7 posts

War Stories from the Front Line of College Admissions

Over at Crassparenting, I’ve shared my thoughts for parents about how to prepare their students for the college admissions process. Knowing my audience, I thought that Crasstalkers would rather hear the war stories from my odd job.

There are stupid questions: One father asked in front of 600 people if our food service had diet food because his fat daughter couldn’t afford to gain the Freshman 15.  Continue reading

UC Berkeley Police Captain: Linking Arms is Violent Protest

After University of California, Berkeley campus police and Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies initiated violent action against Occupy Cal protesters on Wednesday, UC Police Capt. Margo Bennett has come up with a justification for the police action captured on video above. Continue reading

Photo Phriday: Show your College Spirit

Two Photo Phridays in one week, isn’t this special. For this spirited occasion, I want to see your school spirit. Show how much you care for your college. If you didn’t attend one of those overpriced degree factories, show us what school you hold dear.

I’ll start with three:

Yuck Fale. The first one is the back of a t-shirt our student government commissioned to honor the Princeton v. Yale game my sophomore year. The design is a Yale Bulldog being roasted over a fire. We have a little tradition at Ole Nassau that if we beat Harvard and Yale in the same year we celebrate with a bonfire. It had been well over a decade since our last bonfire, we were hungry and all knew 2006 would be the year. Our football team was on a rampage – by the Yale game, they were 7-1 and had edged out previously undefeated Harvard a few weeks earlier.

Continue reading

Community College Hell – How to Take a Test

About 18 months ago I was laid off. In my haste to figure out what to do with the next 1/3rd of my life, my fiancee and I talked about me going back to get my CS degree. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I started with a full set of basic classes. I started registration late and had to choose from a very limited supply of classes. My semester consisted of: Western Civilization, Microeconomics, US Government and Java Programming. Java Programming was online, so I didn’t deal much with the other students or the teacher in that class. I met the teacher only for the mid-term and the final.

The first week I walked into my classes, every teacher gave their version of the same speech: read the book, do the homework, study for the tests. They each had their own version of a “the system is out to get you” lecture. Every one of my teachers was a crackpot conservative. My Western Civ teacher was a Birther.

Every one of them said something similar about attrition as well. They said that the class would have 70% fewer students by finals.

I was going to community college. It was a good community college (California has some of the best), but it was still full of people who, for one reason or another, weren’t going to a State or UC college. I was also one of the oldest students in two of my classes (My Civ class had a grandma in it). In the first 4 weeks, I would go into classes, do the reading, do the homework, and follow the instructions the teachers gave out. I assumed my fellow students were doing the same thing.

My first hint that my professors might be on to something was my third week. Our Western Civ teacher gave us an assignment. It wasn’t a difficult assignment in my mind as I’d already done it four weeks earlier, even before the class had started. The assignment was to buy the course book. You didn’t have to carry the book into the class, all you had to do was come into class with proof you had purchased the book. This was worth 5% of your grade.

About 25% of the class failed this assignment. This was about the same number of people who forgot to take the “doesn’t count on your grade” pre-test in Microeconomics that my instructor begged us to take.

About 4 weeks in I had one test in each of my 3 humanities courses. Each one was relatively easy for me because I had followed the instructions of the professors: I had read the material, done the homework, and studied for the tests. This time period was an unmitigated disaster for many of my fellow students. Each class had students freaking out about what the tests contained and how all the tests were too difficult. Each teacher was stereotyped as an uncaring career sadist who delighted in pedantic lecturing that had nothing to do with the real world.

The class sizes began to dwindle. We lost a lot of people in my Microeconomics class right after the first test. My Government class started with 250 people, so at first it was hard to tell how many people were left. I sat in front in my Western Civ class, so I didn’t pay too much attention at the time.

At about week 11, I looked up my post mid-term grades and had a minor meltdown. I had taken two tests on the same day in week 9 while trying to play goalie to a child that refused to sleep in his own bed. From the grade scores, I had assumed that I had blown both. My Fiancee talked me down by telling me not to assume anything. Her suspicions proved correct; I learned that the curves in those classes were so low that my grades were putting me in the High B / Low A range. She was particularly annoyed at how little studying I was doing. She didn’t see me doing a lot compared to what she did in undergrad.

After my second test in Western Civ, my professor told the class that as a matter-of-fact, 45% of the class had failed both tests. What was amazing about that number was that the teacher did the following for every test:

  • Gave the questions to the tests during lecture,
  • Defined all of the vocabulary 3 times,
  • Told us where to read to get the answers for the essays, and
  • Provided outlines for her lecture.

