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Articles / Applying to College / The Spartan College Life

The Spartan College Life

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | March 12, 2013

Okay. Let's play "Remember When." Every time I start to recall how things used to be "back in the day," or my mind wanders to "the way we were," I think of Tony Soprano. Why the odd connection? Well, if you are (or were) a Sopranos fan, you may recall (even remember) an episode entitled, appropriately, Remember When. In that episode, Tony and fellow gangster Paulie "Walnuts" are having dinner with an ex-gangster in Miami, when Paulie starts to wax nostalgic about the gang's good old days. After listening to Paulie prattle on for some time, Tony gets irritated and scolds Paulie with the shows title line by noting that, "Remember when is the lowest form of conversation."

Well, hey. What does Tony Soprano have to do with college life, anyway? I can explain by first acknowledging that in a number (maybe too many) of past articles here, I have remembered when I was in college (or even high school). The main reason I have looked back across the decades is to draw a contrast between the way things used to be in the collegiate world compared to now. The contrasts sometimes have been quite shocking, particularly in the area of costs. But for today's writing, I'd like to compare current day-to-day college life with the way things were when I lived in Asbury Hall.

Get ready, then. Here comes the "I remember when" prelude to my post's punchline. Anyway, back in the day, I bunked in a dorm room that was about the same size as a decent walk-in closet. Spartan would be a great word to describe our (my roommate's and my) living conditions. On my side of the room was a bed and a chest of drawers. There was a small student desk sandwiched in between and a tiny closet down at the end. My roommate's side was identical and there was about four feet of space dividing the two sides. We had no phone in the room and no TV. There was a payphone on the wall down the hall, halfway toward the other end of the building. Think of The Waltons.


We had to walk everywhere, even for pizza (no dorm deliveries), and it was a significant hoof to go into town for a decent sit-down meal or retail store. There were no malls, no laundry services, and we had no cars. There was one meal plan and no organic fruit in the food line. In other words, it was sort of like an army base with professors and a football team.

Well, I'm hearing shouts of "Get to the point!" so I will. A recent Wall Street Journal article by Melissa Korn points out in great detail the tremendous differences between today's college life and the way it was when I remember when. The title, Forget the Old College Try, Ring the Concierge - Students Hire Pros to Do Their Bidding; Getting a Bidet in a Hurry, alludes to what's happening. Here are a few highlights along with some comments from the related College Confidential discussion forum thread.

... "College used to be a great equalizer: No matter their parents' social status, students who came to campus tended to deal with basic life skills on their own—from frying up grilled cheese sandwiches to unclogging toilets and folding laundry. That was before companies like BCCG ["Boston Collegiate Consulting Group, a local concierge company that helps today's moneyed students live like the privileged young swells of the Golden Age"] made it possible to summon butlers, drivers and gofers with a click or a call." ...

... "A few months ago, a student at Suffolk University in Boston asked BCCG to buy and ship 300 bottles of a Merle Norman perfume as a gift to his mother in Saudi Arabia. The bill topped $15,000, according to the concierge firm. At the last minute, the young client pulled the order, losing a hefty deposit." ...

... "Parents are "breeding ineptitude," by allowing—and in some cases encouraging—children to hand off those jobs, says Hara Estroff Marano, author of "A Nation of Wimps" and editor-at-large at Psychology Today. Figuring out how to do the laundry, cook a basic meal or even wait for a handyman "are not crippling responsibilities" but rather "minor life skills" that can prove useful if the housekeeper cancels." ...

"Any parent who subscribes to or subsidizes this should really have their head examined," she says." ...

You can read the article for even more amazing anecdotes. Now, let's sample some College Confidential reaction to these collegiate concierges:

- If you attend an elite school, it is more common than you know. My roommate had 30k in her checking account (many years ago) and flew to NYC to party with her other uber wealthy friend on weekends.. She did not know, to not put cashmere in the washer/ dryer and ruined an entire wardrobe because she never did laundry. After that someone did come and help her with laundry and of course she just went out and bought new things. Quite a memory for me.

- News flash: Some rich people spend a lot of money.

- It's not the spending money. It's having minions wash your socks. It's teenagers who can't function because everything is done for them and the sense of entitlement that comes with it. It's parents who don't trust their children to be able to take care of themselves.

I just think it's gross and kind of sad and pathetic. My opinion.

- I think it is great. Some entrepreneurs have identified a demand and are filling it.

- I think the money is actually not the issue.

The issue is letting kids grow up and make their own way in the relatively safe testing ground that college represents vs facilitating/enabling kids not having to take on all the little life tasks that are part of being a grown up.

I think it hampers a young person's development to always have the training wheels firmly attached and never have to truly fend for themselves and become self reliant, live with the consequences of their choices and be free of parental micro-managing.

- I distinctly remember seeing on tours of some of the women's colleges how some of the rooms were designed assuming that the girl brought along a maid - with a small room under the eaves, etc. I am pretty sure Witherspoon Hall at Princeton was originally designed for students to bring servants. Who stoked those fires on cold mornings?

- A few comments:

1. A lot of people keep talking about an "entitlement" attitude. News flash: until the revolution comes, rich people are, in fact, entitled to their wealth and are entitled to spend it as they wish.

2. We are always going on about how important it is for students to show leadership. Isn't delegation part of leadership?

3. I had a friend in college who cut his own hair. I think any of us who didn't cut our own hair in college shouldn't criticize others who, like us, choose to hire people to do these basic self-care tasks.

4. A little more seriously, I think work ethic is more important than the particular tasks that a person performs. There are rich people who work very hard, even if they don't cut their own fingernails.

- Good for the kids in the article. I'm sure there are people in the world that might sneer at the people in this thread who are reading the article through their macbook pros or ipads and can't take care of themselves without the convenience of all the stores around them practically giving them food and supplies. No one here needs to grow their own food to survive - why should we? The kids in the article don't need to do their own laundry - why should they, when they can just buy new clothes after they use the old ones. Also, they're probably paying full tuition and will contribute to the university's endowment.


So, what do you think about college kids having others do the little things for them that collegians have been doing for themselves for decades, maybe even centuries? Have any of you ever known a college kid who had this kind of financial acumen? Let us know below.


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.


Admit This

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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