Manliness in Higher Education

by Brett on March 4, 2009 · 28 comments

in Money & Career


Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Brad Revare. Mr. Revare is a junior at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Robert Redford, the iconic actor of “The Natural,” is considered to be the most famous alumnus of the University of Colorado. His square jaw is plastered around campus and in alumni magazines. The story of his employment at a burger joint across the street from campus is common Colorado lore. However, I came across another famous alum that embodies manliness in physical prowess, intellectual ability, and pure leadership. I was surprised to find that no one casually mentions him in conversation about notable alumni of the university.

Housed in the Club Section of the football stadium at CU is an unobtrusive plaque and bust of Byron White. Some may know him as the Supreme Court Justice appointed by John F. Kennedy. However, there is a long trail of achievement and leadership left by him, including an impeccable resume that I feel should be the model for young men entering college today.

AoM recently published an article suggesting Senior Military Colleges as a worthy option for young men who wish to acquire the necessary chutzpah to become manly men later in life.Yet it is also very possible to develop the skills necessary to lead a purposeful and manly life at any ordinary state school or non-military institution. Take Byron White for example. Here is a short list of his accomplishments in or right after college:

  • Football scholarship to CU-Boulder
  • All-American honors as running back for CU
  • Elected student body president
  • Received Phi Beta Kappa honors (usually top 10% of graduating class)
  • Won the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship
  • Led the NFL in rushing his rookie season (right after college)
  • Graduated Magna Cum Laude from Yale Law School

After reading just a few of his accomplishments, most would exclaim “What a man!” Of course, not every male in college right now aspires to any of those accomplishments. While I do think the stereotype of cheap beer drinking, lazy, and videogame playing male is overstated, it is prevalent and things need to change. The problem resides in that when a man steps onto a college campus along 25,000 other students, no one hands him a guide to becoming the best man he can be in four years time. This is that guide.

There are two maxims one should abide by if they intend to be a virulis vir (Latin for manly man) in college.  One is the cliché Carpe Diem. No one is going to guide you through; you have to seize every moment to be your best. The second is one from Jim Collins, a well-known business performance researcher. In his research of Fortune 500 company CEO’s; the most successful were the ones who could exert professional will in the extreme. They were able to will themselves to change the business and exert influence over themselves and others, all for the achievement of the end goal. Keep these in mind as you read the article and go out to become a better man in college.

The guide is broken up into three areas: academics, leadership/service, and sports/discipline. Each section contains practical tips on how to excel in each area. We will start with academics.



The manliest men in today’s society are smart, as they were in previous generations. If you go to college and coast through, you are wasting the golden opportunity in life that not everyone gets. Here are a few suggestions to make sure your academic rigor is up to snuff compared to great men in history:

  • Research: Most universities have piles of money and programs in place to let undergraduates conduct research or assist professors in doing so. You can even get grants to travel, or write an essay on a topic of interest, usually in the $1000 range. You don’t need prior experience and almost no one does as an undergraduate, so get going!
  • Rigor of Major: Pick a discipline that represents your intellectual passion and presents continual excitement and challenge. If this doesn’t describe your major, then find one that does, or create your own.
  • Study Abroad: Although not always affordable (look for grants and scholarships), traveling and studying abroad stretches your mind and causes you to consider many different viewpoints. Plus it’s not a bad way to spend a semester.
  • Top Scholarships: Look into applying for the top graduate scholarships, mainly, the Rhodes, Fulbright, and Truman. Not only are these incredibly prestigious, but also the end result often benefits mankind.


Today’s effective and honorable men developed their leadership skills on college campuses. Barack Obama honed his oratorical skills as a student activist and his leadership ability as the editor of the Harvard Law Review. Most universities have a multitude of leadership opportunities; here are a few to get you started:

  • Student Groups/Clubs: Put in time and effort to gain credibility so one day you can lead the group, holding yourself accountable to others based on your performance. This is a very effective way to determine what you are capable of doing in a leadership position.
  • Student Government: Serve your fellow students in a legitimate governance position. You can affect change and lead through policy changes, allocation of student fees, and representing student interests to the university’s administration.
  • Internships: Besides gaining work experience, internships allow you to wield skills learned in the classroom while making a legitimate contribution to an organization. Most of your CEO’s and superiors will take the time to impart wisdom and advice, putting you ahead of the pack when it comes to applying for a full time job. Plus you’ll be doing something other than sleeping in or watching Full House reruns in between classes.
  • Local Government: Most college towns have low age requirements to hold office, often 18 years old. Look into serving on commissions in your community or even running for city council if the opportunity looks right. Public service is a fantastic way to augment your leadership credentials.

