By Emma Freer
When my dad dropped me off at college, I felt adequately prepared to survive until the holiday break. I like to cook and I had often grocery shopped for my mom, so I knew I could feed myself. One of my longstanding chores around the house was cleaning the bathrooms, so I felt able to maintain a dorm room. And my mom gave me the lowdown on laundry before I left, too, so I wasn’t completely in the dark. I felt like a number of things on my mental college checklist were checked.
Still, my first year in college taught me a few things about living solo. Here are 5 things on my college checklist that I wish I had known before leaving for college.
College Checklist for Freshmen:
- How to plan meals:
I was not on any kind of meal plan while at school, so I spent the year cooking with my hall-mates in our shared kitchen. However, by the end of the year, I was sick of all of my go-to meals: scrambled eggs, basic salads, PB and J sandwiches, and oatmeal. (Luckily, though, I knew how to make these items.) As a result, I spent more money on takeout and meals at restaurants or cafes with friends. I wish I had some easy recipes on hand at those times. It also would have been helpful to have invested in some cooking utensils at the beginning of the year to supplement the few items my college did provide.
- How to divvy up chores:
My hall-mates and I never formally decided how we wanted to split up cleaning responsibilities. Because my parents always took advantage of child labor during house cleaning, I knew how to dust and vacuum, clean windows and sinks, and load up the dishwasher. However, I only knew to do these things because my parents demanded it of my siblings and me at specified time intervals. I wish my parents (or my hall-mates’ parents) had encouraged us to make some kind of chore schedule early in the year. As lame as this sounds, it would have been preferable to the “wait-until-the-kitchen-is-so-dirty-someone-is-compelled-to-clean-it-all-by-herself” approach we developed instead.
- How to budget:
My dad set me up with a local bank account and deposited my funds for the semester when he dropped me off in September. The first semester, I paid little attention to how much I was spending. Books, weekend trips, new going out clothes, and dinners with new friends soon added up, though, and I pretty much emptied my account just in time to return home to load up for the next semester. Second semester, I kept a log of each purchase I made, separated by personal and school-related expenses. I had a weekly budget that I tried my best to stick to, although I often went over. I texted a picture of the handwritten log to my dad each week so that I was forced to keep up. Next year, I hope to refine my budgeting practices. (However, I am also working all summer for some backup funds.) I think that for any college freshman, it would be helpful to have parents check in on money matters on a regular basis.
- How to bargain shop:
As a college student, I am not privy to the same luxuries as my successful, professional, graduate school-educated parents are. While at school, I soon learned that the pre-packaged laundry detergent pods – while supremely convenient – were an unnecessary extravagance according to my budget. Likewise, when I was looking for an off-campus house to live in with friends, my mom often reminded me that I am a college student and am thus obliged to slum it. This is perhaps the only time in my life when my parents have asked me to lower my expectations. I think bargain hunting (a.k.a. responsible spending) can only be realized through experience, but it is still something I wish I knew to expect once at school.
- How to practice safe sex:
I was surprised how many of my friends had pregnancy scares during our freshman year of college. Even though all of us knew about condoms and birth control, a lot of lapses occurred. Aside from safe sex, strategies for dealing with unsafe sex were definitely lacking. (For example, many girls don’t know that Plan B can only be taken twice before fertility may be jeopardized.) Regardless of parents’ rules about sex, college is a parentless environment in which sex is a pretty popular extracurricular activity. I’m not sure how parents ought to broach this issue with kids. However, I do know I wish my friends had been spared the anxiety and worry that perhaps stemmed from uncertainty or inexperience with sex.
High school is a great time to begin working on that college checklist. You don’t want your college freshman to have any reason not to focus on their academics, the real reason you are sending them to college in the first place.