This spring, my mailbox was full of high school graduation notices and now the Facebook farewell and off to college posts have begun. And mine are not too far off (I’m still trying to wrap my brain around my oldest starting her junior year in high school in a few days.)
While the kids are unpacking and the parents writing checks and shedding tears, here’s my advice as they head off on into those hallowed halls of education. I’m posting 11 points, in no particular order, but I’m sure I’ll think of 25 more afterwards, but it’s a start.
Watch out for the “freshman 15”. It’s real. It’s not even that campus food is so great that you eat mega-proportions. It’s that there is food available all the time. Either in unlimited amounts because you are on some kind of 24-7 meal plan or you pay in these invisible points that seem to magically replenish themselves on your dining card (thank your parents.) So you end up eating a sundae every night. And by winter break, none of your clothes fit. And when you look in the mirror, those baby fat cheeks are back. Eat with some sense, walk to class, go to the gym.
Be aware of your surroundings and who surrounds you. This is particularly for the girls, but an equally good message for the boys. I remember so many “she was drunk” and “she left without her friends” stories ending badly. No, this isn’t about blaming the victim – but you really need to do your best to not put yourself in questionable situations. So, I’m going to go out on a limb and say, yes, in college you might have a few alcoholic beverages. That doesn’t mean you have to be the girl who guzzles the whole keg or does a dozen shots of vodka faster than any of the guys (same applies to the boys.) It won’t be pretty, at best. Be careful and mindful, always.
Use your electives to explore that thing you really want to learn. You’re going to have to take a gazillion required credits, make your elective something fun, something that stretches you a little bit in a different direction. I took Ice Skating as one of mine, as well as literature. This is where you learn to love learning. It will also give you a break from your regular thinking.
Be open to a “stranger” as a roommate. Back in the olden days, you found out who your roommate was sometime mid-summer and then you could write them a letter or call them to introduce yourself and figure out who was bringing the fridge. But you were pretty much stuck with that person. My niece is heading off to college and has already talked to her roommate, friended her on Facebook, knows all about the girl and even has the option to switch to a different stranger. My sophomore roommate was a girl I didn't know, was a different religion and I was a bit nervous how that would work out. Though it took her all of fall semester to convince me that pepperoni was pork, we grew to be great friends. Take a chance, embrace a new potential friend.
Join something. A sports team, the choir, glee club, student government, cultural club, something tied to your major, sorority or fraternity – there’s so many choices on any college campus. Embrace one of your passions or try out something absolutely new. You’ll meet more people, have a wider range of experiences, and continue to grow. Some of them will turn into life time commitments (I just celebrated twenty-six year membership in my sorority) or at least a great cache of memories.
Study abroad. Travel and exploring new lands and places is such a wonderful experience. If you can’t afford it, because it can be more than your regular tuition, check with the financial aid office or someone in your college and ask about scholarships or financial aid. Some colleges also offer study elsewhere in the U.S., so if you’re in school in New York, you can spend a semester in California instead – that counts, too! I never did this, it’s one of my biggest college regrets, and one I hope to be able to afford for my kids.
Get a job. No, really, get a job. Then open a bank account. College is expensive, even if you are on financial aid or scholarship, there are still more expenses. Show your parents that you’re making some efforts to cover that bottom line. Learn to be employable and to manage your money and to file taxes while you can still do the 1-page EZ form. Ask around on campus or somewhere nearby. A few hours a week, something manageable. And won’t you feel so good to have that check you earned yourself?
Don’t make excuses. I have several professor friends and one of the most common themes of professor stories is along the “student came to me at the semester’s end, questioning why he was failing” line. What should they have done? Read the syllabus, marked those key due dates on their calendar, gone to office hours, asked for help before they walked into the final exam room, not depended on their cute dimples to get them through the class. Do the work, remember why you are in college, seek help when you need it, not after the grades are due.
Call your mother. She misses you, she worries about you. Don’t just send a text before you run to the party. She wants to hear your voice, make sure that you sound okay. Trust me. Even now, my mom doesn’t text, so I have to call her. And when I’m away, I can text my kids, but its still much better when I talk to them. Hearing that special voice is different than characters on a screen. So call your mom. And your dad, too. They are paying the phone bill, afterall.
Make a good impression, the first time. You only get one chance to make that first impression, you’ve heard that a bunch of times by now. Keep it in mind. Don’t make people remember you because you were the boy who wears his five-sizes too big pants backwards or the girl who curses everyone out, the boy who is always the drunkest at the parties or the girl that all the guys know. Be the kid who always has a joke, the one who is the great dancer, the student who always sits up front, even the kid who wears the best hats. Be the smartest in the class, that doesn’t hurt, either. But make it good. I know, that sounds corny, but it will serve you better in the long-term.
Enjoy these four (or more) years. There will be a lot of emphasis on preparing for the career and life to come, being the super serious adult prepared for the world. Admittedly, there’s some of that in this very list. But while in college, you will have to be in class maybe 3 hours a day (if you plan your classes right), be surrounded by hundreds or thousands of folks your own age, young enough to learn anything and with a world of possibilities still open to you. Enjoy it all while you can.
Finished college and have some advice? Feel free to add anything I’ve forgotten in the comments.
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