Sports & Discipline


Many great men participated in sports in their college careers. Byron White was an all-American football player, Theodore Roosevelt boxed, and Bill Bradley was a star basketball player for Princeton. Sports, regardless of competitive level, give men in college a reason to stay in shape, and provide a discipline-focused framework for training and achieving. Here are a few examples of how you could do the same:

  • Club Sports: Can’t dunk or throw a baseball 90mph? Why not join a club sport, where the true amateur trains and plays by his own grit, rather than the money tinged arena that is Division I sports? Most club teams field serious teams, and play a rigorous schedule and travel regionally, sometimes nationally.
  • Individual Physical Goals: Set some sort of goal designed to push your physical limits and train in a disciplined manner to accomplish it. Vow to hike the Appalachian Trail this summer and begin hiking immediately. Sign up for a triathlon so you have to start swimming laps.
  • Get outdoors: Ditch the gym once or twice a week for a run around the surrounding area, a hike to a nearby mountain, or a bike ride through varied terrain. Outside activity inspires greater workouts and fills you with vigor. Remember, Teddy Roosevelt in his college summers would hike mountains while reciting epic poetry. What are you doing, besides drinking Coors Light?

Book Recommendations

By simply acting to change your life with these steps, you can make a huge difference in your ambition. In addition, here are a few books that will help you reach these goals:

  • The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Norris: Worth it for the section on Teddy’s college years alone, but the entire book should inspire you to start doing instead of lounging.
  • How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler & Charles Van Doren: A silly sounding title, this is an intellectual how-to book on how to get the most out of books. Even those who consider themselves well read may find their analytical skills when it comes to reading lacking. Easy to implement tips, guidelines for all types of books, and a suggested reading list in the back will make any college man able to devour the best books of human history.

Editor’s Note: I’d be interested in any other books that readers would recommend to a young man about to go to college or who is in college.


College is a time of self-improvement and unsupervised fun. I’m not advocating work all the time and a serious, dour demeanor in the name of achievement. Rather, a healthy dose of ambition, achievement, and responsibility to improve yours and others’ circumstance can lead to a new generation of male leaders emerging from college campuses.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nate @ Debt-free College March 4, 2009 at 8:50 pm

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2 Joe C. March 5, 2009 at 4:55 am

if only i could go back to my college years (even though they ended less than one year ago), i would totally man up a little bit more. i wasn’t a partier or a gamer, or anything like that, i just didn’t give class all i had. and i wish i did.

if you’re still in college, i’ll tell you right now: it’s not fun to say that. don’t make the same mistake.

3 Liam March 5, 2009 at 5:50 am

I wish I had this sort of wisdom when I first started at university. I totally blew my chance at King’s College London, and I look back on it with absolute dismay now- a chance to spend three years in a great city studying history, which is a passion of mine, with some of the greatest academics in the field, and I totally wasted it. I second what Joe C. says, if you have this all before you then seize every opportunity.

I was lucky and got a second chance, but not at such a good uni, nor on a course I loved. But having travelled America, grown up a bit, and yes even read a biography of Theodore Roosevelt (funny how young men seeking to self improve are drawn to him, I was pleased to see how much emphasis is placed on his example on this website!) I have fully engaged with my new course, joined sports teams, run societies and really focussed on the future, and it has made all the difference. I just wish I had done that the first time around!

I am now weeks aways from graduating, and am hoping to be ordained into the Church of England, which will mean yet another three years of study! By the time I leave higher education I should have it down to fine art!

4 Patrick March 5, 2009 at 7:19 am

The Well Educated Mind. Not manly in focus, but definitely focuses on training your mind and best done at the time when you are steeped in educational pursuits.