In order to fail a test in her class, you had to lose 15 points out of 25. Oh, did I mention she also drops your lowest test score when doing your grade?

My Microeconomics teacher gave two tests. They admittedly were difficult. It was not an easy course.

My Government class had 3 tests, all of them open book. He put in his class notes the areas that each test covered.  His tests were so heavily curved that it was possible to miss 40 questions out of 60 and pass it. He gave students 15 extra credit questions on one test, and two extra credit book reports that would count for the equivalent of one free test’s worth of points. There were still people petitioning to curve the second test because it was “too hard.”

I think a lot of students hear “Open Book Test” and think it means “I don’t have to read the book.” I sat in a row of 5 people, and I asked every week for 3 weeks if anyone had read the chapters (yeah, I’m that guy). I was the only one. I took lecture notes, but I didn’t reread them in this class because they weren’t that useful.

Of all of my teachers, my Government teacher was probably the most useful because he was typical of the type of instructor at a university. He lectured abstractly about the material and expected the students to do the reading on their own. He didn’t tell you to learn the material, you just wouldn’t pass his class.

And he was despised for it. If you look at the reviews for him on, you’ll find hundreds of angry students going back years complaining about his teaching style. Of course, if you look harder, you’ll find the students who actually learned something in his class. It’s a small list.

My Microeconomics class had 27 students in it on the day of the final. We started with 120, with more people who were trying to petition to enroll. My Government class had less than 80 out of 245. My Western Civ class had 40 out of 120, and of those 10 of them still were failing the class. This was after she told everyone who failed the first two tests to drop the class.

Remember my Java Class? I didn’t have a lot of contact with the students except for the class forum. There were usually 6 kids and me in it. There were 60 people enrolled in the class. I earned a high B / low A in the class and thought I wasn’t pulling my weight because a lot of students had better homework grades. Then we took our first test. I was in the top 7 in tests, among the other 6 kids who were the only commenters in the forum. I don’t want to believe the other students copied homework, but the test scores and the behavior during the test indicated that some of them couldn’t even open the program to start the test. I spent 30 minutes watching one of the “A” students struggle to open the first assignment.

My last test was my Government class. The students had been complaining about this test for the past three weeks.  It covered 16 chapters in two books, about 300 pages of reading. I spent the weekend before reading one of the books, and had already read the other material in the other book. Here is how you take a test when it is open book:

  • Read the book
  • Do the homework
  • Study the material

It doesn’t hurt to make note cards with chapter names for the questions you might have to look up. Also, the index is your best friend.

One of the selling points for this particular school was that this was the best feeder school to the UC system. They boasted about it in all of their literature. Later on I found out what that rate was: 5%. There were 20,000 Freshman.

No One Should Ever Go To Grad School… Ever

Last week, we heard from grad school rock star GrandInquisitor, who showed you how to make grad school your bitch. Now, I know for a fact that GI is one hell of a grad student and that you are getting absolutely top-notch advice.

But first let’s get one thing straight: Grad school is bullshit and under no circumstances should you listen to your annoying thick-framed-glasses-wearing friends who are telling you to apply to it. DO NOT GO TO GRAD SCHOOL. Here’s why:

1. Law school is the ultimate exercise in bullshit.

Don’t even think about going to law school. Don’t listen to your parents, they just want to be able to say there’s a lawyer in the family, even if it means ruining your life. There are already way too many law school grads and not nearly enough legal jobs.

“When the economy first went down, students saw law school as a way to dodge the work force,” said Ryan Heitkamp, a pre-law adviser at Ohio State University. “The news has gotten out that law school is not necessarily a safe backup plan.”

And perhaps worst of all, graduating from law school with huge debt has a tendency to turn you into a huge douchebag.

2. A journalism graduate degree is even bullshittier than a law degree.

Having gone to an undergraduate j-school program, I cannot even imagine wanting to go back and get a master’s in journalism. First of all, journalism school (even at the undergrad level) is pretty silly. Everything you really need to know you’ll learn on the job. Most of the best journalists I’ve met actually studied something else in college. Second, Journalists make dick. The money at most traditional journalism jobs will have you living the social worker lifestyle. I hope you enjoy driving that 1990 Hyundai!

But the real reason you shouldn’t study journalism in grad school is that the industry is changing so fast that university departments aren’t keeping up. Journalism is not a hard science. The big ideas are coming out of places like Gawker and, not college faculties. In fact, for a large swath of the industry, having a graduate degree counts against you.

Also, as a rule of thumb you should always do the opposite of whatever an unpaid HuffPo blog-jockey tells you to do.

