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15 Things Kids Should Know to Prepare Them for College

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This post originally appeared on Raising Teens Today

15 Things Kids Should Know to Prepare Them for College

The summer before my oldest daughter left for college, I was in a full-blown panic. In a few short months, she would be stepping on a plane with a one-way ticket in hand to a college more than 1500 miles away from home.

Had I prepared her to live on her own? What if she got sick? Who would take care of her? What if she needed a doctor? Was she really aware of the dangers that could be lurking on campus? If she needed me, how could I help her being so far away?

So many questions… so many concerns.

How the heck was my daughter supposed to live on her own when she hadn’t done more than two loads of laundry her entire life (I know, I’m a total failure as a mom), her idea of cleaning was just moving things to less obvious places (like her closet), and she’d never been to a doctor visit without me?

After more than a few middle-of-the-night anxiety attacks, I finally came to the realization that some things were just out of my control. I was just going to have to put my faith in my daughter, pray that all my teachings had sunk in and give her the freedom to figure out some things on her own.

In the meantime though, while she was still safe and sound under my roof, I wanted to do my best to equip her with a few nitty-gritty “real-world” tips to help make the transition of living on her own just a tad easier.

This list simply scratches the surface of things I wanted my daughter to know before college. There’s so much more I could have added – everything from how to really clean and money management to staying organized and getting involved on campus, but these, in my opinion, top the list. If you don’t do anything else before your child heads off to college, be sure to check these off your list.

Here’s 15 things kids should know to prepare them for college life:

What to Do If (Oh, I Mean When) They Get Sick

It’s inevitable. They will get sick. College freshmen are germ magnets. When one gets sick in the dorm hall, they all fall like dominoes. And, as a mom, there’s nothing worse than being miles away from your baby when they’re feeling awful. Equip them with a broad selection of meds to combat any sickness from colds and fevers to the flu and headaches. Teach them which medicines are best depending on what’s ailing them and, more importantly, which ones cannot or should not be taken together. They also need to know when it’s time to seek medical help, although chances are you’ll be calling them every hour so you’ll be able to guide them.

Chips & Beer Won’t Cut It In the Long Run

When our kids are living at home under our roof, it’s far easier for us to help them eat right and keep their health in check. But, once they step foot on campus, all bets are off. Skipping breakfast, pizza for lunch and beer and chips for dinner is a routine they might be able to get away with for awhile, but at some point, it’s going to catch up with them. The sooner your child learns how to stay healthy in college by eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, drinking moderately, taking their vitamins and limiting sugary and caffeinated drinks, the better off (and more healthy) they’ll be in the long run.

Be Prepared for the College “Hook-Up” Culture

Even if you’ve had previous conversations with your child about the importance of practicing safe sex, don’t send them off to college without a solid refresher. Considering the fact that many kids first become sex actually when they’re in college, now is the time to have an open and candid conversation with your child about the importance of practicing safe sex to avoid unintended outcomes such as pregnancy, HIV or STD’s, which by the way, are spiking on college campuses. In fact, the CDC recently reported a sharp rise in STD’s with more than 1.5 million new cases of chlamydia, about 395,000 new cases of gonorrhea and nearly 24,000 cases of syphilis. (FACT you should know: Not everyone is having sex in college. A New York Magazine poll found that upwards of 40% of kids on college campuses are still virgins).

How to Avoid Shrinking All Their Clothes

Before your child heads off to college, make sure they have a few laundry basics under their belt. Simple things like separating whites from darks and temperature settings are a given, but also a few other handy tips that you probably think they know but don’t, like how often they should wash their clothes, towels, and sheets, and a few stain-removing tips, i.e. ketchup, blood, coffee, and even throw-up. (As much as we lecture our kids, some kids take their new-found freedom to the extreme and party a little too hard… yes, it happens).

The Microwave Cooks More Than Popcorn

Because most college freshmen typically grow tired of the on-campus food selection after a few months and few opt to use the dorm kitchen facilities, it’s a smart idea to have them learn the basics of microwave cooking. Despite what most kids realize, microwave ovens are useful for far more than making popcorn and cooking ramen noodles. There are literally dozens of super easy and healthy recipes that can be whipped up in a microwave in no time including everything from scrambled eggs to oatmeal and pasta to warm cookies in a mug.

Smart Grocery Shopping Tips

Dorms are small. Oftentimes, there’s barely enough room for clothes and essentials let alone groceries. The trick is to teach your child to shop smart. Before they head off to college round up a few simple microwave recipes and the ingredients required for each along with a list of the basics they need like cereal, milk, bread, rice, popcorn, granola bars, coffee, snacks, sugar, salt, pepper, etc. That way when they head to the grocery store they’ll have a standard grocery list that they can refer to.

