High school students (and to a lesser extent, college students) are at one of the strangest points in life – they have what sometimes passes as an adult brain, but they also have very little perspective on what matters. When possible, I try to nudge my little brother in the right direction. Before we play video games together online, for instance, I ask him if he’s completed his work. I attended one of his debate tournaments this past fall, hoping that I could encourage his participation in one of my favorite high school activities.
As a service for my mom, however, I will jot down a few pieces of advice for my fourteen-year-old little brother. Any time he has a sub par performance on a science test or is just pissing you off, Mom, show him this – my guess is he’ll have it memorized by the end of sophomore year.
Advice for My Little Brother
1. Where you go to college matters but not for the reasons you think it will.
The college you attend does not define you. When I was in high school, I had my heart set on attending an Ivy League school. Three years after graduating from a non-Ivy, my obsession with prestige seems idiotic, a product of a vain hunt for prestige. I ended up meeting a wonderful girlfriend at the school I attended, and I was able to get into a great law school.
Additionally, plenty of my law school classmates (including many that have equaled or bettered my performance) attended schools that 17-year old me would have scoffed at. They did this for a variety of reasons – some financial, some geographical, and some because they simply didn’t know any better.
The lesson here is that what you do in college matters more than what college you actually attend.
[More about author Frank Bruni and a review of his book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be here]
2. But where you go to college can be advantageous.
I know that right now college seems like a name on a bumper sticker or a measure of raw intelligence, but we unfortunately live in a world where the college you attend can give you an advantage or put you at a disadvantage when you start looking for jobs. This is an unfair amount of pressure to put on a 14 year-old, I know, but it’s true.
The lesson here is not to obsess over school; as with all things in life, balance is key. It is important, however, to work hard and try to live up to your academic potential.
3. Form good habits now.
Finish your work before playing, and try to start studying a few days in advance of an exam, even when the class is easy, and you think you know the material. Be willing to try new things and interact with new people, even when your initial reaction is to avoid them. Stick to a good sleeping schedule.
I didn’t learn these lessons until I was well into my 20s, and it made my high school and college experiences that much more difficult. Trust me, you don’t want to be the kid pulling consecutive all-nighters to finish papers and cram for exams – while it might sound cool, your work usually suffers as a result.
It is incredibly easy to get “stuck” in your routine – the longer you go without pushing yourself, the harder it will be to correct your behaviors.
4. Go easy on mom and dad.
Mom and dad have already been beaten down by their two older sons – do them a favor and listen to what they have to say. I won’t go as far as to say they’re right about everything, but they have a pretty good batting average.
Also, there’s no point in trying to trick them – I tried pretty much everything in the book, and none of it worked.
5. If you need advice, give your brothers a call.
We’re here for you.
Clean Is Sexy and 58 Bits of Advice for Our Sons
Eric Fischer graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2013 and currently attends Georgetown Law, where he is in his third year. If you want to learn more about him, read some of his mother’s articles, including this one, or find him on Twitter.