To My College Freshman…I Wonder If You Know

As we got you settled on campus, my mind raced, ticking through the mental list of what you need to know to survive and thrive as you enter adulthood. You’ve been under my watch for 18+ years, but suddenly everything seemed urgent.

What don’t you know? What situations have I not prepared you for? What have I missed?

This isn’t my first rodeo. You are my third out-of-state college send-off. I know from experience that this goodbye isn’t as final as it seems. Your daily routine will exist away from us now. Still, you’ll be back home for holidays and school breaks, and today’s technology allows more regular communication between those visits than in my day when snail mail and weekly long-distance phone calls had to suffice. 

You are responsible, level-headed, and hard-working, and yet, as I shift my parent role from manager to consultant, there are so many things I wonder if you know.

girl looking at college building
I wonder if my daughter knows these things about herself. (Twenty20 @sharonyc)

8 things I wonder if you know

1. I wonder if you know just how beautiful you are — inside and out 

When the world tempts you to compare yourself to others and measure up to an impossible ideal, remember that you could not be more imperfectly perfect exactly as you are. Your dimpled grin that emerges when you laugh and your bright eyes that connect with others as you take in their stories show comfort and confidence in interactions that defy any outward, artificial standard of beauty the world may try to put on you. 

2. I wonder if you know how much I admire your confidence in being who you are 

It’s been a long (and ongoing) journey, but you seem more comfortable in your own skin now than ever before. Don’t let others compromise that by pulling you into situations or asking you to act in ways that aren’t true to you and your character. Respect yourself enough to expect others to respect and love you, too…period. And know your own power to walk away when they don’t. 

3. I wonder if you know that college is about classes and studying and getting your degree, but it’s also about personal growth and intellectual exploration

Take the classes, but also take the time to develop quality relationships with professors and classmates. Go to office hours and ask questions. Talk for hours about ideas that light you up. Get out of bed and go to class — professors usually cover what will be on the exam verbally in class, but you have to be there to hear it. Take the crazy classes about random topics — they will be the best cocktail party conversation starters for years into your future.

4. I wonder if you know that the non-academic side of college is at least as important as the academic side, and minding your mental health is every bit as essential as tending to your physical health 

Go to football games, theater, and musical performances. Attend public therapy dog sessions during finals week. Figure out how to navigate (or avoid) dorm politics and drinking too much (and help friends who’ve had one too many). Pull an all-nighter when it’s not crucial to teach yourself how destroyed and ineffective you are the next day, so you plan your time better when it really matters. 

Practice radical and consistent self-care, and reach out for help when you feel overwhelmed or underequipped to handle whatever’s thrown your way. Swing in your hammock in the open air and do yoga on the mall without a care for what others think. Under-schedule yourself as you can and allow regular moments to just be on campus.

Four years will go by in a flash, so grab those moments and enjoy it. Put down your phone and live your real life, posting if you’d like about things that happen to you in celebration or frustration, but let real experiences drive the online conversation.

5. I wonder if you know how important authentic relationships are 

Foster new friendships widely, but know you can shift your circle of friends until you find your people. Surround yourself with people who love and respect you for who you are and inspire you to raise the bar for who you want to be. Friends or romantic interests who put you down (even in jest) or make you feel bad about yourself don’t have a place in your life.

Even as you make new friends, remember to continue to foster relationships with your family and childhood friends. Quality relationships developed over time will help you through the ups and downs of a meaningful life, but they don’t just happen. Genuine connections with those from your past will serve you well in the future.

6. I wonder if you know how amazing a serious relationship can feel with the right person and how superficial and empty trying to force a connection with the wrong person can be 

You will need to connect with many people to find the one you spend your life with (if you choose that with anyone), but choose carefully those you trust with your heart. You will make mistakes that will hurt — we all have — yet those painful missteps will fine-tune your ability to find the best person for you.

7. I wonder if you know how unimportant it is to drink a lot in college 

The portrayal of the drunken undergrad going from party to party every weekend gets all the social media attention. Still, no one tells you how crappy you will feel for the rest of the weekend if that’s the way you spend your Friday and Saturday nights. Go to a party if you want — even hold a Solo cup so you can socialize without harassment to drink if you feel you must — but go easy on the alcohol intake.

You’ll be aware enough to protect yourself (and maybe your friends) against sexual assault (which overwhelmingly happens in situations where alcohol lowers good judgment) and have a good time that you’ll remember the next day.

8. I wonder if you know how much you can trust yourself

As you navigate new situations, your brain will sometimes try to override that uncomfortable feeling in your gut and sway you to make a different decision than you know is right for you. That faint stirring you sense will guide you to be true to yourself if you dare to follow it. Do the next right thing (even if you can’t see the end), don’t do things you can’t take back if you have regrets later, and you’ll be okay.

Though I’m sure there are many things I’ve neglected to tell you over the last 18 years, as I start my life apart from you back home, I don’t worry about the more practical things you can look up online or ask us about later. The big-picture things you will face keep me up at night. But I remind myself that you’ve got a solid foundation.

Now it’s your turn to explore, discover, and create the life you want. Your unique path will (and should!) wander and have unexpected twists, and you will find your way in those seemingly random experiences. Turns out we’ve prepared you pretty well after all.

More Great Reading:

How to Help Your College Freshman When They’re Homesick

About Beth Houlton

Beth Houlton believes in the power of words to fuel positive change. As an early journalist, past lawyer, community volunteer, and leader in nonprofit organizations that work for the greater good, as well as being a musical creative and a mom of three young adults, she strives to practice the art of balance in all aspects of life. But when that doesn’t work, there’s always chocolate.

Read more posts by Beth

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