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.