As a senior in college, I've faced my fair share of doubts, insecurities, and moments of complete foolishness. Recently, a family friend's daughter, let's say her name is Val, is about to start applying to college. She's going back and forth on what to study, where to study, and how to afford college. My mother reached out to me about her situation and it was like hearing my thoughts from when I was in high school.
And remarkably, Val and I aren't alone. Every one of my friends have agreed with me that no one prepared them for what to expect in college. I don't mean parties, lectures, and exams, I'm specifying those "no-one-taught-me-this" real world dilemmas that home-economics teachers, advisers, and parents don't always educate you about. So if you're still finding your way through college, here's a list of things we advise you to look out for.
1. College Tuition, Financial Aid, & Loans
A diploma, one we need to get a decent-paying job in our 20's, will cost you tens-of-thousands of dollars. When I was a senior in high school, my adviser never told my class how to actually apply for financial aid. My mother used to tell me that college would be taken care of. I didn't know she was expecting me to take out a loan. It sounds simple, take money out, pay it back later when I have a job. When you take out a loan, you pay after a grace period... but you'll build up years of interest. Those loans will get larger and larger, and this is where most of your paychecks will go if you take out too many. Find scholarships, talk to your advisers for help, apply for Federal Work Study, and get a part-time job if you have time. Take a semester or year-long break if you want to save up.
2. Relying On Yourself for Everything
Remember how your parents had to call a plumber for help or paid for a doctor's appointment for you. That's your responsibility now. Try doing a checklist of skills you need as an adult. Did anyone teach you how to protect your stuff from pest control or leaks? Do you know how to pay for your cell phone? Do you know your health insurance? Can you do your own laundry? Can you cook meals? Everything from housing forms and bills to washing your dishes will be on you now. When I lived on campus, I was amazed how many freshmen didn't know how to use a laundry machine and broke so many. Don't feel ashamed if you can't do these things yet. Learn when you can.
3. Exhaustion 24/7
You have your own place, see your friends everyday, and do whatever you want without parents. What will you want most? SLEEP. Some students take on a greater workload, but everyone will get burned out during college. Most college students sleep an average of 6 hours. This is awful because we need 9 hours for all the tasks we do. This includes commuting for hours, walking across campus with heavy books, running errands, studying all night, and probably not eating healthy. This is why it's crucial to watch your physical and mental health. If not, you'll learn how to make a nap spot out of anywhere.
4. Commuting & Parking Nightmares
Whether you have a car, take the bus, bike, or walk to classes, you will be doing this almost ten times a week. You need to think about time management, getting groceries, gas money, and other annoying details. If you live far from campus, you might have to shorten your morning routine to beat traffic. Not to mention you'll get mad at every student that takes their time crossing the road. Mornings will be the worst because everyone is looking for parking spots before class. I've been followed by cars in the parking lot because they want my parking space. Stay smart and stay safe!
5. Empty Wallets
Here's where your money is going towards: Food, School Supplies, and Stuff You Don't Need. It's your first time living on your own so you're going to be more lenient with spending. This is especially true if your parents send you money and you use a credit/debit card on every purchase. My friend once told me "I have more money on my Starbucks card than I do in my bank." She had $35 on her Starbucks card and $8 in her checking account. Learn how to save your money and budget while you can. There's no shame in using coupons either.
6. Moments of Feeling Lost
You're going to have moments, no matter what year you are, when you doubt everything you're doing. Let me tell you what took me awhile to accept, that's normal. Everyone has this feeling. We're surrounded by high-achieving, intelligent, charismatic, and talented people at college. You feel like the weight of the world on your shoulders to make decisions about your education and life. This is especially true with bad grades and not getting the position you want. You think about switching your major, whether your classes are wrong, or if you're headed in the right direction. These are all normal thoughts that are just feeding your fear. Take the time you need to figure things out. Personally, I make days to just sort out my feelings and worries. After my freshman year, I took a year off school and finally accepted interests and passions I repressed in high school. Be confident in who you are.
7. Moments of Feeling Lonely
No one tells you that college can get lonely sometimes. Your friends can get busy or you may live in an unfamiliar city. And as much as you don't want to admit it, you miss your family. And how can you not feel lonely; college surrounds you with thousands of strangers. Going days without a friend to hang out with can bring you down. Not to mention that coursework can cause you to feel more depressed. However, I urge you not to combat this with drinking, drugs, or other substances like people I've known. Continue reaching out to your friends and family over the phone or social media. Set up times to meet-up whenever you can. Seeing your friends again brings new life to you.
8. Uncertainty About the Future
The future will always be on your mind. Will I graduate? Will I be in debt? Will I get the career I want? Will I be successful? Will I be happy? These thoughts have been the bane of my anxiety and it's difficult not to think like this sometimes. It's an existential crisis you're too young to have. That's why you have people to support you. You have friends and family who love you and know you best. The campus has counselors, advisers, and other students that can give you great advice. Don't fear mistakes. You'll come out stronger and smarter from them. You have so much potential and all the time in the world to do what you want.
This list might seem scary, but these are all things college students go through. But above all, this is the most important advice I have for Val and for you. Don't underestimate yourself, everyone has gone through what you're going through. You're not in this alone. When understand that your troubles are shared, things get easier. Once it's over, you'll see that college is another one life's milestone.