For a lot of us, college is the first time we experience the melting pot that is the United States. We’ve run away from our podunk towns and East Nowheres to the big city, a different city — maybe even a different part of the country. When we get to university, we realize thousands of other people had the exact same idea, and we get to meet people from different states, countries, religions, ethnicities, and backgrounds. In short, college is where we truly begin to understand the beauty of multiculturalism. And it's theoretically great!
Diverse or not, all universities have a few things in common. I’m not talking about dormitories and bad food (although there are plenty of both to go around). I’m talking about the character archetypes you find in every college: the ones you will always find. These people exist everywhere, but university is the only place you’ll find all of them. Some of them are great and some are just downright unpleasant, but all of them will change your life and help you grow.
Here’s a look at your university’s cast of literary characters... for better or worse.
Hamlet's the guy who’s been in college so long, he’s majored in everything. Right now, he’s in the German Literature program. You'll probably find him hanging out at the school library late at night, reading something that is definitely not on the reading list. You can't miss him: he’s starting to go gray and acts like he’s as sophisticated as the Philosophy department head. Knowing Hamlet will teach you how to be honest with yourself. If your major isn’t working: find a new one. Learning to cut ties before you fail miserably gives you decision making experience, which is basically what this whole adult thing is all about.
Emma Woodhouse is the girl who’s perpetually single, but who always knows the perfect person for you. She's at every student government meeting and campus barbecue, and she definitely volunteers her services in the counseling office. She looks exactly like your high school prom queen, and she’s beating potential suitors off with a stick. She'll teach you how to hold out for what you really want. The Emma Woodhouses of this world might be really, really terrible at setting other people up, but they refuse to settle when it comes to picking their own mates, and we applaud them for it.
The Wheelers are the “perfect” couple. They never go out alone... and that’s part of the problem. They’ll either be all over each other in sickening, puppy-lovebird heaven, or having a very public fight on the quad. It isn't pretty, but watching the Wheelers will teach you how to talk to people. They can’t talk to each other about the weather, much less anything important. Take notes, do the exact opposite of what these two do, and you’ll be fine.
You know Hermione. She's your know-it-all classmate, the one who asks questions like, “What’s the maximum number of pages you’ll accept for the three-page paper?” You can always find her in the library: either deep in the stacks or curled up in a study carrel. In every class, she'll be sitting in the front row, taking down every word your professor says. Hermione will teach you how to buckle down, study hard, and keep your GPA from slipping. On the other hand, watching her stress over losing a few points on a test will make you realize how well you’re handling disappointments in your own life.
Jay Gatsby is the guy with the mysterious past. He never talks about his family, but you hear he’s absolutelyloaded. After all, he gets into the VIP section of the hottest nightclubs in the city. He’s always dressed impeccably, and his smile could stop traffic. Gatsby will teach you how to fake it ‘til you make it. Almost everyone has to pretend — at least a little bit — early in her professional life. Jay Gatsby has turned this kind of fraud into an art form, and he’s only this close to assimilation, so lock down his friendship while you can.
Charlotte Lucas is the girl who went to college to study for her MRS. (Just being real here.) She hangs out at every sorority/frat mixer, looking for her future spouse. She’s no heartbreaker, and she doesn’t have looks to kill, but she’s got a good word for everyone, even if you think she’s a little bit fake sometimes. She’ll have a ring on her finger by junior year, trust me. Charlotte knows there’s nothing wrong with wanting security, and that — whether you’re marrying for reasons other than love, refusing a job promotion that will set your life atilt, or pursuing a career just for the paycheck — owning your decisions will get you far.
Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Holden Caulfield is the rich kid who’s always whining about how sucky his life is and how phony other people are. Look for him on the outskirts of any Young Libertarians meeting. He dresses to be “unique,” but really just looks like he fell out of the bowels of Tumblr. Observing Holden will teach you to be grateful for — and keep — what you have. All his whining about having no support system shows you exactly how not to act if you want to hold on to your friends, mentors, and opportunities.
Minerva McGonagall from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Minerva McGonagall is the most influential professor you’ll ever have. You'll find her in her office, during posted hours or by appointment. She's the teacher that holds your attention from the first day of class, gives you her cell number, tells you to call her whenever you’re having trouble, and means it. McGonagall will teach you everything. You’ll sign up for every class she offers, even if you have to change majors to do it.
Jack London is the guy who doesn’t know he has a substance abuse problem. Look carefully, because he hides in plain sight. He might even be one of your friends. He’s the guy swaggering around and hitting up every party on-campus and off. Knowing him will teach you how to handle necessary confrontation. You have to say something, because you can’t just sit by and watch your friend destroy himself. Having Jack London as a friend will teach you how to deal with the unpleasantries of life.
Diana Barry is a kindred spirit, your best friend for life. She'll be by your side from the moment you meet. She might not be the person you expect, but I promise you’ll find her eventually. Diana will teach you how to be a good friend, and she’ll learn the same from you. That’s how this whole kindred spirit thing works, after all. You two are in it for the long-haul, and nothing can separate you for long. So hold on tight and get ready for the most fulfilling friendship of both your lives.