Heading Out on Your Own

by Brett & Kate McKay on September 2, 2008 · 32 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

Image from Omega418

It was back to school for most students in America last week. For many young men leaving for college, this marked the first time in their life they left the nest and heading out on their own.

I remember the first semester I was away from home. I was living in the dorms at the University of Oklahoma in Norman with my friend Alistair. Throughout high school, I was the responsible kid. I made good grades, excelled in sports, participated actively in student organizations, and found time to hold down a part-time job at the same time. I figured college wouldn’t be much trouble.

Boy was I wrong.

I stayed up late with my dorm neighbors playing video games, eating pizza, and watching movies until the wee hours of the morning. . . on a school night. Consequently, I missed a lot of class, but I figured what’s the big deal? The professor’s not taking attendance like in high school, right?

I ate Burger King frequently and got little exercise. I wasn’t involved in any student organizations. I bought crap I didn’t need.

At the end of the semester, I had a 2.6 GPA, a huge gut, and a much lighter wallet. In short, I was a complete mess.

I finally came to my senses and was able to turn my college career around.

So, to help prevent some hapless young man from making the same mistakes I did, I present a list of tips to help you succeed when living out on your own. Whether you’re heading to college or simply starting a newly independent phase of your life, establishing some guidelines for yourself will make the transition all the smoother.

Stick to a schedule. The first time you’re completely away from the watchful gaze of your parents, you’ll be sorely tempted to let it all hang out. But you don’t want your life to go totally to pot. Otherwise, you’ll be crawling home and right back under their watch before you can sow a single of your wild oats. Get a planner, schedule out your week each Sunday, and then stick to your schedule. Trust me on this. In college, if you don’t have a plan for the day, you’re going to end up either sleeping, drinking, playing video games, or some combination of the three. If you want to get stuff done and have a successful college career, make it a habit to plan.

Exercise. In high school, you probably played sports and didn’t have to think much about staying in relatively good shape. But when you’re out on your own, you don’t have the pressure from your coach to push yourself physically. Make it a priority to exercise every day. You really don’t have any excuse; almost every college has a gym that’s close, free, and well-appointed. If you have difficulty motivating yourself to get moving, find a workout partner and agree to meet at the gym or track at a certain time. This will keep you accountable. Also, remember that you don’t necessarily need to go to the gym to get a good workout. Get involved with your school’s intramural sports. And check out the recreational activities available in your new city or town. Half the fun of moving is exploring what’s out there.

Eat right. The summer after my senior year of high school, I dropped a lot of the weight I had gained during my football career (I played center and tried to keep pretty big during the season). Well, I then negated all my progress during my first semester of college. I pounded back Burger King and 3AM Poppa John’s Pizza like it was going out of style. On top of that I was hitting up the all you can eat breakfasts at the school cafeteria. I felt like crap. Instead of following my example, strive to eat a balanced diet. Every school cafeteria and food court offers healthier items. You just have to have the willpower to walk past the greasy junk and grab a banana.

Finally, remember that it’s called a beer belly for a reason. Having an awesome time with your bros will not magically negate the effects of pounding one cold one after the other. You will develop a man gut. And it won’t be pretty.

Get plenty of sleep (but wake up at a reasonable time). My first semester at college, I spent a lot of late nights up doing the dumb things kids do freshman year. When you have an 9AM class, that’s not such a good idea. I’d be a walking zombie in the morning. That’s not the best state to be in when you’re trying to succeed in any endeavor. When you do manage to get some sleep make sure you get up at a reasonable time. Sure, sleeping in until 2PM feels good, but you’ve pretty much slept the whole day away and it’s going to be difficult to get things done. Also, be careful of oversleeping. Sleep too much and you’ll be an empty shell of a man. You’ll feel lethargic the rest of the day.

Limit video game time. Just because you could play video games all day and all night, doesn’t mean that you should. During my first semester of college, video games were my biggest productivity killer. Go ahead, play Super Smash Brothers, just don’t play it for two days straight.

Create a budget. Your first time away from home, may be the first time in your life you’ll have to keep to a budget. If you’re like most students, a pretty tight budget. There are several programs out there that offer ways to budget on your computer. Quicken or Microsoft Money are popular choices. I recommend trying Mint.com. Not only can you create a budget with it, Mint.com will also automatically keep track of your spending so you can see if you’re spending too much on booze or pizza.

