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Going Off to College

With no test preparation, college applications or school schedules to worry about, the summer after senior year is a wonderful moment of liberation! Thinking about the adventure ahead fills students – and their parents – with excitement and joy, but also more than a twinge of anxiety! What follows, therefore, are a few pointers to help smooth your way to college:

  • You need not take your whole bedroom with you to campus! Frankly, most college rooms lack space for multiple appliances and game systems, so check with your future roommate about who will bring what. Assess what you need after you arrive, and remember that when you go home for the holidays, you can always return with that special pillow your mom made you and your online game console.
  • Begin to plan your pathway through your education by knowing when you have to declare a major, what your distribution and concentration requirements are, and when these classes are offered. But don’t let your planning close you off to new possibilities – after all, college is about expanding your intellectual horizons and your academic skills. Explore the course catalog to get a taste of what those possibilities may be.
  • Attend the first class of every course you consider taking, even during any “shopping” period. Professors hand out material, set out their expectations, and may even start teaching, and you do not want to miss it.
  • Attend class even when you don’t feel like it because you stayed out late the night before or the weather is cold and your bed comfortable. Professors will cover material, explain concepts and sketch the bigger picture in ways textbooks won’t.
  • Resist procrastination and, instead, design a study and work schedule. Stick to it! College success comes mostly through a combination of hard work and organization.
  • You may have the time to purchase required textbooks more cheaply online, but make sure you have them when needed for assignments. Buy the edition the reading list specifies.
  • Commit yourself to getting to know at least one of your professors each semester. Your intellectual experience at college comes in part from talking about ideas with others who share the same interests, and that includes both fellow students and teachers. Professors are also invaluable later if you need a letter of recommendation or information about research and internship opportunities. Other residential and academic advisers are equally important resources.
  • Living successfully with a new roommate requires mastering the art of diplomacy and compromise, especially for students who have never had to share their bedroom before. Make use of your residential advisers, and work actively to become part of your dorm community. Avoid the temptation to stick only with the people you knew before you arrived, or those with whom you share a hometown or a language or a religion.
  • Get to know the campus and all the resources it has to offer – libraries, music performances, visiting speakers, sports facilities, and Career, Disability and Study Abroad counselors. Resist the freshman temptation to stick only to the safe bubble of campus – after all, when you chose your college, you also chose your environment. If you are on new terrain, use common sense and at first explore in the company of friends, but don’t let unfamiliarity deprive you of the pleasures your new home has to offer. Get to know the local public transport system – being able to get around a city cheaply and easily is very freeing!
  • Take responsibility for managing your money and your day-to-day life. Learn to do your laundry before you leave home. Open a bank account, manage a monthly budget, and learn to deal with the Accounts and the Financial Aid Offices. And find yourself a job! At most colleges you need not be on financial aid to get a campus job, and these are wonderful opportunities for earning extra money, adding to resumes, and extending your knowledge of your college.
  • Be kind to your parents as both their child and an adult. If you have a problem, they may not know the context well enough to judge whether this is a genuine crisis that requires intervention, or whether you just had a bad day. They will always be ready to support you, so help them make that judgment.

One of the many great joys of university life is that you get to occupy, for an extended period, a lovely space between being an empowered adult and a dependent child. This is a great privilege, but not an excuse for idling in a state of perpetual childhood! Use your privilege and your freedom well. Have fun but be sensible; enjoy the freedom but grow up; and revel in your freedom but phone home!