5 Pieces of Advice Before You Go to College

Originally posted August 2015

My middle is headed off to college in just one week. And I am a hot mess. I’m not sure what the over/under is on how many times I will burst into tears this week, but investing in Kleenex stock may be a good move.

I know he’s excited, my boy. And he’s got that swagger that all professionals tell you teens get—the one that exudes, “I got this, Mom. I already know everything about everything, so you can stop talking.” The attitude that is supposed to make us want to push our kids out the front door instead of hanging on and holding them back.

Still, I’ve been trying to dole out college advice in very small doses so that I don’t drive the kid insane. Maybe just laying it all out here is better. So for you, my baby boy that was just 5 pounds when he was born five weeks early, 5 college lessons before you go to college:

1. Say “yes” every chance you can. College is the last, best, as-close-to-risk-free chance you’ll get to try anything once. (Except drugs. Please. Oh, and peach schnapps. Trust me.) Don’t scoff at the opportunity to study abroad. Help a friend with a drama project. Give a kale smoothie a try. Go ahead, take the ceramics class. Pack a bag for a road trip with a couple of buddies. Try the internship. Accept the invite to a prof’s house for dinner. The next four years will present one door after another. Open as many as you can.

2. There’s no such thing as “friends with benefits.” I get that in what you probably view as my twilight years, my opinion on texting your way through a relationship and treating intimacy as something less than intimate is old-fashioned thinking. But believe me when I say this—it’s the rare individual that doesn’t harbor any romantic feelings about the person they occasionally sleep with. That girl may say she doesn’t care if you are just friends, but my guess is she does. Conversely, it could be you that becomes attached and subsequently frustrated and hurt at the lack of commitment. Either way, with physicality comes emotion. Be compassionate. Be respectful. Remember that no means no. And that goes both ways. Speaking of which …

3. Choose and act wisely. College is a great place to make mistakes. At the same time, life doesn’t offer up mulligans. Blow off a class in a serial fashion, and it’s your reputation that takes a hit—not just with your professors—who I’m sure share intel on students with one another—but also with your classmates, who may joke around at first about your lack of commitment, but will learn quickly you are someone that can’t be counted on. If you make a promise, stick to it. You said you would walk someone home from a night class? Be there. Committed to completing part of a group project? Follow through. Intention sets the tone, but it’s your actions that will speak volumes about your character.

4. Strawberry Pop-Tarts, nor the aforementioned peach schnapps, do not qualify as a serving of fruit. I’m not there every day to get after you about making healthy choices. Now is the time for you to step up to the plate and at least try to eat right, exercise and get enough sleep. Use your meal plan and eat a banana once in a while? And be careful about what you choose to drink. I’m not so naive to believe you won’t have a beer, or four (I’m a Big 10 girl, remember)—all that I ask is you be safe and surround yourself with friends that look out for you when I can’t.

5. Everyone is rooting for you. For the last year, your friends and family have talked ad nauseam about how cool college is, the exciting adventure you are about to undertake, the opportunities you’ll have. Here’s the thing—it’s also incredibly challenging. You may find your passion for your major tested. You may struggle with loneliness. You may ask yourself what you are doing. Please know that everyone has your back. The beauty of college is that your professors are not there solely to break you down and obliterate your soul. They’re not about the “F.” These are the individuals so passionate about what you want to learn they’ve devoted their lives to it. They share your excitement. They want you to succeed. Professors don’t just teach—they mentor. Take advantage of office hours. Ask for help. Same goes for your RA. Counselors. Upperclassmen. They’ve all walked the path you’re on. The people you meet in college don’t just support you for a few years—they become lifelong friends.

Most of all, you have a family that loves and believes in you. Not a day will go by without me thinking of you, wondering if you are OK, what kind of cookies you’d like and when I am going to see you next. I am always on your sideline, cheering you on. I love you.

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