Also, don’t let loan money lure you into a false sense of security. It’s not free-for-all money; the more the loans you accept, and the more of it you spend, the bigger the pit of debt you will dig for yourself. The day of reckoning when you will have to pay it back may seem tremendously far off, but it’s not.

Get involved in an organization or two. One of the regrets I had my first semester of college was I didn’t get involved in student organizations. When I was in high school, I remember reading and hearing about all the clubs and activities colleges offered, and I was sure I would plunge into many of them. But it’s easier to lounge around and put it off for another day. You have to make an effort to see what’s out there. Most schools have a Student Club Day where you can go around and find out info about different organizations. Go to that and find a club or two you think you’d enjoy. Getting involved has two main benefits. First, you’ll meet new people and possibly make new friends (possibly even a lady friend). Second, keeping busy keeps you on task. I don’t know about you, but when I know I have jack crap to do during the day, I don’t do a damn thing. However, when I have a full plate on my schedule, I can get a ton done. Quite the paradox. Well, during my first semester of college I wasn’t involved in any organizations nor did I have a job. Consequently, I just sat at my computer and played Command and Conquer II. Lame.

Don’t get a credit card. On your first day of class, you’ll see a group of students standing with a clipboard by a table and handing out t-shirts. Stay away from these people. They’re a bunch of hucksters trying to push credit cards on you. You honestly don’t need a credit card in college. A debit card will be sufficient in nearly every situation. You might say you need it for an emergency, but who are you kidding? You’re just going to use it to buy crap you don’t need.

Don’t go home every weekend. If you’re going to school far away from home, this won’t be a problem for you. But for those of you who are just an hour or two away from your former nest, going home every weekend is a big temptation. I’ll admit it was nice to go home, eat a home cooked meal, and have mom do my laundry. Just don’t make it a habit of it. You’ll miss out on opportunities to hang out with new people and only be retarding your progress of becoming a self-sufficient man. Stay in the dorm, grill a steak, and do your own damn laundry. Cut the cord. You’ll respect yourself for doing it.

Don’t just hang out with your high school friends. Again, this won’t really apply to men who go to school far from their home. But if you’re going to a college with lots of your former high school classmates, there will be a temptation to keep hanging out with the old crowd. Definitely hang onto your longtime buddies, but don’t let them become a crutch. Sure, you’re nervous and don’t know a lot of people and it’s easy to simply get together with your old posse. But college is a fresh start and a new phase of your life. Make an effort to meet new people, attend activities, and get out of your comfort zone. For many men, the guys they meet at college will become their lifelong friends.

Learn basic home-ec schools. If you’re a guy whose mom did everything for him, then moving out will be a shock to the system. Even if you aren’t overly coddled, make it a point to start doing things for yourself before you leave home. Make an appointment with your mom or dad and learn some basic self-sufficiency skills. Here’s a short list of things that are good to know before you head out on your own:

  • How to cook 2 or 3 good meals
  • How to do the laundry without turning your briefs pinks
  • How to iron a shirt
  • How to shine your shoes
  • How to sew on a button
  • How to tie a tie
  • How to clean (this should be obvious, but some men are overly-coddled and haven’t a clue on where to begin)

Remember to have some fun! You’re finally on your own and becoming your own man. No man need be a responsible straight arrow all of the time; a goodly amount of late nights and rascally hi-jinks are in order. Live it up and enjoy yourself! You’re not going to get this experience again for the rest of your life. Just remember to take your fun in moderation and you’ll be on your way to success.

As you look back on your first time leaving home, what advice would you give to a young man striking out on his own? Drop a line in the comments and share your sage advice.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Writer Dad September 2, 2008 at 8:41 pm

Everything on this list is right on. I was laughing as I read it, because I lived through the first half (though not by choice). I moved out at eighteen, and was paying my own way. I couldn’t afford to not be on a schedule, or get a credit card. I was working forty hours of week on top of going to school, so I got all the exercise I needed. I woke up naturally at 4:55 every morning, five minutes before the alarm. Sigh. The good old days.

2 NeoMil September 3, 2008 at 12:42 am

Nice advice! I’m about to start my last year of university and I must say those tips would have come in handy had I come across them 4 years ago.

