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42 Things to Do in College: An Open Letter to My Son

Amy Baldwin, Ed.D.

Dear Son,

Pretty soon you are going to be off to college. I know you're excited to “live on your own,” as you put it. I also know that means going to bed, getting up and eating whatever and whenever you want without my comment or interference.

I get it. I'm excited for you, too. It will be an amazing experience, one that you'll cherish the rest of your life.

Yes, high school was cool, fun — well, except for all those assignments and tests. But college? It’s cool on a whole other level. Like “figuring out what you want to do with your life” cool. You have to take advantage of the experience, though. That’s why I decided to share some advice. I won’t promise it's the only advice I'll give you (I teach first-year college students, so you will get lots of it), but it's what I want to share with you before the fall semester gets started.

So, here it goes.

1. Take classes and professors that will stretch you to grow.

I know you'll want to find the easiest courses with the most laid-back professors. Sure, take a few if you must. But also look for classes that actually help you learn and push you beyond your comfort zone. Those are the classes you will remember.

2. Look at your grades as an indicator of what to do more of and less of.

I'll be thrilled if you earn good grades, but I'm more interested in you looking beyond the grades to what they can tell you about what to do next time. Low grade on the first assignment? Use it to make changes to what you do next time.

3. Take as much history, sociology, political science and philosophy as you can.

Whatever you decide to major in, be sure you take classes in how the world works. I want you to have a working knowledge of history, government, society and critical thinking.

4. Open your eyes to the beauty of the diversity of the world you're living in.

You will meet and work with people from all backgrounds and experiences. Stretch yourself to get to know them and learn from their perspectives.

5. Ignore well-meaning advice if it isn’t your thing.

People are going to give you all kinds of advice about what you should major in and what career path is best for you. Some will just tell you that you're making a mistake or that you “need to” do this or that. Ignore anything that doesn’t seem right for you.

6. Go to the doctor if you are sick or think you are sick.

Don’t ride it out. I won’t be there to put my hand on your forehead or listen to your cough. This is always important, not just during a pandemic. Take charge of your health.

7. Be a good neighbor.

You'll be living in close proximity to strangers. Think about the noise you make and the smells you emit. No one enjoys asking someone to be quieter or smell better, so don’t make them do that to you.

8. Be clean.

No one likes a slob. You know how to wash your clothes and push a mop. You can continue to do those things even when you don’t live at home.

9. Apologize when you are wrong or negligent.

It doesn’t matter your intent if the impact of your words or actions hurt others.

10. Be kind and courteous to the support staff on campus.

These are the hard-working individuals who clean your residence hall, cook and serve you food, keep your campus safe. Get to know them; greet them by name. There a lot of people taking care of you now. Respect them by making their jobs easier, not harder. And show some gratitude.

11. Make personal connections with a professor or two.

Or more by the time you graduate. Your professors will be important teachers, allies and friends.

12. Make friends with others who don’t look like you.

Or sound like you, act like you, think like you.

13. Read a real book.

Preferably more than one book, but start with at least one. Reading on your phone doesn’t count.

14. Use a calendar.

Preferably a large wall calendar so you can see the whole semester at once. You may know how to manage your time each week, but you have not yet learned how to view a semester at a glance.

15. Be straightforward.

As hard as it sounds, be upfront and honest in your communications with others. If your roommate’s dirty underwear on the floor bothers you, tell him.

16. Take advantage of student events and discounts.

You won’t get this opportunity to save money based on age until you're retired. There's an advantage to being a poor college student!

17. Listen to others.

Truly listen to what their heart is saying. Also listen if they are giving you directions or help with something.

18. Ask “why?”

Question authority, rules and policies when necessary. There may be a better way and your inquisitiveness may help spark positive change.

19. Don’t drink too much.

That goes for anything. Don’t drink too much alcohol. Don’t drink too many energy drinks.

20. Trust your gut.

You know right from wrong and you know when something doesn’t feel right.

21. Read and keep each syllabus.

The syllabus is the roadmap of the course and contains everything you need and want to know about a course. Consult it frequently.

22. Explore the community, the region, the country and the world.

Get out of your comfort zone (also known as your dorm room) and visit a new place, even if that place is down the block from the university. When you get the opportunities, travel beyond campus.

23. Develop your own convictions.

You will read, hear, see and learn about all kinds of values and beliefs. Start forging your own convictions.

24. Pretend you are confident until you genuinely are.

A lot of life is adopting a confidence (not arrogance) about our abilities. Believing you can do something is the first step.

25. Be willing to ask for help.

No one gets through college without it.

26. Always do your part in group work.

Don’t be one of those people who disappears when there is group work to be done. And don’t “out” or get angry at others who don’t pull their weight.

27. Go to class unless you are truly miserable or contagious.

Go to class even if you are bored or if you have “something better to do.” Don’t fool yourself that there is something more important than class and steal class time for a task or activity you should have made time to do.

28. Drink lots of water.

It is the foundation of health.

29. Try something new.

Your university will provide all kinds of events and experiences for you. Take advantage of them and try new things.

30. When you know better, do better.

This goes for everything in life. When you know how to study better for your biology class, then do it. When you realize your friend doesn’t like it when you ignore his invitations, then do something about it.

31. Support your friends.

They are going to need it.

32. Take notice of what people compliment you on.

You may discover a strength or an interest you didn’t know you had.

33. To start, focus on experience rather than a career pathway.

Look for opportunities to learn something, anything, about yourself and the world around you. Any job, event or course could give you invaluable information.

34. Be reliable.

No one likes a flake. Be consistent. And if you can’t deliver on a promise, communicate immediately.

35. Communicate when you need something.

Let someone know if you feel you can’t work something out on your own. When we tell you to be an adult and learn to take care of yourself, we don't mean that you have to do it all.

36. Get involved.

College is not made for sitting on the sidelines. Or in your bed playing video games.

37. Be idealistic and optimistic.

It is your right, and a rite of passage, to believe the world could be better. Explore crazy ideas such as reversing climate change. You are far too young — and will live way too long — to be cynical and feel hopeless at 18 years old.

38. Go through all the training that your university will provide.

Be a good steward of others. Always do the right thing.

39. Explore something that interests you.

Now's the time to figure out if you truly like leading a group or contributing to the community.

40. Learn how to create and stick to a budget.

I know what you're thinking: "I don’t have any money." That may be true, but the little that you have from working all summer needs to last the whole year.

41. Be kinder than necessary.

I have made lots of apologies to people whom I judged too quickly. I have never regretted being kind to someone.

42. Listen to your mother.

Maybe I should have started with that one.

Amy Baldwin, Ed.D., the former Director of Student Transitions at the University of Central Arkansas, currently teaches student success and literacy to first-year students. She is co-author of a number of books, including A High School Parent's Guide to College Success: 12 Essentials and The College Experience. Amy and her husband are parents of a college student and a recent college graduate. She also blogs at
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1 year ago

I love the article and would suggest #43 - Call home. Your parents will miss you and be happy to hear from you.

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