5 Mikey March 5, 2009 at 7:47 am

I would like to fit into one of the categories (or maybe a new category) of the Arts & Literature. University is one of the few places in your life where you will have immediate and free (or affordable) access to performances of music, drama, and dance, not to mention overflowing library shelves of literature and critique. Plus, the wall acreage of the visual arts as well..

To mention, actually being involved in the arts can give the mind and spirit the same workout as that of an athlete (not as physical, but you get the point.) Once you leave the campus life for the real life, all of those things become pricey but also not always as accessible. Only libraries in major urban areas can rival those of a campus, and ticket prices for performances are quite pricey in the real world.

So in conclusion, don’t forget the Arts & Literature are also a fine (and recommended) way to keep a balanced, positive focus while in higher education!

6 Patrick March 5, 2009 at 8:03 am

ummm completely off topic Brad, but did you happen to see the Modest Mouse show last weekend at Balch Fieldhouse? It was awesome!

I graduated from University of Col BOulder about 2 years ago…great school

7 Scott March 5, 2009 at 8:15 am

College was definitely a time of self-realization and development. I went in as a cocky 18-year-old and realized rather quickly I didn’t really know much of anything. It was a great time to develop discipline and learn from people who think differently then yourself.

8 Jim March 5, 2009 at 8:51 am

Nice peice. Fellow AOM fans, please checkout my college – Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades. We teach the basic trades and focus on character development to take our students from boys to solid, well rounded men.

All these student are deserving young men who ALL get a full scholarship (tuition, room and board) to go here.

9 Brian March 5, 2009 at 9:16 am

The other tailback that ran with Byron “Whizzer” White was William “Kayo” Lam. He was running back for CU from ’32-’34 and ran along side White. Most people know White because of his later professional accomplishments, but it was Kayo that had the schools rushing record for several years (2,225 yards in 10 games!). Kayo was also only 5’9 and 155 pounds. His freshman year, the coach told him he was too small to play. He went on to be an all-American and played in the East-West Shrine (the College all-star game of that day). At CU, he was also the Rocky Mountain wrestling champion, and conducted his own band. While in college, he fought in a fraternity boxing match that was rigged. He was set up against a pro. He knocked the pro out. He went on to fight in WWII and eventually became Athletic Director at CU, and was inducted in to CU’s and the state of Colorado’s Hall of Fame. He was truly a manly man.
He also happened to be my grandfather.
You can google “Kayo Lam” for more info.

10 Paul Hakel March 5, 2009 at 9:55 am

I think that the accomplishments listed in the first paragraph really aren’t that great. What about spiritual well-being, the love you share towards others, the relationships you create and personal obstacles you overcome? I think our American culture is missing those as being the Real challenges, the Real accomplishments. They are greater accomplishments because they often go unacknowledged. We reward all the wrong behaviours. I skateboard, for example; am I going to get a varsity letter for that? Awards such as trophies, paper, or ceremonies – those are artificial. Real awards are known by each person as they do them and aren’t to be flaunted: climbing a mountain, taking a risk, taking ethical action. Let’s keep an open focus on what is a Real accomplishment and not neglect the accomplishments that society doesn’t focus on.

11 Jeff March 5, 2009 at 10:12 am


Trophies, papers, and ceremonies are hardly artificial. They are tangible manifestations of the kind of things you personally wish to see celebrated-risk, personal relationships, overcoming obstacles, making ethical decisions, ect. One does not get to be student body president if he hasn’t cultivated warm relationships with others. You don’t get to be a Rhodes scholar if you haven’t overcome obstacles and disciplined yourself. You don’t become a Supreme Court justice by avoiding ethical decisions. A list like the one above is simply shorthand for a lifetime of worthy decisions. These are real achievements, not because of the certificate at the end, but because of all the work it took to get there.

Why would you get a trophy for just skateboarding? Skateboarding itself says very little about your character. Any kid can have a hobby. But if you skateboarded every day and practiced like a mad man and won some kind of skateboarding championship and then got a trophy, it would mean something. It would be the outward manifestation of your commitment to do something great.

It’s sad that men today seek to tear down the accomplishments of others in order to rationalize their own mediocrity.

12 Brucifer March 5, 2009 at 11:09 am

All good recommendations. I was especially gratified with the emphasis toward club sports. That said, “sports” these days have become associated with games of chasing silly balls of various sorts while wearing one’s underwear. And although there is the self-styled posturing that such sports build character, teamwork and leadership, they mostly do not. These days especially, “sports” players degrade, not uplift society.