There is however perhaps one more thing I would add out of personal experience:

Pick up an intelligent activity that fits your interests.

Most freshmen haven’t got a clue what study they chose. In the worst case, they’lll have to change after a year or two to start something completely different, but otherwise, it’s all about finding a ‘niche’.

Read books, attend a conference once in your life, have a bunch of specialised blogs between your RSS feeds. Also think about how this can help you later on, this niche isn’t just about finding out what you like, it also gives you a head start.

I became interested in politics and entrepreneurship. I read books on both topics, I have magazine subscriptions and I try reading at least half in French and German to improve my third and fourth language.

If you don’t start before graduation, you’ll no doubt regret it.

3 Will September 3, 2008 at 3:06 am

As a college advisor, I’ll add (for college students):

In high school, you survived by convincing people (especially your parents) that there was nothing to worry about, so they’d get off your back. In college, nobody has the authority to get on your back. Telling people not to worry — sure, you have a 58 average, but you can pull it up — cuts you off from support services at the college, including your professor. Tell them the truth when you’re falling behind. Then they’ll help you. (I’m assuming here your college has helpful people; in a sink-or-swim environment it would be different.)

If you make an appointment, keep it or cancel it. Not showing up means the person you were going to meet will no longer put an effort into helping you. What’s worse, it’s unmanly.

Being a full-time student is a full-time job; you can’t do it successfully after working full time and socializing and playing World of Warcraft. Yes, you did it in high school, but college is tougher.

Overall, passivity is the biggest killer of academic success. High school trained you to be passive and obedient (or subtle in your disobedience), but colleges don’t want peons (even if you want to be one). They want thinkers and doers. This is your great opportunity to grow into adulthood. Take it!

4 Patrick September 3, 2008 at 4:32 am

I agree with all those points, except the bit about credit cards.

I know that student (credit card) debt has ballooned, but that’s no reason that one shouldn’t get a CC once they’ve fallen into a pattern of reasonable financial decisions. If they play their cards right, the user will start building good credit and good habits.

I’ve moved practically every dime I’ve spent since sophomore year through my credit card. I haven’t paid a cent of interest yet.


5 Nesagwa September 3, 2008 at 5:46 am

Find a job before you get there first and foremost. Especially if you are relying on financial aid for most or all of your tuition and schooling costs.

Also, a bike, especially if you cant afford a car. And not a cheep bike either. The guys at walmart dont always put them together well and the cheeper brands tend to fall apart either way.

I spent my freshman year living on borrowed money from my parents for food (have you ever lived on 30-50 dollars per month?) Living in abject poverty with two other guys in a roach and mold infested apartment is a good way to get acquainted with the world though.

Rule #1 is plan ahead. Apply for jobs a month before you arrive in town. Competition for entry level minimum wage jobs is stiff in college towns (youre competing with thousands of other unskilled workers.)

6 Will September 3, 2008 at 6:27 am

I don’t like to do point-counterpoint, but I’ll say this and drop it: I urge college students *not* to get a job during their time in school, especially not a full-time one. Spend your time getting the most out of your education instead. You can’t get the most out of your investment if you’re too busy flipping burgers to study. (You may have to to stay afloat; we do what we have to. But it certainly isn’t ideal.)

7 Cameron Schaefer September 3, 2008 at 6:39 am

Or you could just go to a military academy and not have to worry about any of these things, they’re taken care of for you:

stick to a schedule – your whole day is planned out for you whether you like it or not
exercise – lots of push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups
wake up at a reasonable time – reveille every morning at 630 whether you’re tired or not

You get the idea, haha! Military academies are places where they take away your rights and then give them back to you as “privileges.”

8 Shanel Yang September 3, 2008 at 6:49 am

Great list! I’d add to it:

1. College is the best time to learn how to network, so make contacts and keep them.

2. College is also the best time to make lasting friendships: Choose them wisely.

3. Finally, college is a great time to learn how to cook cheap, simple, healthy meals. I recommend The Kitchen Survival Guide by Lora Brody. If you master that, then the classic Joy of Cooking can’t be beat for an overall food bible! Good luck! : )

9 Neil September 3, 2008 at 6:53 am

Nice list. Even though I’ve already gone through the college thing, I’ve been living at home for the last year and just recently realized that I desperately need to regain my independence, and will be moving out shortly. So good timing here!