3. The world does not need more literature professors who specialize in obscure shit no one cares about.

Expecting a career in academia is an absolutely terrible reason to go back to grad school. Yeah, yeah, you probably read “Mysteries of Pittsburgh” and thought you could get yourself into some kind of cool faculty intrigue. But in reality you’ll just end up as a non-tenured adjunct professor, which is the academic equivalent of a mall security guard.

Here’s a Brown University Ph.D student’s take on the experience:

The prevailing culture of graduate school, if not always the experience itself, is one of misery and deprivation. Most grad students genuinely believe that theirs is a particularly difficult existence. I myself have been guilty of this. My theory is that this is partly due to the discrepancy between high seriousness and low stakes. One spends a lot of time racking one’s brains about serious questions without anyone particularly caring about the answers. One can devote anywhere from two years to a decade on a dissertation, pouring all one’s intellectual energy into the project, for the reading pleasure of exactly three people, two of whom will only pretend to read it.

Sadder still is the way in which the horrible process of academic professionalization encourages grad students to define themselves by their work. Conference rooms and seminars resound with the sound of socially inept people introducing themselves by their subjects. In one of the most heinous crimes against humor since the last time Dane Cook opened his inexplicably large mouth, I once heard a political scientist respond to a colleague’s remark with, “You would say that — you’re a comparativist!” The seminar room exploded with laughter, making me drop the free sandwich I was there for. You want no part of this.

4. Grad school is not the answer to the piss-poor economy.

Fleeing the shitty job market is a common justification for going back to school. Maybe you’re a few years out of college and just got laid off. Maybe you just graduated from undergrad and are terrified of searching for a job. Don’t let your circumstances (no matter how frustrating or scary) convince you to take the wrong path out of desperation. If you go into grad school out of fear about the economy, and without a rock solid career plan, you’re making a huge mistake.

In addition to the opportunity costs associated with taking yourself out of the workforce for years and losing all those wages, you’ll mostly likely be taking on huge amounts of new debt to pay not just for tuition but also for living expenses. That debt ain’t interest free, which can result in downright startling amounts of money being owed. The juice is always running.

As our 7-year grad student from Brown put it:

I don’t think that I could, in good conscience, recommend graduate school, especially a doctoral program, especially in the humanities, to another soul.


5. The grad student lifestyle is not actually all that cool.

It’s a well-known secret that a large percentage of grad students go back to school because they miss so much of the campus experience. Eating Ramen noodles and riding a Huffy around town while hammered was pretty fucking awesome when you were 19. When you’re 25 or 30… not so much.

Look, the grad school lifestyle mostly sucks ass. You will be completely broke. You will earn less net income than porno shop jizz-moppers. That cool turbo’d Subaru Impreza WRX with the all-wheel drive and fat sound system that you had your eye on? FUCK YOU, GRAD SCHOOL BOY. You’ll drive your old used 1989 Dodge Shadow and wear thrift shop clothes and you’ll like it! And the parties… at the grad school level the parties aren’t really that fun unless you like drinking cheap shitty wine while listening to some guy with a soul patch recite John Berryman poems. And if that sounds like fun, I will personally come to your house and stab you.

6. Working isn’t nearly as bad as everyone makes it sound.

I know every single person in the world bitches about his or her job. Getting up early and going to work in a cubicle does kind of suck. We should all be free to spend our days writing songs about our favorite days of the week or sexting, or whatever it is that the kids are doing these days.

But if it weren’t completely socially unacceptable to do so, most people could tell you at least a few of the parts of their job that they find truly fulfilling. And while classroom learning for its own sake is great, actually doing something in this world is not to be shat upon.

And, oh yeah, you actually will have a lot less debt and maybe even a bit of money in your pocket, unlike your friends in grad school. So instead of spending your late nights writing papers about Pre-Columbian llama herding in Peru, you’ll be out at the club ordering bottles of Santana Champagne and dancing to this song. My first job out of college paid a paltry $25,000 a year and I felt fucking rich at the time.

7. Grad school has nothing to do with learning or enlightenment or any of that bullshit.

Grad school is about credentialing, not learning. Stop romanticizing the idea of studying a bunch of obscure, theoretical bullshit that no one cares about. You’re an adult now, you already should have the critical thinking skills necessary to Mapquest your nearest library and crack open a book. And if your local college has some professor whose ideas really do fascinate you, you can always read his book or audit his course without signing up for a lifetime of debt.

8. There’s a fine line between educated and overeducated… and it’s called “grad school.”

Grad school will train you in economically questionable skills such as writing things like this.