steam once in a while.

B.Mus.: Bachelor of Music. These are special students in universities, most noted for condescending to all other students. For these are not ordinary proles learning drudgerous facts; they are artistes refining their souls. Other students humor the B.Mus. faculty, however, knowing that the artistes will be waiting on them for the rest of their lives at Wendy’s. You know it’s a bad sign when the B.A. holders are out-earning them.

And so on. This is just a sample of what most universities offer; there are other specific programs such as nursing or architecture as well. Of course, many colleges offer training in particular trades such as mechanics, optometry, or secretarial skills. Some don’t even have a campus but teach by mail: ‘Train for an exciting career in cassette tape repair, elephant taxidermy, or calculator operation! Apply today and receive a complimentary set of 16-oz. tumblers! Nothing spells ‘quality’ to a prospective employer like a diploma from the Klassy-Klassy School o’ DNA Research and Bartending!’

Some of these schools may be on the level and turn out capable and intelligent people. (I say this because my mechanic might be reading this book: Nooo, Mr. Eckert. Everything’s fine. Your brakes are supposed to make that sound.) But I would be suspicious of schools that claim to teach highly skilled professions in two months (Learn open heart surgery the E-Z way! 1. Lesson one: anaesthetize patient and make a one-inch incision near the base of the heart. Good job! Lesson two will be mailed to you in six days!) or exaggerate job markets (K-Co stagecoach driving school is your ticket to the future!).

Course Subjects

You’ve decided to stay with a university, and you’ve enrolled as a first-year general-arts student. But what are these strange course selections? Permit a voice of experience to help explain the plethora of options. And no, a plethora is not a type of dinosaur.

Anthropology: This is the study of ancient civilizations from before prehistory. Meet the most nebulous combination of liberal arts and science possible as monkey skulls are analyzed by carbon-dating and the reading of bumps on researchers’ heads.

Drama: Read and act out scripts and adaptations, being marked on how you ‘feel’ about the role and your teacher’s ‘feelings’ about your role. There are often no exams. Is it a surprise that lots of people like to be Drama majors?

Economics: Get your feet wet in business faculty by learning how to effectively crush business opponents and dominate the world by ruthlessly manipulating economic forces. Perhaps not good to combine with a Religion major.

Educational Psychology: Meet the poor cousin of Psychology as you learn the basic theories of student discipline, which are whatever they are that week. Resist the impulse to club everyone in the class after hearing the unmarried women whine about ‘tolerance and understanding’ fifty times a lecture.

English: The study of English literature. Learn deep insights into other cultures and societies from opium-crazed authors and homosexual Victorian poets. Read classics like Middlemarch and learn the true meaning of ‘paid by the word’; impress girls by knowing what ‘American Pie’ is really about.

Geography: This is the study, categorization, and memorization of rocks (all 340 types) and clouds (273 types) and lakes (all 584 types). If you want to ruin any childlike appreciation of nature that you might have had, this is the route to go.

History: Learn the exciting story of the development of barbed wire in Saskatchewan! Discover how the British enclosure acts related to feudal legal procedure! Find out just how many people without lives have written hundreds of books on these topics!

Linguistics: The RULES of English. If there ever was a way for mathematics to ruin English, here it is. At least you can fritter away an entire class period at any time by asking, “but couldn’t this be a distributive pronoun as well?” and watching the rest of the class argue over it for fifty minutes.

Mathematics: If you have a knack for visualizing numbers, this can be a promising career option. If you don’t, having your wisdom teeth pulled with a truck winch might be more enjoyable. You can at least enjoy seeing the Music students cringe when you tell them what your major is.

Music: “All you do is sit around and listen to music, right?” Well, sometimes. You can also memorize forty-six key signatures and circles of fifths. Learn to be a spontaneous and creative musician while ten know-it-alls in the front row denounce your composition because ‘Bach wouldn’t do it that way.’

Philosophy: “What is a tree?” “What is a tree except that which is not a tree?” The ultimate in woolly-headed universitydom where professors and students sit back and ponder the nature of the universe. Possibly the only course where showing up stoned to class can improve your performance.

Political Science: The study of the political process and its application to our society. Interpret exciting graphs depicting how election polling affected mushroom production in Angola. Wonder, after learning the role of pork-barrelling and special-interest lobbying, how the words ‘political’ and ‘science’ go together.

Psychology: Junior-level courses usually involve cheesy films about laboratory mice and electroshock patients. Those who move on to higher levels -surprise!- are expected to turn out thirty-page assignments on synapse deterioration and chemical imbalance. Now you know why guidance counsellors never smile.

Religion: “Oh, all you do is sing hymns all class, right?” Those who believe that religion is intellectually childish are free to learn Hebrew, Greek, and Latin in one year with my seminary friends. You’ll discover why Augustine’s books are all 800 pages thick when learning principles like ‘eschatological predestinationism.’

Women’s Studies: In order to promote gender equality and fairness, only the legacies and writings of women are discussed in this class and those of men are ridiculed and vilified. Contrary to popular belief, males are welcome in Women’s Studies courses, provided that they face the rear of the class and call out “unclean!” as they enter the lecture hall.

Zoology: Sorry, no one should take Zoology. It’s just too much trouble to have to look at the back page of every alphabetical course listing each semester.

There are, of course, many other academic areas to choose from. Many cross over into vocational careers, such as therapy or dentistry. (Sorry - I didn’t define vocation. It’s Latin for ‘something you can actually get a job doing.’) Some course areas, like Calculus or Critical Theory, will teach you why subjects are called disciplines. Alternatively, some students prefer a more leisurely courseload; others are only in college to meet girls and have no intention of even attending classes. For the latter group, Education courses are perfect. (Yeesh - that wasn’t nice. Now I’ll get even more letters. Oh, well. It’s hard to feel threatened by someone writing in highlighter.)

At any rate, whatever you choose to take, whether you take it at Cambridge or Candi’s Modelling School, you’ll be improving your mind and expanding your horizons. I can personally attest to the value of education in making me the successful and self-fulfilled person that I am.

I guess that was the wrong thing to say.


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