Teenagers know everything, amirite?
But despite their bravado, they don’t know what they don’t know. And what they don’t know now can determine whether the next four years of college will or won’t be a successful and rewarding experience.
Here are the 10 things every teenager should know before they go off to college:
1. Just because you “can,” doesn’t mean you “should.”
Most high school students dream of the day when they are no longer under the watchful eyes of their parents. For many, that day arrives when their parents say goodbye after dropping them off at college. The vast array of opportunities that will present themselves will be dizzying, both academically as well as socially. The variety and ease of access to alcohol and drugs is a reality on college campuses and most students will do some experimenting. Some will overindulge. That’s a fact. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. It’s up to you. The vast majority of college graduates probably wish they had said “no” or “not tonight” on more than one occasion.
2. Everyone doesn’t have your best interests at heart. Sad. But true.
College is a new beginning for all freshmen. Most of the students don’t know each other. It’s natural to assume people are as they present themselves to be but some aren’t. It’s natural to see the best in people. But at college, as well as in life in general, there are people who only view you as someone who can do something for them. The older you get, the easier it is to spot those people but there are some red flags to watch out for; the person who talks only about themselves and isn’t interested in hearing about you, the person who is always borrowing clothes, books or money, the person who ditches you at a party or club to go off with someone else. The list is endless. Some people are “givers” and have your best interests at heart and some are “takers” who always put their interests first. Surround yourself with givers.
3. Be your own food police.
The “freshmen fifteen” is a phrase that describes the fifteen or more pounds many freshman gain when they encounter the vast array of food available in the cafeterias at college. Between the unlimited quantities of food just arm’s length away and the variety of desserts that you probably didn’t have at home, the freshmen fifteen could be referred to as the freshmen twenty-five. Who doesn’t take more food than they would normally ingest when going past item after item at a buffet? Your self control is the only thing between your hands and your mouth so be your own food police.
4. If you calculate what each class costs, you’ll be less likely to skip a class.
Tuition varies widely, but at a typical private college, a class on any given day can easily cost approximately $150. Hopefully the knowledge imparted is worth that money but if you decide to skip a class, you have just flushed $150 of someone’s money down the drain. Maybe it was your parent’s money or maybe it was a scholarship but regardless, someone at some point in time worked hard to earn that money. Treat each class as though you worked for the money and paid your hard earned $150 in order to attend that class. If you think of it that way, you’ll be less likely to skip a class.
5. Ask for help if you need help.
It’s hard to ask for help. We all want to be in control and feel confident and perform at the highest level. But sometimes you can’t because of a variety of reasons: maybe you just have difficulty with languages or math, maybe you failed to grasp a concept upon which all of the remaining lessons are built on, or maybe you are suffering from depression. Colleges have many places you can go for help, from your professor’s office hours to the mental health counselors on-campus. All you have to do is ask.
6. Work first, play later.
Sounds simple but juggling the academic requirements with the social opportunities is more difficult than you might think, especially when there is no one criticizing the balance you strike between the two. In some classes, your first academic evaluation doesn’t come before midterm and by then it is almost too late to pull a failing grade up to a passing grade.
7. Arriving at college is exciting for you but it is emotional for your parents so let your mom make your bed before she leaves.
I can’t speak for fathers, but I know from a mom’s perspective that dropping a child off at college for freshman year is very emotional. I used to think it was because I would miss my son (and I did miss him) but the real reason it was so emotional for me was because I didn’t know if he’d be happy, make friends, or be successful academically. I had no reason to think he wouldn’t be happy, make friends or be successful but for the first time in his life, I wouldn’t be there to see how it was going. So let your mom make the bed in your dorm room. It will allow her to feel that she can still do something to help you make the transition and it will give her an opportunity to wipe away a tear or two when you aren’t looking.
8. Bring a picture of your pet.
I know that some kids bring a picture of their family when they go away to college and some don’t want to appear to be that sentimental. But everyone can freely admit to missing their dog or cat when they are away at school. It’s nice to be able to look up from the books and see the happy furry face of the family pet.
9. Savor every second. It’s going to go by so fast.
Ask anyone - four years of college will fly right by and before you know it, you will be donning that cap and gown (especially if you abided by 4, 5, and 6 above). It is also true that those four years of your life are unique in that you have relative freedom to organize your life as you see fit yet you aren’t yet hampered with a mortgage or your children’s college tuition. Enjoy every moment.
10. Call home.
After you leave home for college, you will be wildly busy studying and socializing. What you leave behind, however, will be a void. An empty chair at the dinner table. Your parents spent 18 years preparing you to spread your wings and fly off but that doesn’t mean they won’t miss you every day of the week. So call home. Once a week is good. Just call. Please.
So have fun. Study hard.
And take photos so you can relive all of it when you are older and paying a mortgage and dreaming of how much you’d love to be back in college.