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The “Brandeis” (The College) Experience

Published: February 11, 2011
Section: Opinions


I know what you must be thinking—no, I’m not a midyear.

That is the only possible explanation as to why I would be writing this article right now. After all, this is an awkward time to be commenting on the “glorious” college experience.

It’s the beginning of February—the semester is off to a freezing cold start. What am I doing writing about this now? Obviously this article would be more appropriate if written at the end of my first year or at the end of my first semester. But you know what they say—the best things in life are unexpected. And so, my condolences to anyone who may be offended by my poor timing.

“The college experience.” A phrase that’s been written about, mentioned and cited so many times that it brings the dead horse to life. But before you shake your head at my use of such a trite expression and flip the page in disappointment, I’m not going to talk about the typical college experience. This won’t be about a frat party I went to. Or the time something clicked with me during one of my professor’s lectures. Or the American-flag-waving-in-the-background feeling I got when I realized Brandeis was where I belonged. I would just like to share my idea of what the college experience meant to me six months ago and what it means to me now.

Coming into college, I had heard all the rumors. I had seen “Revenge of the Nerds” (even the last two, which were awful). My friends had told me that I would be in for quite the surprise; that the best four years of my life would be in college; that I should prepare for laughter, for learning and for liquor. Well, none of my friends went to Brandeis. And so none of what I expected came true.

Nevertheless, I was aching to get out of my high school. It wasn’t that I couldn’t deal with “The Plastics” or that I wasn’t being challenged by all my AP courses, but it was that I had felt like I had been in high school for years. Every day was the same—I wondered sometimes if I were repeating the same day over and over again, like something out of “Tru Calling” (for all you Eliza Dushku fans). I was itching to move on with my life. And then there was college. I had this ideal vision of college as a paradise where independence and fun were the only guarantees. But I wasn’t naive. I knew about the parties and the prevalence of drugs and alcohol. Nonetheless, coming into August, I had two contrasting ideas of college: the idealized view of it and the wild-parties view of it. But reality struck me in the face like a wet noodle when I arrived at Brandeis in late August.

It turns out the college experience at Brandeis is almost the complete opposite of the college experience in general. It is nothing like I imagined it would be. And this is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just different.

It’s funny that I say that, because I am constantly hearing students on my trek up the Rabb steps criticizing every single facet of Brandeis life. The food is awful. The girls are repulsing (as are the guys). Waltham is boring. Brandeis is dull. Everything is horrible! Brandeis students are whiners and I am on the caboose of that complain train.

Nevertheless, it’s rather Brandeisian of us to say those things. And most of them are true. But Brandeis does have its benefits.

All things considered, the education at Brandeis is top-notch. If you are willing to learn, learn you shall. When finding myself engrossed in my political history class, I laugh at the comparisons to my high school AP Government class, which involved my teacher repeatedly asking a non-responsive class what the First Amendment said.

But the education at Brandeis is a given. It’s all the other features of Brandeis that come under attack from the students. And they have a right to be critical. After all, we’re paying $56,000 per year to go to Brandeis. We could have easily sat home and read the textbooks or studied the information online for free. Or we could have gone to community college. So why Brandeis?

The easy answer is that we’re going to college to get a degree, not to get an education. But what we’re really paying for is the social experiences, and the growth and development we undergo as human beings. If all I were paying for when I applied to Brandeis was the education, I would have taken a snow check. But that’s not what I’m getting. I’m getting a unique college experience.

Brandeis isn’t Boston University. It’s much smaller and much more intimate. And for most students here, that’s what they prefer. But it also has things that, if nothing else, make it special. Perhaps the most-criticized element of Brandeis is the food at Sherman. But that is one aspect of Brandeis that is distinct. As is going to Ollie’s at 2 a.m. on a Saturday for pancakes.

And Brandeis students are nothing like Harvard students or NYU students. Above all else, we’re nerdier. I mean, think about it: how many of your friends spend every single night digging a hole for themselves to finish all their work either in their room or in the library? How many of your friends remind you on a daily basis how stressed out they are or how jam-packed their schedule is? That’s Brandeis. Brandeis students are more likely to procrastinate on Sporcle than on Facebook. Brandeis students are likely to sit in Usdan for hours discussing just about anything to avoid studying for a chemistry test. Brandeis students are likely to entwine the Jewish faith into every conversation.

What’s made my college experience memorable so far? Oh, where do I begin? Very late nights at the Shapiro Campus Center (like watching the sun rise late). Waiting for the BranVan in the pouring rain while my friend sings “American Pie.” An enormous Secret Santa party in Polaris Lounge with my Jewish friends. Playing Ultimate Ninja in Harvard Square, a game permanently ingrained in my memory after Orientation Week. Living in the library during finals week (I set up a hammock on the second floor). Having a giant whipped cream fight with my friend at the Quad Olympics and subsequently licking myself on the walk home. Signing up for hundreds of clubs at the Activity Fair and currently having a jam-packed inbox full of messages from clubs I never intended to join (I’m sorry, Cheese Club!). A huge game of hide-and-go-seek in the library. Waking up at 8:30 a.m. for free food and free unity outside of the SCC. Having inspirational talks with all sorts of people in every lounge in North and Massell Quads. Late nights in various places debating our top five presidents or questioning the origins of existence. These will make some pretty colorful stories to tell my kids one day.

No, I never went to Brown. And I haven’t lived at Duke either. So I can’t say for certain that Brandeis is the best college out there. But I can say that contrary to what students may think, the Brandeis experience is not all that bad.