College Questions?

Most of you have superb people advising you on college. They probably never made the STUPID mistakes I did. However, these mistakes make me infinitely qualified to make sure YOU never make these mistakes!

Take the advice of those who have been successful, to be sure! But I want to guide you through the minefield of “stupid” so you never have to look back and ask, “how could I have been SO STUPID?!”  I do that daily.

Obviously, I didn’t fail at college, otherwise I wouldn’t be here today. But I could’ve done so much more. I lacked INFORMATION. And support. I don’t know anyone who succeeded “alone.” 

  1. Make sure the professors and instructors know you BEFORE you go to a school. BEFORE. They are just people. They will favor those they already know. Don’t assume they know you. They don’t. Don’t assume your “awesomeness” will impress them. It won’t.
  2. Don’t even consider a school unless they already want you. Predicated on #1. If the professor for your major doesn’t want you, you will not be happy. Doesn’t matter why.
  3. Don’t go to a school that isn’t ready to invest in you. If they aren’t willing to give you some kind of scholarship (unless you are wealthy), go to another school.
  4. The “most famous” schools are not always the “best” schools. “Academic propaganda” is a huge problem.
  5. The “most famous” teacher isn’t always the best teacher.
  6. There are awesome teachers and programs at smaller, more personal schools.
  7. Research the colleges that the “best” people in your field attended. You’ll find an incredible variety of schools, not just the “famous” ones. Just because you haven’t heard of it doesn’t mean it’s not fantastic.
  8. Play in marching band at least for a year. Why? Friends! Instant friends.
  9. Play in marching band especially if you want the band directors to like you and recognize you.
  10. Marching band won’t hurt your career. The last two principal trumpets in the Chicago Symphony marched in not only band but DCI.
  11. If you are a double-reed player, play in the pit. Get money!
  12. Overall grades DO count! I had above average grades, but I could’ve nailed everything without much more work.Why do grades count? Because it shows a dedication to start what you finished and that you can be trusted to do your job! Those who go beyond the call of scholastic duty are held in great reverence by professors. (I do not mean sycophantic fanny-kissers.)
  13. Grades in your major count tremendously. Employers do look at transcripts. This is critical early in your career when you could have a great job that you’ll love or take a job that may paint you into a corner you may never get out of.
  14. Get to know people. Lots of people. Networking is how you get jobs.
  15. College is and isn’t like high school. You may be the best thing your high school has ever seen! When you get to college, there will be one of you for every high school represented, then you have sophomores, juniors and seniors. And then the graduate students. Talent is cheap at college. The students who work diligently to DEMONSTRATE excellence in their field succeed.
  16. “Talk is cheap,” too. Prove yourself through your work and save the talk for conversations and getting to know people.
  17. Listen twice as much as you talk, unless you are being grilled by a professor! When that happens, you MUST be prepared to defend yourself logically, factually, extensively and exhaustively.
  18. Be nice to people. You may be asking them for a job someday.
  19. Be nice to the janitors, secretaries and anyone else in a “support” position. They may be the smartest people in the building. Just be because they don’t have the fancy title doesn’t mean they aren’t smart. The may also be the most fun and genuine people you meet as they do not have to assume the persona of an “academic” with a reputation.
  20. Follow-up to #20: I have endured several of these “pretentious” and haughty teachers. I may have learned something, but not as much as I could have IF they had not been playing the intellectual intimidation game. I had a NUMBER of awesome teachers who did NOT play this stupid game. Raymond Crisara and Don Jacoby were two of the most respected trumpet teachers in the world and NEITHER of them had a college degree. They didn’t NEED a degree. They were that good. AND they were both very kind, caring and “real.” As I said, they didn’t need to be pretentious. I could name more. Many more.
  21. Avoid snarky, rude, arrogant, egotistical, negative people. “Arrogance” doesn’t mean they are actually good at anything. Do not waste your time. Hang-out with nice people who are committed to excellence and character.
  22. Follow-up for 200 points: Just because someone is arrogant doesn’t mean they are actually good at anything. And just because someone is “nice,” maybe even deferential, doesn’t mean they aren’t amazing.
  23. Character. Don’t be surprised if you don’t find a lot of this at college. Don’t fall for the “lack of character” trap. Be above reproach. Trust me. Be better. Be the best person as well as the best in your field. Even if no one else notices or cares, YOU WILL.
  24. You never stop learning. Getting a degree means pretty much nothing when there are few jobs and a lot of brilliant applicants. I’ll use myself as an example. I graduated from UT-Austin with a Masters Degree in Wind Band Conducting and a 4.0 GPA for grad school. I sent resumes and transcripts to 20-30 school districts. I received 0 – ZERO  – responses. Granted, most of those districts did not have openings. I have taught in 6 different school districts. ONLY ONE was in a district where I was “unknown,” and that was at mid-semester.
  25. “So if the degree doesn’t matter, what does?” No, it DOES matter. But finding a job isn’t like trolling ebay or Craigslist. If people know you and think you are awesome, they will call YOU. Case in point: Mr. Wood or Ms. Alkhasvilly at Wester MS. Ms. Stitzel who was at Jobe MS. I could go on, but these are people you might know. Know. Get it?
  26. Work HARD! You are SO fortunate to be in such a cushy situation! If the world was “fair,” you’d be starving or working in a coal mine outside of Cardiff. Make the most of your education and get to the top of your field. Or shovel coal if you like.
  27. If you screw-up, it’s not the end of the world. Or maybe it is of you screw-up big. Don’t. But if you do, slap yourself in the back of the head, get over it and move on. Apologize if you hurt someone.
  28. In regards to #23 (these are only number to make them easy to read), if you blow a test or audition or solo or whatever, you always have another chance. But do better the next time. EVERYONE I KNOW has screwed-up at some point. OK – I know a couple of people who have not screwed-up something. But it’s only because they have been focused so strongly on doing the RIGHT things ALL the time that there has been no room to goof-up. They just don’t have TIME to goof-up! Hint….
  29. If you don’t like college: Get a job. Something you enjoy. If you like the fast-food industry or plumbing or driving a truck, go do it! One of the most talented musicians I have ever known dropped-out of college to drive a truck. He plays in 2-3 rock and country bands and he’s happy. You only need college if it makes for a happy future. Again, some of the smartest and most talented people I know do not have a college degree. Some do. I know some people with doctorates that are very happy. Be sure you choose wisely.