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For the Freshmen: How to Be An Adult

Help For When You’ve Left Home For College For The First Time EVER

If the traditional college experience describes you – moving away from home for the first time, with plenty of distance between you and your high school friends & family – read on. I may have pursued my first degree online and in my hometown, but that master’s degree meant I had to move out and away.

Photo by Cong H on

1. Establish a budget.

You may be here on your family’s dime. Or you might be working part-time to put yourself through college. Either way, this new independence is a great place to start practicing your budget. When I’m only shopping for me, it’s a lot easier to track where all that money is going. Which simply means, I have no excuse to not be good at this.

2. Find a community.

Introvert or extrovert, I don’t care. Moving to a new place, with a roommate you may never have met before in your life, and then not finding a group of people to connect with – few things are as isolating as that.

Whether or not it’s your social default, take advantage of being a newbie and go out of your way to meet people, visit social gatherings, form study groups, etc. College can bring some challenges; your friend group may well become a support group of sorts.

3. Keep up a good diet & exercise.

The Freshman Five is a thing, and I certainly have to watch out for it. Whether or not there is access to a kitchen is honestly the biggest factor here. After all, many campuses are huge, and especially during the first year, those general education classes require daily treks across campus.

Planning and cooking your own meals also checks off two points on this grown-up checklist: it’s healthier and cheaper than eating out. It may require a learning curve before graduating from PB&J three meals a day, but trust me – cooking is a nice life skill to have.

If the extensive daily walking/cycling routine doesn’t actually describe you or your campus (or perhaps, simply isn’t enough of a workout for you), check out your campus gym or – my personal favorite – drag some friends around town to local dance venues. The salsa community is a really big deal in Santa Cruz. I had so much fun.

4. Start your professional network now.

Attend those career fairs your campus hosts. Put a profile up on LinkedIn and connect with alumni and people in fields you’re interested in. If you have time for internships, that’s awesome – take advantage of the opportunity! If not, don’t stress about it – there are plenty of other things on campus to keep one busy and provide experience.

As a STEM student, find some labs on campus you’re interested in. Chat with the grad students there, even if you’re not officially working in them. What’s their advisor like? What does day-to-day research look like? How did they decide on grad school rather than other options? Or perhaps they worked elsewhere before coming back to college.

Whenever and wherever possible, find and talk to people who work in the field(s) that interest you.

5. Find some mentors.

My favorite question to ask my friends in college is, “So what are your plans after you graduate?” (I know. I’m such a sadist.) Freshman or senior, I am always met with a blank stare. Why does no one consider this while on campus? College can become a bit of a bubble, in which we forget there is a life outside of campus.

Honestly, I kinda blame colleges for this – in many cases, there can be more emphasis on grades than after-graduation options. So it certainly pays to be proactive here!

Professional and academic planning aren’t the only places you may want someone else’s opinion. Maybe you need someone you can bring spiritual questions to. Maybe you’ve experienced a few somersaults in your personal life and it’d be nice to talk to someone about it.

A wise friend will do – or a friend who’s just exceptionally good a listening (extra credit: actually try to be that friend too!) But finding someone older, who’s walked in your shoes – even if it’s just a couple years ahead of yourself – can help put things into perspective, or provide a perspective you never considered before (of course, friendships aren’t a substitute for counselling or therapy).

Welcome to college – enjoy your first year as an adult!

And finally, I must pass on the very first lesson I learned as a grown-up: You don’t have to have it all together.

The first thing I realized out on my own is, we’re all kinda winging it as we go.

  1. Let’s help out the freshmen this year. What advice would you pass on?

  2. What are your biggest questions as you prepare for college this year, or prepare for the application?

I wrote this long before covid happened. So I guess it’s in dire need of some updates. Like, How to Make the Most of a Campus Under Quarantine. Or something like that. But hey, like I’m an expert on that? That’s something we’ll also all be winging as we go.

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