On What To Do Before You Go:
Learning How to Cook:
Learn how to cook, and do it the summer before you start college. You don’t have to know your way around a kitchen like Rachael Ray or Fabio Viviani, but it really helps to know how to do more than microwave a packet of ramen noodles. You probably won’t be able to (or want to) cook while you live in a dorm, but you might move into an apartment at some point during the next four years, and I promise you that cooking for yourself takes a lot longer when you don’t know how. You won’t have time to learn either, once your busy school year starts.
Take it from me – I didn’t learn how to cook before college, because it wasn’t fun and I tended toward culinary disasters, so I lived off of UC Davis’ dining common food (which was admittedly very good) and frozen food for four years. If you don’t learn early, you might not ever have the time. As recently as last night I tried to make brownies and forgot the eggs. I won’t burden you with a description of the outcome, or my belated attempt to add the eggs in, but it was memorable. It’s a handicap if you can’t cook. Start building a repertoire of recipes now.
Packing for College:
Less is more, literally. Less stuff means more space. This is a lesson I learn, and relearn, every time I move to a new apartment. I’m not saying you need to choose between your rain boots and your stuffed animals. In fact, the honest truth is that no matter how much stuff you decide to bring with you, you will find a way to pack it all into your dorm. What’s also true, however, is that you don’t need to, and you’ll hate yourself a little less when it comes time to move.
The amount of clothing necessary will vary by person – depending of course on how often you do your laundry and on how much you care about your daily ensembles. As for the rest of the stuff though – here are a few common things I saw people bring to the dorms and never use:
1. One million books for the pleasure reading you will never have time to do.
2. All of your childhood stuffed animals (and the occasional life-sized teddy bear) which you will either spend your life protecting from destructive dorm-mates, or which will inevitably be used as bedding for your exiled friends.
3. Last year’s prom dress. Even the formal events you go to in college will not be quite that formal.
4. A TV, which in my opinion, is really a larger and less useful version of your computer screen.
On Living The College Student Life:
While you’re in college and living on or near campus, certain things about the university will seem of monumental importance – a questionable act by the administration, the contentious politics of student government, and the endless debate over where our tuition dollars go. The moment you graduate, you’ll never think about these things again, except maybe the tuition issue when you have to pay down your student loans.
My advice, having recently realized how temporary some of my biggest concerns really were, is to sign up for campus activities and clubs, because those are some of the best ways to make friends, but to avoid devoting too much time to any of them. (One obvious exception would be a campus job that you can put on your resume). Don’t let recreational activities interfere with your class work or degrade your GPA.
As I said earlier, the people you have access to will matter more than the feel of the campus or the national ranking of the dining halls. All the same, there are two points in life where nearly everyone experiences a mass friendship exodus: after high school and after college.
There is no denying that by the end of high school you’ll have some pretty close friends. You might have known these people for over a decade and you might have shared most of your life experiences. Maybe you promised each other that whatever happens and wherever you go, you’ll always be besties. For the first few weeks of college, you might even be pretty good about keeping in touch. But as soon as heavy loads of schoolwork really start to hit, phone calls will be a nuisance rather than a relief.
Come winter break, your friends will share their new adventures with you and you’ll realize you didn’t stay in touch that well after all. This doesn’t mean you’re going to lose your friends. Maybe you’re superhuman and you make time for regular phone calls and still maintain a life of your own. But maybe you’re like me: Maintaining high school friendships means an occasional Skype chat and some really spectacular holiday get-togethers. If you’re more like me, don’t worry, because you’ll have new friends at college.
The lesson to take from this is not that your high school friendships don’t matter. Instead, this gradual cutting of ties will make it easy for you to find out which friends you care enough about to keep close. Those friends are worth the time-sucking phone calls and Skype dates, and chances are, they think you’re worth the time-suck as well. Think of this farewell as a chance to simplify your life, and appreciate the challenge to figure out which friends are kindred spirits, and which are good for a fun night out.
There’s another lesson to take from this as well. When I was in high school, I heard all the time that high school friends are temporary, and college friends are forever. Let me tell you, we scatter just as widely after college as we do after high school, and the friendship exodus happens after both graduations. Just like the first time, however, this isn’t a bad thing. The friends who matter most will stay in touch with you through it all, and since you’ve already gone through this once, you know what’s coming and can act accordingly. It would serve you well, when divvying up your free time, to remember that making best friends will make something that lasts beyond four years, and friendly acquaintances are likely to disappear forever.