Herald Journal Columns
May 1, 2006, Herald Journal

Preparing for college 101

It’s that time of year, when parents prepare to ship off their youngsters to institutions of higher learning.

Bubbling with excitement, undergrads will hardly have digested all those sub sandwiches and pieces of graduation cake before the summer is over and they find themselves swallowed whole by the looming walls of academia.

Delusions of a Felicity-like life, fraught with deep meaning and a once-in-a-lifetime journey to find oneself, will fade away, or become blurred with the lack of sleep and unthinkable levels of caffeine abuse.

Girls who wouldn’t be caught dead leaving the house without matching nail polish and lip liner in high school, will find themselves throwing on a baseball cap over flat hair and slinking away to class in dirty sweatpants.

Consider yourselves warned, seniors.

The independence you long for can easily turn you into a person barely recognizable to your pre-graduation self.

Papers, deadlines, real homework (not the few assignments here and there that you received in high school), dirty dorms and apartments, roommates, jobs, teachers, friends, and fun are all part of the deal.

You will learn to live on dollar noodle packs, and shopping will mean a trip to the local Wal-Mart to buy toilet paper and laundry detergent.

Quarters will become the new gold, and you will weigh them according to how many loads of laundry you can get for them.

Despite, and because of, all this, college can be one of the best experiences of your life, if you can control it.

If you let it control you, the beast will chew you up and spit you back out four or five years later, 30 pounds heavier, and with no degree.

Having successfully navigating the beast myself (success being gauged by the fact that I am still alive and received my degree), here are a few user friendly tips for green grads:

1) You will have roommates.

Prepare for this. I had never met one of my roommates freshman year, until the first day of school.

She was not perfect, being that she had a few living habits that I did not appreciate. Conversely, I was not perfect, either.

She is going to be a bridesmaid in my wedding this summer, five years later.

There is no one in this life that is not going to have at least one annoying habit, when they are one of three girls shoved in a 15-square-foot cement block.

So keep an open mind, be patient, and try to keep your annoying habits to a minimum.

2) Cafeterias mean “all you can eat.” The best way to avoid the “freshman 15” (the 15 pounds many first-year students pack on during their first nine months at college) is start the year with healthy eating habits.

When I started college, I was tempted to take pop for the whole first week, but I held my resolve and walked by the pop fountain to the water station every day.

I never had the urge to drink pop the rest of my four years there.

Sure, pop might not be that big of a deal to many people, but the same thing holds true for the dessert buffet, deep fried delights, and second helpings.

3) Shower.

You laugh now, but just you wait. That 8 a.m. class sneaks up pretty fast when you were hanging out with friends until 3 a.m.

A shower can wake you up, but even if you can’t get it in before your 8 o’clock, make sure you have a break after that class to take one.

This holds especially true for guys. Girls seem to have an innate ability to carry on personal hygiene tasks like bathing and brushing their teeth without help.

Guys, you smell. You naturally have a stronger body odor than girls. Even though that baseball cap covers up your bed head, it does not mask the sweaty gym-sock stench protruding from you.

4) Be frugal.

You’ve spent your whole life saving for college. Congratulations! College will take it all.

When you are a freshman and have $5,000 in your savings account you might think you’re in good shape.

It will all be gone after your first year, and you only get one summer to replenish a supply that took you 18 years to build.

I cannot stress this next point enough: do not spend your money!

Buy only what you need – food, and not fancy food, either.

Don’t go out to eat a lot. If your friends always want to go, eat something small and cheap and drink water. You will still have fun with them, but can eat at your apartment.

A meal from the grocery store costs about one-fifth of what a meal at a restaurant does.

Do you like the clothes you have now? Good. Keep them for the next four years, and don’t buy new ones.

Girls, borrow clothes from friends to keep your wardrobe from being boring. (Guys, I don’t know how that works for you.)

I had four roommates my sophomore year, and we all put our clothes in the same communal closet.

But be courteous. Always wash whatever clothes you wear; if you wreck it, you pay for it; and if the person who owns it wants to wear it the same night you do, she wins.

5) You are there to learn.

There will be homework, and more homework, and more homework.

My advice is to remember you are paying to be there. Every time you miss class or don’t do your homework, you might as well take a $50 bill from your wallet (as if you have that much money – you’re in college) and shred it.

Not with a paper-shredder, that’s too disconnected. Rip it up with your bare hands, because that is, in effect, what you are doing.

Missing class is a habit. Don’t start it, and there won’t be problem.

When it is time to do your homework, go to the library. This does not make you a nerd, on the contrary, it will give you more time to be with your friends.

I will explain this concept further next week, along with tips on how to have fun, stay safe, and master the art of using community showers.

Now, go enjoy your careless pre-college excitement while you can.

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