Thus, why not attune one’s physical exertions and pursuits toward activities that might prove actually useful to oneself and to others? By this, I mean martial arts, shooting sports, fencing club and the like. If more chaps would eschew playing at shooting and swordsmanship on some foolish computer game and try it on for real, we’d have a crop of better men upcoming.

And yes, rock climbing, camping, cross-country hiking and skiing. Let us not though forget that the vaunted Samurai warriors were also expected to learn poetry, flower arrangement, tea ceremony and meditation. (You would not disrespect a Samurai with pejoratives of “metrosexual” and not expect your ass getting handed to you in reply.) Viking warriors also prized poetry.

Alas, too much of the current college experience involves majoring in binge drinking, womanizing and grab-assing.

13 Fred Cai March 5, 2009 at 12:11 pm

@ Brucifer
Whats the problem with team sports? There is much to be said about those games where one is ‘chasing silly balls of various sorts while wearing one’s underwear.’ As an avid soccer player, I can attest to the personal growth I had while playing varsity sports in high school. My team made me push myself further than I could go on my own, and I miss having that support when it comes to physical training.

I still play intramurals in college now, but the comradery is nowhere near the point I had playing for months at a time with the same group of guys. Now, I’ll admit, its just a game, just some kicks for entertainment, but with my team, it was one of the most important aspects of my life.

You can’t forget that that ‘silly ball’ is merely a focal point in a war of mental and physical will, no matter what the sport. Your team mates are your brothers, and they rely on you as much as you rely on them. That’s the lesson I learned well during my time in team sports, and I’m sorry if you did not get the same effect, because you are missing out on a great experience.

14 Fred Cai March 5, 2009 at 12:21 pm

I completely forgot to mention that this is a great article, and though I’ve only been in college for a couple years, I’ve had some amazing experiences by following that way over used bit of advice, ‘Carpe Diem.’ (Anyone else automatically think, ‘Oh Captain, my Captain,’ when they hear that?).

I’d like to thrown in intellectual competition as a way of getting out there too. I’ve been a part of a couple international engineering competitions (namely Design Build Fly and the University Rover Competition), and both were massive amounts of fun that have given me better understanding in the class room as well as gained me friendships with upperclassmen and graduate students, who have helped guide me in my studies since.

15 Allen Frans March 5, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Great thought in this article! i enjoyed college so much i squeezed 4 years into 7! of course, with the parents divorce at the end of high school, there went all financial and emtional support so i worked through and paid for it myself.

Book recommendations:

“The Barbarian Way” by Erwin McManus. what a fantastic read. challenges the heart of a man in many areas. well written. i have given away more copies of this book than any other.

“Season of Life: A Football Star, A Boy, A Journey to Manhood” by Jeffrey Marx
absolutely fantastic. incredible stories and personal experience. the over arching question coming out of this book: Are you a man built for yourself or a man built for others?” just awesome. every man should read this book.

16 Randy March 5, 2009 at 6:33 pm

I am currently a senior in undergrad, and am entering medical school this summer. I agree with most of what you have said, but I was a little disappointed that the only service mentioned within your Service/Leadership area was through campus organizations.

I have been involved in several campus organizations (honors program, clubs, societies), but service is the area that has crafted me into the man that I am today. I complete all of my service off-campus primarily as a way to show the community that college students care about issues beyond their front porch. However, I have also found that when my friends ask about my service work, they often take up an interest in it and find their own service sites. It’s a beautiful way to share what one has been blessed with, both physically and socially.

17 Tom March 6, 2009 at 12:15 am

One great book that I read while an undergrad that changed the way I looked at a lot of things (including college) was Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I read it in about 3-4 hours, and I’ve reread it a dozen times.

18 IA_ March 6, 2009 at 7:29 am

Just getting out of college, if I had another go I too would take better advantage of my opportunities.

You’re forgetting one important aspect: Spiritual.

Go to church! Jesus helped me grow as man more than anyone else. Religion is the pursuit of truth. College is a apt time to go beyond simply believing to figuring out why you believe what you believe. Read the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch (martyred between 98-117 AD) who was eager to be martyred for Christ. There is a vast difference in thinking I shouldn’t have premarital sex and understanding sex as a part of marriage, part of a life-long union catching man up into God’s creative genesis.