10 Darren September 3, 2008 at 7:06 am

@ Cameron Schaefer — Sir, I didn’t go college, but I did join the U.S. Navy. As there is no draft, one makes a choice to go to a military academy. Your “rights” are not taken from you — you sign them away in exchange for some benefit. Remember, what you will not let go of, no one may take from you!

11 Mike September 3, 2008 at 1:42 pm

I’ll second the comment above about credit cards. I pretty much only used mine to buy plane tickets to and from school for breaks and summer, but it was really useful to have some credit history once I graduated.

12 Josh September 3, 2008 at 2:14 pm

Of all of the basic home-ec skills that are listed in this post, there’s only one that’s linked. I liked the way that the shoe shining guide was written, and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of the same. Those are just my thoughts though.

13 Brett September 3, 2008 at 2:38 pm


We definitely have plans for doing posts on most of the other home ec skills. I think the tie instructions will be next week actually. So stay tuned.

14 Mike September 3, 2008 at 3:08 pm

Thanks for the advice! As a ND freshman, I’m sure it’ll come in handy.

15 schaefer September 3, 2008 at 3:09 pm

@ Darren,

Just making a joke, didn’t mean it seriously. I loved my time at the Academy and wouldn’t trade it for anything.

16 Heather September 3, 2008 at 4:42 pm

You have no idea how many women I know could benefit from reading this as well!
My only two pieces of advice would be to look at your class schedule for next two terms ahead of time and seek out internships.
Here’s why:
Some of my classes are only offered every 2 years and they have prerequisites
that will block you from taking the class when it is offered. But if you know about these classes at least two terms ahead of time you can try to take the “pre-reqs” ahead of time instead of delaying graduation for a class you need that won’t be offered again until 2010.
Also if you’re not sure about your major don’t stress. If it is possible, during the summer seek out internships in something you’re interested in, This way you can see if this is the field you want to go in and if it is as a bonus you already have a reference, experience and have started your network.

17 Daniel September 3, 2008 at 5:11 pm

I would add that in making your class schedule, don’t judge what time you’ll be able to make it to class in the morning by your high school schedule. When I was in high school, I had to be at school by 7:50 am. So when I enrolled my first semester at college, I figured that taking a 8:30 class would be no big deal. Boy was I wrong. 8:30 becomes practically the middle of the night in college. I hardly ever made it to class and barely got a passing grade.

18 Nesagwa September 4, 2008 at 7:01 am


I understand that, which is why I went without a job for two years in order to fulfill a full time class schedule. Which is also why I burned out after two years and quit.

It really came to a point where I had to choose between art supplies or food.

All Im saying is make sure you have money that isnt from a loan coming from *somewhere* to sustain yourself for 4 years. Especially if youre living off campus and your aid wont cover all of your rent.

19 Mike Bates September 4, 2008 at 8:15 am

I had no idea what I was in for when I went to college. I moved 2000 miles away from home and knew no one. It was imperative, for me anyway, to get involved in extra-curriculars (intramurals and music for me) and to take advantage of any opportunity to interact with my professors and my dorm-mates, so that I could build a strong support network and learn the ropes. What Will said about being proactive and avoiding passivity is incredibly important.

Also, everyone likes pizza at midnight. Buy a pie or two to share and you’ll be everyone’s friend forever.

As for credit cards, I don’t like them much, but if you must get one make sure you understand your obligations as a cardholder and the ramifications of non-payment before you get one. And for God’s sake, figure out how you’re going to pay for whatever you buy on it. Too many young people start out in a huge hole (or worse, dig a hole for their parents to get out of) when they leave college. Don’t be one of them.

20 Josh September 4, 2008 at 2:28 pm


Thanks, I appreciate your response and am looking forward to seeing what is to come.

21 Scott @ The Passive Dad September 4, 2008 at 2:43 pm

Wonderful list! I ate a lot of top ramen and pizza in school. Not good for my budget or my waist line. Staying away from credit cards is the best advice for students, you can use a debit card for almost anything now.

22 Jay September 6, 2008 at 4:08 am

Great article. As a recent college grad, I can say this information is vital for new college folks. And the comments are great as well, except the guy who talked about credit cards being a good idea.

Maybe one out of a hundred don’t pay interest, but 99 do (that’s why credit cards push them so hard, what you thought they were just being nice?)

