You've just graduated high school, and have been accepted at a college or university. You've worked hard, you're savoring your accomplishments and summertime is at hand. You may feel like downshifting into a few lazy months before heading off for your first year of college. It's tempting to spend most of your time hanging out with friends and family. But if you use the next three months wisely, they can make a big difference in getting your undergraduate career off to a strong start.
As a college president, I offer the following summer-before advice to rising first-years and their parents.
Make a reading list and start it now. Read for your own enjoyment. Take this opportunity to delve into worlds beyond you. Read a classic you neglected in high school or pick up some timely non-fiction. I recall being anxious about college, so I checked out all the library books I could find about college.
2. Organize your schedule thoughtfully and keep on track.
While it is wonderful to have a summer of "freedom," college and work require self-discipline and time management. You may be working for pay or volunteering or both. That's great. But remember to plan time for reading, exercising and hanging out. Start getting into the rhythms of independence now. That includes regular waking and sleeping hours. Come September, no parent or family member will be your alarm clock, scheduler or nudge.
If you have a job or find a summer job, keep at it until shortly before you head to school. Whether it's lifeguarding, working at a fast food restaurant or interning at a doctor's office, a job keeps you in the habit of being on-time and accountable, and provides money for college.
4. Make a budget.
Pay close attention to your income and expenditures. You may be doing this already. If not, getting in the habit of managing your finances will save you money and grief in college and in life. All those jokes about college students asking parents or family members for money have some basis in reality.
5. Explore career paths.
Identify people whose jobs appeal to you, and see if you might shadow them or even volunteer. Ask questions about their start. As my father used to say, you never go wrong with asking people about their favorite subject -- themselves. In your explorations, you may be able to discover more about your own interests and goals.
6. Focus on healthy living habits.
Going to college can be overwhelming. The freedom of living on your own -- eating whatever and sleeping whenever you want -- can be seductive. In 12 weeks, only you will be monitoring your trips to the buffet or late-night snacking. Be warned: the mythical "freshman 15" weight gain is often not a myth. So if you don't have a regular exercise routine, this is a good time to establish one. Exercise will also help you managed the stress you may experience at your college or university.
7. Most important, spend time with those you love -- family, friends, teachers, coaches and religious leaders.
This is a good time to express gratitude to those who helped you prepare for higher education, and to build your relationships. During tough times, especially first year, support from folks who know you from way back is important. The first year at college, for the vast majority of students, involves some uncertainty and loss of confidence. Remember, those feelings are normal when you're starting anew at almost anything.
Take stock of who you are and where you come from. Whether you're relaxing on the Jersey Shore, transporting patients at a New Orleans hospital, making pizzas in Seattle or staffing the front desk at a non-profit in San Diego, find time to reflect on your life. This could involve autobiographical writing or expressing yourself in art, music or video.
This is a summer to be proud of what you've accomplished, and to think about the future. Cherish your family, your background and your community, because you'll be going away in the fall, at least for a while. Some summertime preparation will help make that transition smoother for you, and for those who care about you.