By Michelle King
College is (finally) just around the corner and you couldn't be more excited. You'll get to stay out however late you want, wake up whenever you want, do whatever you want. Wait. You’ll be able to do whatever you want?That's kind of scary. What will you do without the safety net of your parents always at your disposal? How will you even feed yourself?The only thing you’ve ever made is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and it wasn't even very good! How do you possibly mess up a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?!
Breathe easy there, high school grads. Yes, saying goodbye to mom and dad can be pretty overwhelming but with the right prep, the transition can be made way easier. Her Campus talked to college students who have already left the nest and, believe it or not, lived to tell about it.
DON'T think being away from your parents is just another way to say "24/7 party": When Kara, a student at the University of South California, first moved away for college, she let herself get a little carried away. "I had a super strict curfew in high school and suddenly I didn't have any curfew," she explains. "I went out literally every night and it really took a toll on my grades." Instead of partying every single night, use your new curfew-less life for special occasions only. This past year, I really wanted to see the midnight showing of The Hunger Games with some of my friends. I don't normally stay out until the wee hours of the night when I have class the next morning, but I figured this was a special occasion. If it's a one-night event (like a concert or your best friend's birthday), it's totally fun to stay out later than usual, but use your best judgment on a nightly basis. Kara eventually set a curfew for herself. "Unless it's a specific event or I’m up studying, I try to be in bed by 11," she says.
DO figure out who you can call if there is an emergency: Once you tell people where you're going to college it seems that everyone has a cousin's friend's roommate who you can call if "you ever need anything." You thank them for the referral, but inside you're rolling your eyes. The truth is, it's nice to know who you can call in the event that you do have an emergency. During the spring of her freshman year Katie*, a senior at Tufts, found herself in the hospital after having a seizure. It was something far more serious than any of her college friends were able to deal with and her parents were away in Europe and unreachable when the event happened. "I called my mom’s roommate from college, who I’ve only met a few times, but lives in Boston," says Katie. "I stayed in her house for a week and it was so nice to have an adult that I could call." You never know when an emergency might strike, so keep a list of people in your phone or wallet that you could call. Just remember: "Do you have HBO? I really want to watch True Blood" is not an emergency.
DO realize that you'll get homesick: Yes, college is awesome, but leaving your old life and entering a totally new one can be really daunting at times. "No one prepared me for how much I would miss home," says Liz, a sophomore at BU. "Everyone just said 'Oh, it's the best time of your life.'" It's normal to get homesick, but if you feel yourself being homesick all the time and overwhelmed by that feeling, reach out to your school's counseling center. I can assure you that you won't be the first undergrad to walk through their doors saying that you miss your parents. They can help you adjust to college life in a healthy and effective way.
DO figure out a budgeting system: There's no one right way to budget your money. I keep a note on my iPhone and write down every purchase (yes, to the penny) on it. The app from Mint.com is a personal favorite of mine. It syncs with your account on Mint.com (which is equally awesome) and makes it super easy to track spending. Also be sure to download the app for whatever bank you're part of. That way you never have to deal with wondering whether or not there is enough money in your account to make a purchase. Use this summer before going into college to figure out the system that works for you. Spend the next few months trying out different methods to figure out what works best for you. Even if an app has awesome reviews across the board, it might not make sense for you and your system of budgeting. Be sure to talk to your parents about your budget before you leave, as well. For starters, they can help you come up with a realistic amount to spend each week.
DON'T think you can never go home: Kathleen, a rising sophomore at James Madison University, wishes she knew that it's OK to go home if and when you need to. "Sometimes you want to be all on your own and not rely on your parents, but it is okay to go visit family," she says. If you need to get away for a weekend to breathe, it doesn’t mean that you're doing college wrong. Of course, not everyone is just a hop, skip, and a jump from their university, and going home can be crazy expensive for many college students. If you're missing a good conversation with mom but can't afford to go home, set a date every week to have a phone or Skype conversation that’s more than just "Today was great but busy! I love you, too! Bye!" Sunday nights are usually a good time to do this. Also, consider putting some dates down on the calendar now for your parents to visit. Most schools have a Parents Weekend with tons of fun events planned. Consider booking a flight, train, or hotel now before prices skyrocket.