How to Stay Safe On and Off Campu s

Most colleges and universities have gone to great lengths to ensure the safety of their students which certainly offers parent’s great piece of mind. Still, there’s plenty of reported incidents that are concerning. Teach your child the importance of familiarizing themselves with the campus security system including whether they have emergency phone stations, a safety app or late-night campus transportation. Encourage them also to follow their intuition, always have a buddy system when they head to parties and teach them to refrain from walking the campus or venturing off campus alone at night. (HINT: I bought both my girls mace to keep in their backpack and their dorm room – it’s always good to be safe!)

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What Not to Post on Social Media: An Important Reminder

As parents, we’ve been drilling it in our kid’s heads for years what not to post on social media. Now that they’re heading to college it becomes even more important for them to use discretion when posting online. As social media permeates all aspects of our personal and professional lives, what your child posts online can have serious and lasting consequences, especially considering that future internship and employers may request access to their social media accounts.

How to Write a Professional Email (One That Doesn’t Include Emoji’s)

At some point during your child’s freshman year of college, they’ll be summoned to write a professional email – one that doesn’t include emoji’s or the word “heeeeellllp!” in the subject line. Now is the time to give your future college student a brief overview of the basics including the proper salutation, maintaining professionalism, avoiding email as a venue to complain, and ensuring the email is clear and concise, to name a few.

How to Balance Studying with Partying (Freedom Comes with a Pricetag)

There’s nothing more liberating for freshmen than having total freedom to do what they want, when they want. Inevitably though, reality sets in and they come to the harsh realization that college isn’t for the faint of heart and if they want to succeed it takes hard work, determination and, most importantly, balance. In many colleges, kids won’t have any trouble finding a party every night of the week. To strike a balance, it’s important they know when to say “no” to the late night gatherings and parties and focus on why they’re attending college in the first place.

Ways to Manage Stress

College freshmen are often predisposed to stress. The initial transition into college, the adjustment period that often lasts into the second semester and the barrage of social and academic stressors can often lead to anxiety, sleep difficulties and in severe cases, depression. And, because we all know college kids aren’t the best at managing stress, we need to talk with them about learning healthy coping mechanisms before heading off to college including making sure they get enough sleep, eating well, staying healthy by exercising and creating balance in their lives. Most importantly, kids need to learn to keep things in perspective. It’s very easy for kids to get totally overwhelmed in college, especially for kids who walk on campus thinking “they’ve got this,” and find out all too soon that college is a lot harder than high school.

The Importance of Stepping Out of Their Comfort Zone

One of the more challenging aspects of college that few people talk about is that it requires freshmen to step out of their comfort zone… a lot. Everything from navigating the campus, finding classes, learning how to balance their social lives with studying, making new friends, and generally learning the ropes – nearly every day for the first several months is filled with never-ending learning curves. Most college kids will admit… it’s stressful and exhausting. While there’s no simple way to prepare your child for the immense change they’re about to face, the more you talk about it in advance, the more likely they are to feel “normal” if and when they feel overwhelmed during the first several months.

It Takes Work to Keep a Scholarship

As you send your child off to college you’re bursting with pride that they received a generous scholarship. Not only does it offer you well-deserved bragging rights, it’s a huge relief knowing the scholarship relieves some of the financial burden associated with the cost of college. However, many first-year college students have found that it’s hard as heck to land a scholarship and far too easy to lose one. Make sure your child thoroughly reviews the scholarship requirements and remains focused enough in their studies to meet those requirements. More than a few college kids have lost their scholarship only to find themselves heading to a less expensive college their Sophomore year.

The Importance of Choosing Friends Wisely in College

From the moment college freshmen hit campus, there’s an underlying pressure to make friends and socialize. But, it’s important they choose their friends wisely. If your child can’t keep up with the heavy party scene or late nights it’s better to keep looking for a new group of friends, even if it takes a while. Having solid social connections with like-minded friends who have similar interests is often a strong predictor of success in college.

The Importance of Taking Their Studies Seriously, But Not Themselves

More than few academically prepared students flounder their first year of college. Why? Because college is HARD! No matter how much we try to prepare our kids for the harsh realities of college life, it’s something they have to figure out on their own. It’s important kids are reminded not to take themselves too seriously. Sure, it’s important they study hard and do their best but, it’s also important that they realize that adjusting to college life takes time. Most college freshmen admit that it’s not until the second semester rolls around that they really begin to find their rhythm and get into the groove of college life. Until then, freshmen need to learn to cut themselves a little slack and avoid being too hard on themselves. They’ll be a college “pro” in no time!

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