Dear Recent High School Graduates:
You’ve no doubt been receiving round after round of congratulations, so let me add mine. Congratulations! You did it! And now you’ve got the summer to chill out and …
Wait. Scratch that. As a professor at a major university who often teaches freshmen, I don’t think you should goof off for the summer between high school and college, if that’s where you’re headed in the fall. In fact, I think you should fit the following five tasks into your summer. (Don’t worry — you’ll still find time to chill, too.)
First of all, it’s time to get organized before the onslaught of a new schedule and lots of work. If you already have a system, and never missed turning in an assignment on time in high school, then you can skip ahead. Otherwise, whatever you did, or more likely, did not do through high school isn’t going to work. In college, you’ll juggle five or more classes, which meet at different times, taught by professors with wildly different expectations.
Every semester, I have a student or two who confidently assures me “I’ve got it all in my head,” instead of writing down due dates and other helpful information. I end up watching them scramble desperately a couple of weeks later. So, figure out how you’re going to keep track of every class meeting, draft due date, mandatory study session, and blog post. A paper planner? Your phone’s calendar? Whatever works for you is fine, but remember, no one will help you, not even friendly professors like me.
Secondly, read. Wait! Hear me out! I’m not suggesting you buy and read your textbooks for the first semester already, but you should get in the habit of reading something every day, preferably something longer than an Instagram caption. How about a novel? The daily newspaper in your town? You’ll have to read so much in college, and I’ve noticed that students who are already readers — even if they’re reading Harry Potter for the 23rd time — are always able to handle the demands of college classes better than those who don’t read.
Third on my list of suggestions: Although you may not even know your class schedule and roommate yet, there are areas of your school you can study up on. For example, spend some time learning how to use your future alma mater’s email and online systems; most colleges have them, and two days into the overwhelming first semester is not the best time to realize you deleted the email with your password months ago. Those school websites often have lists of extracurricular activities, information about special events and games, and even a campus map. How much you want to study this stuff is up to you, of course. I know that not everyone enjoys being able to explain where the observatory is on campus as much as I do. But even a cursory examination will help you get around on campus and possibly be of help to your future friends.
And, hey, while you’re online, if you do have your course list for the fall, look up your professors. Don’t stick to just the student-friendly-but-biased professor rating sites. Most colleges publish biographies of their faculty, and some professors maintain a personal website as well.
My fourth suggestion is the one that you may find most challenging: You should think about what your romantic relationships and friendships are going to be like once you start college. I’m referring both to those folks you’ll be parting from, as well as those you’ll meet in the fall. I’ve seen many freshmen try so hard to hold themselves to standards they set over the summer, but it’s smarter to acknowledge to your boo that things are going to be changing, a lot. Don’t set fire to a relationship that’s great for both of you, but don’t promise that everything will always be the way it is now. Who wants to live life frozen at age 18? Don’t demand promises from others, either. Life, hopefully, will be long, and friendships change over time. Insisting that your group texts each other every hour isn’t letting any of you grow into the people you’re supposed to become.
As for your new relationships, I’d take some time to make some private plans. If you don’t want to drink, toke or have sex early on at college, you may want to think of ways to gracefully get yourself out of situations where you feel pressured to do so. I hate to be a downer, but any new college student also needs to think through what they’ll do in a situation where they’re witnessing a sexual assault.
Finally, if you don’t know how to clean a microwave, vacuum a floor, heat up a pot of water or wipe the mud off your sneakers, the summer is your time to learn, stat. By the way, I’ve noticed a very high percentage of freshmen apparently don’t know how to find out what the weather is likely to be on a given day and dress for it. I’d look into that!
And, please, do take some downtime. You’ve just finished a major portion of your life and you’re about to start a new one. Get ready, of course, but also just enjoy the good times. There will never be another summer like this one. See you on campus this fall!
Shannon Reed is a former high school English and theater teacher; now she’s a freelance writer and teaches English and creative writing. She is mainly known as a humorist for the New Yorker, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and BuzzFeed.
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