Say No to the Burrito, College Kids!

I teach a course at my college called First Year Experience 101.  It’s an introduction to college life for–you guessed it–first year students. Whether they are traditional straight-out-of-high-school 18 year olds or worked-my-life-away babyboomers, new students at my school go through FYE to learn college-appropriate study skills, life lessons, and time management.

Why Me?

I was approached for the position because I’m still fairly young and fresh out of school; therefore, it is assumed that I can relate to the students because I do not really give the vibe that some of these 20-to-lifers give.  I think I have a fresh take on approaching college, and so far, some of my students have actually heeded some of my advice. I’ve also learned the hard way how to avoid many of the pitfalls college students face because I lived them and came out of the experience with the wisdom not to do it again.Burrito No

Probably the best advice I give them is something I learned the hard way that I think is important enough to make me come up with a cheesy motto: “Say No to the Burrito.”

I developed this phrase when I started graduate school because, as an undergraduate, I was always guilty of cutting mid-day classes to go to the fantastic Mexican restaurant adjacent to our campus.  It didn’t matter what was going on, if my friends were going, so was I—test or no test, book read or unfinished, absences left or not.  I needed that Baja Bowl or Chile Colorado far more than I needed “The Dream of the Rood.”

On the upside, I had some good times with my friends there.  We bonded, we laughed, we fought, and we even had some pretty bland-in-hindsight discussions about things we thought were pseudo-intellectual.  On the opposite of that, however, my grades dropped, or rather, plateaued.  I was aiming for B’s in the classes instead of the A’s I knew I could earn.  I might even get a C in one because absences pushed me over the threshold.  And I didn’t care.  After all, I had heard grad schools and employers didn’t care about students’ GPAs as long as their degrees were finished.


They care.  And they care a lotJust having a piece of paper saying you’ve gone through a program does not denote that you are worth hiring. Unfortunately, neither my friends nor I understood this when we were undergraduates.

So now, I teach my FYE students that time-management is the most important thing they can learn when entering college.  It might seem all right at the time to do “passable” work, but when the real-world comes calling “passable” is anything but.  So now I’ve taken to telling my FYE students (and any other student who will listen) to “say no to the burrito” and try to care about their education.

Stack of BooksLooking back, I now know that there will always be another Mexican lunch with my friends, but there will not always be a make-up test or time to read that novel again. My buddies would have understood if I had taken the time necessary to study every once in a while.  Heck, they might have even done the same by realizing I was on to something.

Don’t think that just because you have a routine that it can’t be broken or just because your friends don’t care about their GPA, you shouldn’t either.

I loved having daily lunches with my friends at the local Mexican restaurant, and I will always cherish those memories. At this point, however, I would cherish A’s in those classes I skipped and the resulting higher GPA even more.

By B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.


  1. Once you get further down the road, Beej, you’ll realize that it’s not the As or GPA that you missed out on, but the experience of learning those materials.

    And who knows, you might have made the *best* choice by choosing the burrito, because in *those* experiences you learned a lot more about people and socializing than you would have from any books. And when it comes to making it in the world of grown-ups, that’s the most valuable learning out there. All of us depend on each other, so the arts of interaction are crucial to develop. Especially among geeks who fall behind this curve in high school.

    You also learned some independence, what it means to buck authority and chart your own course… and come to think of it, you learned that you might not always know best. But would you have really learned that lesson without first-hand experience? I think not.

    You didn’t make a mistake, Beej, except in thinking that you made a mistake.
    .-= jane´s last blog ..Belle Chose the Rabbit Hole =-.

  2. I learned that soon in grad school, Jane. I had an epiphany where I realized that my lack of trying would hurt me in the future because I was going to do that professionally. I could skirt by and get passable grades, but I would actually know nothing about the material. That’s when I really hit the books and started giving a damn about my education.

    I just regret that I didn’t do it earlier because now my GPA and credentials are not at the level they should be. My CV will make up for that in a couple of years, but there will always be that embarrassment of not having a 4.0 in my major when it would have taken so little effort on my part to actually maintain.

