Growing up, I didn’t have an older friend, sibling or cousin I could talk to about life after high school, so when it came to figuring out certain kinds of things, like how to solve an argument with a roommate, I usually had to wing it, and most of the time that meant learning things the hard way.
Up until the time I moved away to college, I’d lived a very sheltered life that left me lacking in street smarts. I’d just assumed college would be like high school, except without the annoying curfew, but it turns out there was a little more to it than that…
Whether you’re going away to college or just moving in with friends, here are nine things I learned (most of them the hard way) about living away from home for the first time.
And if you have any wisdom borne of experience, or any cautions or advice, please share them in the comments. I know quite a few of us are leaving home for the first time this fall. Our collective knowledge could help make those first couple years easier.
1. Wash this
I can’t tell you how many times I saw someone cruising campus in a pink shirt that must have started out white. It happens — accidentally washing brights with whites together in hot water. Luckily, laundry was one of the very few real-life skills I took with me when I left home.
If you don’t have someone to show you the ropes, here’s a quickie, condensed version of Laundry 101:
- Wash in cold water to keep colors from running
- When the washer stops, remove your bras, sweaters and anything with spandex from the machine, and hang them up to dry
- Dry the remaining items, in particular clothes, in a machine on its low heat setting to avoid shrinking
2. Learn how to prepare a few quick, healthy meals
Food was so tough for me that first year away. I wasn’t a fan of the dorm’s cafeteria fare (the rice was always soggy or dry), but I lacked even a basic knowledge of cooking beyond boiling water for ramen noodles and warming up frozen Lean Cuisines.
If you can, pick up a cookbook filled with simple recipes that fit on a single page (or thereabouts), and practice making a few dishes at home before you leave. I recommend the Student’s Vegetarian Cookbook, by Carole Raymond. It shows how to make lots of quick, affordable meals, and if you aren’t into veggie dishes, The Healthy College Cookbook looks pretty good.
3. Never fear, the intern is here!
I’m 36 and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. If you don’t either, narrow the field (and expand your knowledge) by taking as many internships as you can.
I did quite a few, but looking back, I wish I’d done more. Internships are great ways to 1) get yourself out of stuffy classrooms, 2) get some real world experience in the fields you’re interested in (even if you don’t end up pursuing a particular field), 3) obtain valuable references and letters of recommendation, and 4) meet people and make friends outside of school.
Some internships even lead to regular jobs. The one I did for a small law firm one year led to a part-time job the next summer.
It was actually kinda cool and a little Elle Woods. I got to assist with cases in court (sat with the real defense lawyers and everything!), talked to judges and learned how to function in a fast-paced office.
4. It can get a little lonely sometimes…
I guess after growing up with MTV I had this idea of college being this non-stop cavalcade of close friends and parties. I’m sure it’s like that for some people, but it wasn’t that way for me. I had acquaintances, sure, and roommates, but I didn’t make any lasting friendships for the first few years.
5. Playing well with others
Ultra Soft FTW!
Everyone has quirks — the things we do that drive others crazy. If you can, air out your household differences and pet peeves early, before they’ve had time to fester. Believe you me, my roommates knew better than to leave empty rolls of toilet paper on the reel, and I knew better than to play my music too loud.
6. Take advantage of open office hours
Lecture halls in huge auditoriums filled with 300 students aren’t great places to get one-on-one help, but many professors and teaching assistants make themselves available during open office hours. They can be a great way to go over concepts, discuss homework and prep for tests.
7. Rewrite your notes
Here’s one I wish I figured out sooner. Rewriting the notes I took in class really helped me reinforce the topics from lectures, pinpoint sticky concepts and organize my thoughts. When I started rewriting my notes and attending office hours, my grades even improved.
8. When you go out, know how you’re getting home
I wasn’t a big party person, but I went to my share of random fiestas with friends. And whenever I would go out, I never wanted to be that one person stuck at the end of the night without a safe ride home (like that one time in Berkeley…).
Keep close tabs on your designated driver, and have a backup plan just in case you get separated from your group. Also, learn how to use your local public transpo system (and know its hours of operation), and keep numbers to a few cab companies in your phone.
9. Revel in your newfound freedom!
Because it doesn’t last forever. Soon you’ll be working a swing shift or a standard 9-to-5, and the pressure to perform well in classes feels like nothing compared to the pressure when a paycheck’s on the line. School can have its ups and downs, but try to enjoy your freedom as much as you can.
Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,