While visiting my parents a few days ago we got to talking with my younger brother about college as he is wrapping up most of his applications right now and its the “hear back” season soon follow up with “make the decision” day. It’s just the two of us so my parents had the college practice with me and are now able to learn from some mistakes we made during my process to hopefully better his process. The conversation spiraled into many different college-related topics and instantly I knew I had to post about things I wish I knew before my college process.
You don’t have to be traditional – This can be interpreted in many ways, but to me this means not having to go down the “normal” route. I was brought up fairly traditionally with a decent amount of structure. I was always taught to go k-12, college at a good school, grad school and then climb the career ladder. Halfway through my undergrad I realized its 2013 and you don’t have to follow the same route your parents did. If I could do it over I like to think that I would take a bit of time off, travel and enjoy the world, really figure out what I love and what I want, then work my way through undergrad at a local university and transfer elsewhere if I wanted. It’s really all about perspective I think. I had friends in college who went to community college and lived at home for their first two years. They came to my university with zero debt as they worked their way and paid for their first two years on their own. That would be a huge difference for me. At about $20k a year for freshman and sophomore year, that’s $40k less in debt!
It’s inhumane to eat as much as the most expensive meal plan allows – This was HUGE for me. Freshman year, first kid in college, my parents thought I would end up begging for food or something. I cant remember the details but the meal plan we chose was whatever the highest was, something along the lines of 21 meals at the cafe + snack money + other things I cannot remember. I think the meal plan alone was around $4-5k. With that in mind I think out of 21 meals a week I had 7. Sophomore year I dropped down significantly and junior year I never got a meal plan, nor senior. The fact is you will make friends, eat in your room, live off Ramen noodles for weeks on end, use snack money or real money for that matter, go out with friends, the list goes on. I was also a tour guide for my university and had the privilege of meeting many people through that job. I dont think I ever met someone who actually ate the full amount of the largest meal plan. I dont know what the university I went to is offering now as I heard they have switched food vendors, but I hope the plans are more realistic.
Book Shopping – This was one of the aspects that changed a lot in my four years of undergrad. I started college in 2006 and while we were well on our way to Facebook, mobile devices and increasing technology in our lifestyles, college book shopping is one area I saw drastic change between 06-10. When I first went to school options were mostly limited. You could buy online or at the book store at full price or you could rent locally at one book shop. By the time I got to senior year, there were countless online rental companies, local ones, and competition on top of competition. Some would even come right to your dorm, drop your books off and pick them up later in the semester. Truth is, I didn’t even buy books senior year, but that’s a different topic 🙂 Just keep in mind that there are options. Maybe your roommate is in your class, split the cost of the rental and it will end up being minimal at best. You can rent from numerous online resources such as Chegg, which I used junior year and it was fantastic. Always check used books because you really do not need it to be brand spanking new and lose value when you walk our of the store just like a car driven off the lot.
Try to maintain order – This can be the most difficult lesson to learn from college. Now that you are on your own, living among thousands of other people your age who are ready to party it might seem impossible to maintain order. To put it bluntly, those that end up with no structure or order in their college life usually do not finish. I don’t think its realistic to follow a very strict routine in college because with assignments and social life its hard to be that structured, but what I wish I did know was that I should block off chunks of time throughout the week and swear off Facebook, cell phones, etc. during that time to get assignments done. It’s important to try to get some sort of a sleep schedule down as well since you will be useless in school if you are constantly exhausted. These things sound simple and maybe even too simple for anyone to care about, but its critical to lay down a good foundation with good habits for success in college.