Hey, incoming college freshmen … I love all these pictures of you arriving on campus with your parents, decorating your dorm rooms, all that stuff. Keep posting. Brings back memories. What a big day in your lives. What a rush! I am so excited for you.
Look, you’ve received a ton of advice already, but I want to offer some of my own. Take it or leave it, but at least think about it. Parents, feel free to share it with your kids if you’re too busy crying to tell them yourselves.
1. Congratulations! You are a (somewhat) independent adult now. Know what that means. For maybe the first time, your parents are not there to be your safety net. No more “Wake up! You’re going to be late!” No more of them calling your teachers to advocate on your behalf. No more coming in clutch when you’ve made a mess of a relationship or a situation. This will sound scary, but it’s the truth: you are now in the place where you can make mistakes that can’t be easily fixed or fixed at all. What you do and how you choose to live in these next few years will set the trajectory of your life. Think about the consequences that come with living carefree.
2. Don’t waste your parents’ money. Some of you have parents who can write a check for your tuition and not blink an eye. Most of you, though, have parents who are making sacrifices to send you to school. They’ve scrimped and saved or maybe they’re taking financial pressure off you in other ways – phone, car insurance, a car, laundry, food. So go to class. Give a crap about your grades. If you start to suspect that college isn’t for you – maybe you want to work and save money, take more time to figure out what you want to do – there is no shame in saying, “A four-year school isn’t for me right now.”
3. Get a job. You have a ton of homework and not enough hours in the day. Believe me, I know. But if you haven’t yet learned to juggle responsibilities, it’s time to get started. Get used to being supervised and making your own money. You won’t believe the maturity that comes with part-time work.
4. Don’t look for “the one.” You’re going to school to gain the qualifications you need for a profession, not to find a husband or wife. Now, you might find that person while you’re at school. But don’t count on it. Don’t make it a goal. Know who you are and what you want to be before you even think about committing yourself to someone else. Education is a solid foundation for your future; a relationship isn’t. Don’t look for love. Let it find you. You’re still young! It’s not a cliché: you really do have your whole life ahead of you. The chances are very real you could end up with the wrong person if you buy into the idea that you have to have somebody.
5. Respect yourself. Do not change yourself to be accepted by others. Do not engage in activities that are degrading or strip you of your dignity (I’m looking at you, fraternities and sororities). Do not end up in a codependent relationship. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. People don’t respect people who don’t appear to be anchored or have any principles. At the same time, own your actions. Follow through on what you start. Don’t blame others when you’re at fault.
6. Make new friends – but make the right ones. College friends are some of your best friends. They will see you at your happiest, saddest, dumbest, funniest and darkest. I haven’t seen some of my college buddies in years, or even two decades, but we share a bond. We were there for each other in ways we can’t explain, and I know if I saw them today we’d pick up right where we left off. Still, a word of caution – pick friends who will discourage you from behaving badly and who will pull you back from the ledge when you aren’t thinking rationally. Sure, they are the friends who will make you maddest, because they’re your conscience, but they’re worth 100 times more than “friends” who just want to see you get drunk.
7. Keep in touch with your oldest friends. On your darkest days, when you’re suddenly homesick but don’t know why, call or text or message one of your high school or church youth group buddies. Hang on to the people who knew you then, because just when you need it, they can remind you of the goals you once had, the commitments you once made, the dreams you once dreamed. And they need you too. Never, ever discard a friend. Hang onto every single one. No one ever said, “Gee, I wish I didn’t have so many friends.”
8. Call your parents. They really do want to know what you’re doing and how you’re feeling. They may not be on your mind as much, but believe me, you’re on their minds, all the time. While you’re going to class and hanging out with friends and starting to create a whole new life, they’re getting older. They might not share it with you, but they’re beginning to experience more health problems, worries about retirement, taking care of their elderly parents, and more. You’re one of the reasons they’ve kept going all these years. And they’re still the best friends you’ll ever have, if you’ll let them be that.
9. Don’t drink or do drugs or have sex. “Oh, Mr. Grills, you fuddy duddy.” Heck yeah, I’m a fuddy duddy, if it means not risking my health, possibly acquiring an addiction or physical intimacy with someone who is not and would never be “the one.” I’m worth more than that, and so are you. Don’t act like an animal and be a slave to your passions. Self- control is difficult, but it is possible. Don’t live for highs or you’ll never know how to get through the lows.
10. Don’t get out of the habit of going to church. I’m talking to Christian kids here. Oh, it’s so easy to transfer to the Church of St. Pillow on Sundays, once you’re on your own. But do you really think that a four-year break from church will end with you suddenly going back on your own accord? Not likely. It’s intimidating to find a church near campus where you don’t know anyone and they worship differently than they do back home, but stay connected to the body of Christ. If anything is going to give you the strength and bravery and support to get through school, it’s people who share your faith. Really, this is where you’ll discover if church was ever important to you or just a place you went on Sunday. In fact, living on your own will reveal if your faith exists outside the church where you grew up. If it’s important to you, you’ll want to be in church, even if it takes some time to find the one for you.
Have a great year! You are loved.