The Boy Scouts of America have a motto that would serve all of us well, especially those heading off to their Freshman Year in college. And that motto you ask? It is simple, yet profound: "BE PREPARED". As an Eagle Scout, as well as someone who has been working with students for almost 20 years, this has become my mantra and my battle cry. I have no desire to throw a wet blanket on the exciting fires of going to college, but I do want students to be prepared for the storm that is coming their way.
Storms can be very exciting and a heck of an adventure IF you are prepared for them. Going to college represents an enormous transition and numerous challenges. It is an extremely exciting time, but also a time of great change. It represents an almost overnight passage from being a teenager, with limited freedom and responsibility, to becoming and adult with seemingly unlimited freedom and responsibility.
Now, lets get specific. There are many things that I recommend students do BEFORE arriving on campus ... here I will give my Top 5:
COLLEGE FRESHMAN (to be) TOP 5:
#1 Get to know your roommate. There are few things as important as this. For most, you will be sharing a room with a complete and total stranger. Anything you can do during the summer to get to know your roommate is crucial. Sometime in mid-summer, every student will receive their Housing Packet which will tell you what residence hall you will be living in and who your roommate(s) will be. It will also give the email and phone number of your new roommate(s). Email them immediately and introduce yourself! Keep the initial email short and sweet, just a simple introduction. After you receive a response you may email again or even pick up the phone and call. But, DO NOT WAIT ... get to know your roommate(s) as soon as possible and definitely BEFORE you go to college.
#2 Get to know your college town. If you are unable to visit your school, do a virtual visit online. Get to know everything you can about your school. But dont stop there: get to know the surrounding area as well. Become as familiar with the area as possible. If everything is new and unknown, it can be very intimidating, so familiarizing yourself will help to alleviate some of this. Allow your parents to be a part of this "research" if at all possible. If you don't want your parents to be "hovering" when you head off to college, giving them a sense comfort about the area you will be living in will go a long ways to ease their concerns!
#3 Start networking and forming a community. Facebook.com has done a huge service for colleges and college students. It gives every student the opportunity to get to know others that will be going to their same college before they go. On facebook, you are able to interact in a virtual community which will make those in-person introductions when you arrive on campus that much easier. Do what you can to facilitate a community for your college and get the word out, yesterday!! (Please feel free to check out the "Freshman 411" community on Facebook where we can together hear each others stories about getting ready for the Freshman Year as well as what the Freshman Year is like!)
#4 Talk money with the parents. One of the most useful things you can do before you head off to college is to learn everything you can about finances. Instead of just playing for the rest of the summer, take some time to learn about money. What about if you talked with your folks about your desire to understand finances? If during dinner one night you said to your Dad, Hey, Dad, I know that college is just around the corner, and I was wondering if you could help me with understanding my finances before I go. Now, when your Dad regains consciousness, he is going to want to make sure that he heard you right - reassure him that you are serious. I can almost guarantee that he will be more than happy to sit down with you and walk you through Financial Stuff 101. Plus there is an additional benefit to this: your parents will see that you are serious about being smart with money, and when you have a problem in college with your finances (note that I said when, not if), they will be much more ready and willing to help you figure it all out.
But what should that family money conversation include? What are some of the things that you and your parents can talk through before you head off to college? Keep it simple, but make sure that you talk at least about the following:
1. Finding out one another's expectations
2. Setting up a budget
3. Balancing a checkbook
4. Credit Cards
#5 Prepare for Move-In Day. Make the trip to college and Move-In Day a BIG deal. No matter how busy parents are, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Make an event out of moving to college! Do this together and enjoy. Many students think they are ready to move out and do it all on their own. This may be the case, but regardless, it is so important to make this Rite of Passage, moving to college, a family affair.
If you are a parent, PLEASE don't send your kids off to college -- take them to college, you won't regret it! And if you are the one going off to college, PLEASE allow your parents to be a part of this. As much as they drive you crazy, they NEED you to let them be a part of this!
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