Also, I would add working to the list. I did better in my classes when I was working. I guess if you followed the rest of the advice, you wouldn’t need it, but my work schedule kept me busy and helped keep my sleep hours regular.

23 Jay September 6, 2008 at 4:09 am

I’ll add, learning to cook is a great way to meet girls.

24 Rod Homor September 7, 2008 at 3:08 pm

Ah yes. Another great list of ideas in your article. Thanks. Here are a few other ideas:

I joined a food co-operative when I was in college. It was a great way to buy bulk, healthy food inexpensively.

Another way to save money is to go to student-sponsored movies. Often you can see cult classics for just a few bucks. They are a fun date, and cheaper on your wallet than the local cineplex that charges ten bucks each.

Study dates can be fun during finals week.

You can combine chores and watching your favorite teams so you won’t cut into study time. In other words, do your laundry WHILE drinking a beer and watching the game.

Check with your college/university for their work/study program. It is a way to make some money and possibly even work in the field (or college) that you are interested in (major in).

Hope that helps. Have fun.

25 Motorokr September 15, 2008 at 3:44 pm

I never shined my shoes, and never did my mother… whatever shall i do!

26 Dan September 17, 2008 at 1:34 pm

College is actually a very good time to build good credit with a credit card, and it’s an easy time to get one — credit card companies like giving cards to students because they are often irresponsible with them, yet they are still backed up by their parents financially. After you graduate, it’s much harder to get a good card (or auto loan, home loan, etc.) if you don’t have an established credit history.

Make sure you get one without any annual fee. Then, after you get it, the key is to be responsible. Always make your payments on time. If you can’t do that, send it home or leave it in a drawer. Just having the card and not being delinquent will help your credit (I think).

27 Kristiyan September 21, 2008 at 5:05 am

* How to cook 2 or 3 good meals
* How to do the laundry without turning your briefs pinks
* How to iron a shirt
* How to shine your shoes
* How to sew on a button
* How to tie a tie
* How to clean (this should be obvious, but some men are overly-coddled and haven’t a clue on where to begin)

Not everything, but a few besides “how to shine your shoes” should get a link to it.

Especially how to iron a shirt – as first you have to start with the collar, then the sleeves, then the fronts and the back at last. After that, store it hanging on a hanger buttoned all the way up to prevent wrinkles and crushed collar.

Well, how to sew a button is as easy as how to clean and even without instructions one can find his own right way around, but how to tie a tie could get a link as well, with pictures and all that cool internet jazz.

28 Barry October 9, 2008 at 7:21 am

These are good tips for surviving college. One of the biggest challenges I faced was that I never had to study or try much in high school. I thiought I was trying, but to be honest, I never put in much time outside of class and never developed much of a study habit but still made good grades mostly by paying attention in class and scribbling out the homework at lunch time or other odd times throughout the school day. This hit me hard in college. That wouldn’t really get me through the easy classes in college and was a disaster in the serious classes. The best academic advice I ever received was to never fall behind. Every day of class starting with the very first day, go to class fully prepared. Reading done. Assignments done. You can’t catch up if you can’t keep up. This also means that you have to start long-term assignments early and schedule out milestones and meet them. Writing every paper during an all-nighter is not a good strategy. Never fall behind.

Don’t fit your studying into your social schedule. Make it the other way around.

29 Alex June 4, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Barry’s tips in the above one are really good. I haven’t started college yet (this fall) but I can see me having the trouble he mentioned. I haven’t really had to try in high school at all. I studied for my psychology exam and went over the formulas for my physics exam but I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve had to study anything since about third or forth grade…
As for the rest I’ve got to get started learning things! Funny how you never realize fully just how much there is to do until it’s listed. I’ll (hopefully) be going about 1,700 miles away and I don’t know how to cook anything (healthy anyway), I have a vague idea of how to do laundry but no specifics as I haven’t done it in a very long time, and don’t know how to sew. As for ironing, we don’t have one.

30 John February 14, 2010 at 8:28 pm

Sounding like and old man right now: Wish i had this list 10years ago….

Fucked it all up, eating pizza all day, sleeping till 2pm all week, playing video games and getting hammert every night of the week!

Never finished college and still paying the price for it now… BIG TIME :-(

They don’t teach you this stuff in high school (or did i missed that class perhaps)

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