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An open letter to the students about to begin their first year of college in the fall, parents anxiously hovering over their shoulders, and anyone interested in claiming the crown of Westeros.

By Ben Feuer



Dear future scholars of the world;

Felicitations!  You've gathered up your admits and rejects, pored over the pile and decided where you will spend the next 4+ years of your life.  Along with your pencils and pens, you're likely to receive a boatload of 'helpful' advice about what the hot STEM majors are, which courses to take to maximize your earning potential, and how to navigate the sometimes hazardous world of first year course selection to maintain an A average.

Bully for all that.

But allow me to retort.  Instead of spending your next four years like Stannis Baratheon, hunched over a map and madly plotting away, spend them like Daenerys Targaryen spent her youth -- exploring and eventually conquering the free cities of the East.

I know, I know.  But think about it.  Stannis is a schemer -- he spends his days plotting away, eager to use any and all means at his disposal to get what he believes ought to be his.  Aside from making him pretty annoying to hang out with, this is a losing strategy long-term.  No one wants to side with the guy who's stuck in the past.  Daenerys, despite her tragic past, is firmly focused on the present.  Instead of making obvious power plays or cutting bad deals with black magicians, she roams the free cities and welcomes new challenges and experiences.

So how do we translate this diatribe from high fantasy to higher learning?  Here are a few ways to channel your inner dragon princess and approach college with an open mind and heart.

Avoid trendy courses.  I know, that "Twilight and 18th Century Philosophy" elective sounds totes dramatic, but you are wasting your parents' hard-earned money when you sign up for courses that teach you what you already know.  Instead, seek out your favorite professor's signature course, the one that he or she has been developing and shaping for years.  Explore his or her research topic.  Live inside someone else's brilliance for awhile - you'll be glad you did.  Seek out courses on subjects you know nothing about -- when you come into a class with a blank slate, you get a lot more out of it because your guard is down and your preconceptions aren't as limiting.

Build strong relationships with the right professors (and don't grade grub).  One of the most important things you do in college is learn how to build lasting relationships.  Although most of these are going to be with your peers, it doesn't hurt to have a few professors in your corner too.  It's important, however, to pick your allies wisely.  That hella popular prof that everybody loves is not going to remember you three years from now, whereas the charming, bookish, brilliant adjunct could be heading a department of his own in ten years.  Plus, a little bonus note on grade-grubbing; before giving a prof a hard time over your B+ (which I guarantee you earned), ask yourself this -- would I rather have a (likely useless) bickering session or a powerful positive recommendation and connections down the line?  Schemers brood over past wrongs.  Explorers bet on the future.

Don't be a dilettante -- but don't fixate, either.  Unless you're doing something incredibly rigorous like pre-med, don't be afraid to experiment with unusual classes.  This is particularly true for liberal arts schools and humanities majors -- you're not getting what the school has to offer if you don't play the field a little bit.  And by the way, this goes double for student organizations and clubs.  That said, you can go too far in this direction; always keep an eye on the requirements for your major and minor so that you aren't caught short in your final semester.  This is particularly true for students thinking about transferring at some point in their college careers -- get in touch with your school of choice to make sure your credits will carry over, and talk to your intended major to make sure they'll have you.

College can be a scary place (although Westeros is definitely more scary).  Nevertheless, when you make important educational decisions from a place of fear, bitterness or resentment, you're hurting yourself in the long run (and probably in the short run, too).  When it comes to your college plans, be a dreamer, not a schemer -- live big and fail big, because just like GoT, it's going to be over before you know it.