Featured image from justleadershipusa.org
My best friend loves to complicate her relationships, which makes for a lot of fun for me, a psychology major. No, I’m just kidding. I’m not that psychology major, and it’s not like she complicates them willingly – relationships are complicated, and that’s something my utilitarian-utopian, go-with-the-flow personality has to face every now and then.
My friend has actually taught me a lot about relationships because she seeks counseling from the internet and often stumbles on really interesting stuff. (Thank you, Tumblr.) And I usually benefit a lot from this because I’ve found that ideas are usually not applicable to just one particular situation. Being a college student for two years (wait, what?) has taught me that your alma mater is a living, breathing organism, and you have a relationship with it that operates in similar ways, sometimes, to the relationships you have with “actual people.”
This is a great thing to keep in mind while I’m attending college, but it’s also something I wish someone had told me when I was trying to pick a college, too. Some of the things I put weight on when assembling my college list have absolutely no weight in my life now. On the other hand, some of the factors that I disregarded or didn’t even think about (three paragraphs down) really ended up being a nuisance. “Relationship rules” help me keep my college experience in perspective – and I wish I’d had that perspective when I was applying, too.
When I Googled the “80/20 rule” at the advice of my best friend, I actually came upon two different rules by the same name. The first iteration was beautifully simple: it asserted that in a relationship, 80% of the problems are caused by 20% of the actual relationship.
I think this relationship rule almost applies better to my relationship with my college than to ones I’ve had with other people. It might be because college is inescapable. Imagine that you lived with and around your boyfriend or girlfriend 24/7. They provided you food and a place to live (for hundreds of dollars a month), but they also dictated everything you did and formed a core part of your identity. College is like the controlling girlfriend whose thumb you’re always under.
So no wonder college stresses us out. When it surrounds us all the time, it’s easy to notice the bad things. My school had a 100GB monthly data cap my freshman year, and when the Netflix side of any relationship is jeopardized, most people can agree it’s headed for trouble. But really, that 100GB data cap comprised only a tiny part of my total college experience – yet it stressed me out constantly because I used the internet for research, for writing papers (Google Docs ftw), for music, for Netflix, even for Snapchatting my friends or posting on Instagram.
This was definitely a situation where the 20% of the relationship that was actually causing problems grew like a cancer to invade my whole life (or, 80% of it). Admittedly, it was a really stupid and tedious thing to deal with. But that would be true anywhere I went to college. What I had to learn was how to address the difficult 20% in order to assuage 80% (hopefully) of my concerns.
Looking back on myself as a college applicant, I don’t think I would have held the data cap against my school even if I’d known about it back then. I probably would have underestimated the amount of trouble it would cause me; it really was an inconvenience. (You mean to tell me I can only watch six seasons of How I Met Your Mother in a month? Who the hell do you think I am?)
But it would definitely have helped to know that there are going to be little idiosyncratic things about your college – and you yourself – that make “the best four years of your life” a little more difficult than you imagined. If I’d known that when I was making a college list I probably would have stressed less about what I’d do if I didn’t get into the “perfect” school, because I’d almost certainly find out that it was less than perfect, and it’s how you deal with problems when they occur that truly makes your college experience enjoyable.
The other 80/20 rule was the one my friend described to me. She said that a lot of the time, when you’re in a relationship, you’ll have a roughly 80% compatibility – 80% of it would make you smile, make you happy, make you want to stay in and make the most out of your relationship.
Then there would be 20% that would just drive you nuts, or maybe it wouldn’t, but it wouldn’t be exactly what you wanted. That 20% would just be lacking, somehow. And 20% is not really a lot. It’s enough to be overlooked most of the time. But unfortunately, the grass is always greener on the other side.
In relationship terms, she explained to me, this meant that you’d be very satisfied with your relationship 80% of the time, but then someone would come along and they would have that 20% that was missing from your mostly-satisfying relationship. And it can be tempting to look at that 20% and want to leave your fulfilling relationship behind because you can get that 20% somewhere else.
The lesson I learned from this 80/20 rule is similar to the lesson I learned from the first one: take some time to put things in perspective. Just like with people, we all have that “college soulmate” out there (or at least, we convince ourselves in both cases that we do). And that’s what the admissions committee is looking for. They don’t accept or reject applicants because those people are “good enough” or “not good enough” – they’re looking for a good fit.
And neither you nor the admissions committees are going to find a perfect fit, because people aren’t perfect and colleges aren’t either. But you’re both probably going to settle comfortably at that approximately 80% compatibility, and you’re going to make a match that is more a good one than a bad one. So no matter which school you end up at, it’s important to remember the 80/20 rule(s).
When you get all of your admissions letters and your future “relationship” begins to take shape in front of you, remember to focus on the 80%, or the 60%, or the 90% – whatever your goodness of fit is with your college, curate it. In college I hear so many people complaining about what our school doesn’t have, like an old married person berating their spouse. (It’s true, my college never takes out the trash. Tsk tsk.) I wonder how much happier they’d be if they addressed the root of their problems rather than complaining about the problems themselves. And I wonder how much less stressed I would have been as a college applicant if I’d known that no matter what happened, I had the power to make the most of one of the best four-year relationships of my life.
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