Preparing for College (and Life)

Photo illustration of a graduation

About one month after I graduated from high school, I moved out of my parents' home for the first time. Freedom! No curfew! No rules! I had been waiting for this day for years. “When I graduate from high school, I am so outta here!”

Shortly after moving out, though, I realized I wasn't quite as well-prepared as I thought I was. One of my similarly immature friends was telling me about a minor car mishap with another driver. She hadn't known how to handle it, like the exchange of car insurance information and whether or not the police should be called. Her boss gave her advice, but it made me realize that I didn't have a clue what to do either.

And I quickly realized I didn't have a clue about a lot of things. It gave me a slight panic attack.

By now, most high school seniors are squarely on the path to adulthood. Poised on the precipice of the rest of their life, they can't possibly be prepared for everything they will experience. Indeed, if I had known the challenges that awaited me in my not-so-hard adult life, I probably would have curled up in the fetal position and locked my door.

Ideally, young adults should be given responsibility in increasing doses so they aren't totally dependent on their parents today and mostly independent tomorrow.

So how can you prepare the graduate in your life to face this world?

1. Finances. Do they have accounts set up? Do they understand how those accounts work? Not that anyone writes checks anymore, but supposedly one of my teachers knew someone who thought she still had money in her account as long as she had checks to write. Whether it's true or not, it's still a useful story.

As a newly independent adult, I operated on a mostly cash budget. I had my own credit card; but it had a small limit, so I couldn't charge much. I didn't have a lot of extra cash; but then again, neither did my friends. Our needs were small, and our wants even smaller. To learn to use credit responsibly, you may want to start out with a secured credit card.

2. Cooking/Grocery shopping. I had some cooking skills when I moved out, but it was mainly how to feed my meat-and-potatoes family. While potatoes were cheap, meat was not. I hadn't done the grocery shopping at home, so I didn't realize meat was so expensive. I did my best to decrease my food spending by shopping at stores like Aldi or finding the quick-sale bins at other supermarkets, but if only the $4 a day cookbook had been available then! Print out a copy for your grad.

Related articles:
Shop Smart in Bulk
The $4 a Day Cookbook

3. Catastrophes, mostly minor. As befitting my budget, I drove a really unreliable car. It left me stranded more than once, but I'd always had my dad to call. Except now he wasn't in the same city. And when I needed to see a medical specialist, I had to figure out how to handle that too. Now these things seem so easy to handle; but as a newly independent adult, they felt overwhelming. By thinking about which situations may be faced, you can provide your graduate with a list of phone numbers and scenarios. For example:

  • If you get a flat tire on the interstate, whom do you call?
  • What should you do if your car doesn't start?
  • If you get into a minor fender bender, what should you do?
  • If you have an issue with your apartment, how do you get it fixed?

4. A relationship. Hopefully you have made the effort to cultivate a relationship so that when the graduate is overwhelmed and needs some advice NOW, they know they can call you. They will fail, like we all do, but probably with a little more frequency. But that's okay. Being an adult takes some practice and none of us ever do it perfectly. To borrow a line from the articulate, frequent commenter, Beth, on my article on preventing failure: “Everyone deserves someone who believes in them.” If they know you believe in them, they will embrace their responsibility.

Provide encouragement, but always, always be realistic.

Instead of saying, “You can be anything you want to be,” try to explain that you can probably be anything you want to be, but it may come at a great cost (increased stress, time away from friends and family, etc.).

Keep low expectations of what success will come, but still work as hard as you can. After all, the gap between expectations and reality is disappointment. I have never been disappointed by getting more than I expected, but I have been disappointed when I get less than I expected.

I had a doctor's appointment recently and he said something that I hope I never forget. When I explained our new baby was sleeping decently at night, was a good baby, and I was feeling fantastic, he said, “Life is bumpy, but there are always in-between patches that are smooth. When you're in the in-between patches, enjoy them, because they won't last forever. And when you're in the bumpy parts, just hang on because they won't last either.”

I would have appreciated if an experienced adult would have told me that it's okay to mess up, that everyone does. Experience and wisdom come with time. It's impossible for your 18-year-old self to have the judgment of your 40-year-old self. And that's okay. We don't have to be perfect, but the journey is one to be enjoyed.

Did you feel pressure when you went out on your own? What do you wish you had known when you became an adult? Which common mistakes did you make?

This post was first published in 2014.

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4 years ago

An advice that I gave my younger siblings – great things don’t come easy, challenge yourself and don’t be afraid to fail –

Mrs. Picky Pincher
Mrs. Picky Pincher
4 years ago

I gotta say, my parents prepared me very well not only for college but for the real world. They started building my credit when I was a teenager and let me demonstrate restraint by getting my own debit card. I do wish my parents had made me get summer jobs, because I was lacking in real world job experience, but overall I had a great start after college thanks to my parents’ generosity.