Things I Wish I Knew before I Left for College

Advice for Incoming College Students

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When I went away for college, I thought I was prepared to be on my own. Needless to say, I wasn’t. I wasn’t ready to be fully responsible for myself (including cooking and doing laundry); I wasn’t ready to handle money alone; I wasn’t ready to have the freedom to choose whether I went to class or did my homework. I was lucky enough to have a wonderful support system and plenty of people I could turn to with my questions. I learned a lot about myself and life while in college, but looking back, there are things I wish I had known before I left.

They say hindsight is 20/20. Lucky for you, our readers have shared some of the things they wish they had known or realized before they headed off to college. Their thoughts range from simple tips to motivational thoughts, and you’ll surely find something you can relate to!

If you’re looking for quick tips:

“I wish I knew all the ‘adulting’ things [like] paying taxes, car inspections, safety inspections, running a household, etc., so I could have avoided making some of those mistakes. I was lucky to have taken business math in high school, which allowed me a good comprehension of basic finances.” (Not everyone is that lucky!) -- Brenda

“Call your mom! She is going through something new too.” -- Erin

“I think learning to work on your car and keeping up with oil changes [and routine maintenance]. It saves a lot of money in the end [because] once you run out of oil, you need a new engine!” -- SanDee

“I wish I’d known the difference between a clove and a bulb of garlic. Being asked by the parents I was babysitting for to make chili made for an interesting dinner for those poor kids.” -- Catherine

“[I wish I knew to] take cards, stationery, and stamps (with addresses of course)! There is nothing better than a note from a family member or friend. You can save it and reread it. Yes, [it’s] even more exciting in this time of social media.” -- Jackye

“Learn to master the crock pot!” -- SanDee

“As a Southerner who went to school in the Midwest, I wish I’d known how to drive in snow and ice before getting up there and having to learn on the spot in a snowstorm.” -- Laura

“Keep up your appearance. You will be meeting people that will become colleagues in the future and may be able to help you down the road. First impressions are lasting ones!” -- SanDee

“Take classes that are useful and won’t demolish your GPA because of the workload. Always take the workload into account.” -- Vinny

If you’re looking for some inspiration and motivation:

“[I wish I knew] that I would make mistakes and [could] recover, but [also] learn from them and avoid making the same mistakes [again].” -- Brenda

“[I wish I knew] to focus on going for a major you are passionate about (subject-wise) rather than one you think will [offer] the best job opportunity or [one that] others view as right for you. In the end, you may not actually use your major and exploring a subject you love may lead you in other directions career-wise.” -- Alex

“I wish I’d asked how my inherent skills would work with my chosen major, and how that major looks to employers. I picked classes based on what I was told to pick, but I wish I’d chosen classes that I not only would enjoy, but that also would be useful for a career. I majored in marketing because a mentor told me to, but I didn’t actually take into account what I was good at or interested in.” -- Vinny

“[I wish I knew] that I don't have to have all the answers and I don't need to know exactly what I want to do in life. Life is a journey, and college is but another step in that journey.” -- Sheila

“Go out of your comfort zone to look for things you wouldn’t normally try. There are so many more options in college than there were in high school.” -- Ian

“[I wish I knew that] you become like the people you hang out with. Make friends with people who are like [the person] you want to be.” -- Catherine

“Definitely take advantage of independence and freedom from heavy responsibility (e.g., kids, jobs, a house) while you can. Don’t rush it. All that will come [in time] and yes you will enjoy it, but enjoy the offerings of life before all of that. Don’t rush the big stuff.” -- Brenda

“Give everyone a chance, you'll be surprised who you end up [being] friends with.” -- Jackye

“This is your time to risk making mistakes while you still have a safety net. Be brave!” -- Jennifer

Instead of always getting advice from your parent or older sibling, it can be helpful to hear what total strangers have to say. Hopefully these particular strangers provided some helpful pieces of advice that you can take with you as you finish your applications and head off to college, or whatever pathway you plan on following after graduation. Be brave, use your support system, take risks, and grow into the adult you want to be!

About Shannon Whitney

Shannon loves traveling, watching Friends, and all things Florida Gators. While she grew up in Northern Virginia, she left the state to attend the University of Florida in 2001. After earning a master’s degree in education, she returned home and has worked as an elementary school teacher for the past 11 years. Shannon recently decided it was time to put teaching on hold and venture down a new professional path. During her free time, Shannon is either traveling, cheering for Florida, binge-watching a Netflix series, or preparing to be an aunt!

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