It helps you develop responsibility through aiding out others more in need than you, volunteering at the local soup kitchen perhaps.

College is a good time to also develop lasting male friendships. It is beneficial to know somebody will always have your back and you need to be there for someone else. And life is fun together.

19 Lenton March 7, 2009 at 10:52 pm

I’m studying engineering at university right now and whole-heartedly agree with this post (both directly above and the main article.) An excellent book for the Young Christian Male is:

Purity: The New Moral Revolution by Kris Vallotton

It takes a look at why avoiding pre-marital sex is important, along with some other related topics, like marriage.

20 Brian March 11, 2009 at 8:27 am

Very good article. I was one of those that went from being a shy guy in high school to a leader on campus, and college can really be a life-changing time if you allow it to be. I now teach at a university, and I try to encourage my students to seize their college experience and make the most of it. I see far too many men in their 20s and even in their 30s that still haven’t “grown up” and become men.

In regards, to the other posts, college is the best time to expand your horizons – take those literature and philosophy, study abroad, find avenues to learn leadership skills through student clubs, intramural sports, and service. Mentoring to younger boys, such as working with the Boys and Girls Club, is an excellent way to help boys learn how to be men. ALways strive for excellence, self-improvement, and self-realization.

And Fred, I always think ‘Oh Captain, my Captain,’ when I hear carpe diem – great film!

21 Matt March 11, 2009 at 8:29 am

As far as book recommendations go, Peter Taylor was one of our greatest short-story writers, I’d go so far as to consider him the American Chekhov. Sadly, he’s not read that often anymore. He writes about high-class Southerns, especially men, as their world–of the Depression through the ’50s–changes drastically, and how they handle it with grace and class (he does, however, freely criticize them for their often racist and misogynistic attitudes). His Collected Stories are out of print, but most any decent library would have it. Check it out and read “Dean of Men,” which I think is one of the greatest “to a young man moving into the real world” stories I’ve ever read.

22 j s March 13, 2009 at 4:53 pm

“Wild at Heart”.

All I have to say. It’s from a Christian perspective and it is filled with great insight for all men today, and particularly for those who are coming of age.

23 Diane June 1, 2009 at 3:48 am

I really want to work on my leadership skills and this might really help. Thank you for posting this.

24 Simon December 21, 2009 at 8:55 am

Wow, what a diligently and comphrehensively written piece! Thanks very much. I’m in my 3rd year right now, and luckily I took a pretty proactive approach to studying and achieving right from the start of college, so I feel like I’ve achieved alot.

25 David August 13, 2010 at 1:08 pm

If you want another good book on Theodore Roosevelt’s college years/early life, check out David McCullough’s The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. Extremely well-written and engaging.

26 MICHAEL ROGERS August 13, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Maybe my thoughts will be considered sniveling but– I feel that I along with perhaps most students at most universities didn’t receive guidance.
As it is, I did attain an AA, BA, and MS but the best was not made of my talents. There were many situations I should have availed myself of such as the opportunities to serve as a student aid during graduate school, Grants to study abroad, and many other opportunities I still am unaware of. Not coming from an affluent family, I had to consume much time working which was not therefore available for some of the mentioned extracurricular activities.
Perhaps this negligence could be excused in that I went to a State University, not Stanford or such where one might well be carefully guided.
As it was, I feel very fortunate that I could attend university at a time when it was still possible for a youth from a unaffluent family to do so. but I feel that I could have made a significant contribution had I made a number of other choices than I did out of ignorance.
This said, I would be considered successful just not in a way that I might have made a much more noteworthty contribution.
To sum: Find mentors that are successful in your desired area of life!

27 JWB August 7, 2013 at 7:11 am

I wish someone would have same down, took the beer from my hand and told me this 10 years ago.

28 Erickson January 13, 2014 at 3:28 pm

Spending my 4 year at the University of Houston was a great experience for me. I made new friends and business connections by not being anti-social but allowing myself to put some studying on hold in order to attend events such as game nights, SGA meetings, and games. I think a nice balance of academic integrity and social interaction will go a long way.

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