    I did learn a lesson, and in a way, I am glad–like you say–that I had those experiences to learn from in the first place. I was lucky because I was pretty social in high school and never fell behind the curve as so many with my interests and personality-type do (INFJ/P, baby! [my tests never come back solid on which I am]).

  3. p.s. just saw your twitter: couldn’t disagree more. dushku is becoming transcendent in her performances. she was *made* for this role, perfectly.

  4. I have to admit that discussing the best course of action with hindsight is a little…circular. What everyone seems to be saying is that everything you do can have a positive outcome depending on your perspective and what you’re willing to ‘see’. I’m not sure if there’s a right or wrong here.

    My only comment is to keep doing what makes you happy Beej, and you really haven’t made any mistakes, even if you feel uncertain at some points, there’s nothing wrong with that either.

    jane, let’s not be overzealous in our backhanded insults here.
    .-= Robert´s last blog ..The Big Bang Theory ‘The Pirate Solution’ experiments with new dynamics =-.

    1. As much as I love Dollhouse and think it’s phenomenal, I’ve yet to warm up fully to Eliza Dushku as Echo. I don’t feel she has the acting range of someone like Dichen Lachman or Enver Gjokaj. I accept it, though, because she’s grown on me more than she did in S1, and we wouldn’t even have Dollhouse if Fox hadn’t signed a contract to give her a show and she approached Whedon about it.

  5. I think the key is moderation and balance. In college, it’s great to, every once in a while, decide on a whim to have lunch with your friends instead of going to class. The problem comes when you completely prioritize lunches over class and start skipping so much that it affects your GPA and the quality of your education.

    It’s tough, though. When I first started college, my group of friends had a tradition of going out every Friday night, going to lunch together in whatever combinations our schedules allowed, and occasionally having other spontaneous adventures. But after a couple of years, they got where they started wanting to hang out 4 or 5 nights a week, which was more than I could manage with my school work, and to be honest, was more than I really wanted to hang out with them (I’ve always required time to myself to function.) When I started saying no when they called, I got labeled as anti-social.

    It really depends on the person and what the right balance is for her or him. But I absolutely think you’re right in advising students to not skip class regularly.

  6. While I appreciate the wisdom in telling student about time management, I always wonder: When is the time when I am SUPPOSED to slack off and find myself?
    What you told your students there (bar the burrito part I guess, but the idea in itself) is exactly what everyone’s been told since we started school. You need to do well in primary school to be able to cope with grading in secondary, and highschool is all about prepping for university/college. When that finally hits, it’s apparently only a stepping stone to a real career. And after that: Well you are apparently then a grownup and should take responsibility. You need to work hard to get a promotion so you can work and earn more etc.

    While that might be true, I do think we should allow ourselves some time to simply grow. Managing your time well is essential to completing studies well, and moreso: a successful academic life, but so is finding curiosity aboout life. Finding love, reading that book you always wanted to, having an amazing movie experience or stay up all night playing a game that just blows your mind. Each and every of those points might be just as pivital to a academic career as working between 9 and 5 on that curriculum.

    Preparing yourself for an academic career is also about awakening the wish to investigate, debate and the passion for finding answers. Not everyone will get that between 9 and 5.

    1. In the end, it’s about moderation. Almost every professor I know about gives roughly 3 absences a semester to do with as you choose. If you take those when you’re sick, great. If you take those for lunch breaks, whatever. It’s when those arbitrary numbers the professors set are being ignored that it becomes a problem. Or if a professor doesn’t have an attendance policy, it can really get iffy.

      It’s up to you as a student to determine how much time you “need” to slack and still maintain the level of scholarship you want. I don’t expect any of my students to study 9-5, nowhere close. However, I do expect them to put the effort that is required in the class to pass.

      Even in an 18+ hour semester, there is a great deal of free time between classes and a job a person might have. It’s up to that student to determine whether or not it’s worth it to read that book, play that game, or study for that test. That’s where the awakening comes in. When you’re able to determine what’s best at any given time, rather than simply what you want. That was the lesson I had to learn the hard way.

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