Back To School Tips (College Edition)


Back To School Tips (College Edition)It’s so exciting. Back to school is happening with new backpacks, binders, highlighters and excitement in the air. My timelines have been flooded with little kids cheesing in first-day outfits, holding sweet signs about their favorite things. After taking my own blurry-eye pre-teen boys’ photo, I went off to my own school environment: my job at a local university. College classes start in the next few weeks, and a new and returning group of students show up with new backpacks, binders, highlighters, and excitement just like their younger counterparts.

With a new back to college season coming, I felt it might be helpful to give out some words of wisdom from a college graduate, a current doctoral student, and a college educator (it’s me. I’m all three). And just for fun, since I know the readership of this post, I’ll share each tip from the student and parent perspective. Just remember: every tip is generalized and there is potential for me to be totally wrong about your situation. Trust these pieces of advice come from a good place that has lots of experience but also doesn’t know your life.

Without further ado…words of wisdom for all involved in the college adventure:

It’s your responsibility.

Whatever is happening, it’s yours to figure out. There are people available to help you, but you need to find them *that’s also your responsibility*.

And mom and dad: You are welcome to help them. You should if you could, but don’t do things for them. Don’t make phone calls because they are busy or scared. Prompt them to clean up their own mess (literal or figurative) whenever possible.

Find your people.

This looks like roommates, classmates, professors, and grown people who work on campus. And you need a healthy balance of both. Your friends and roommates aren’t equipped to answer all of your questions because they have their own things to deal with and your grown supporters may not be the people you want to share your shenanigans with, but find them all anyway.

And mom and dad: Don’t get jealous. Let them meet new people and let them tell these people all the things. Trust they will find their crowd. Give them some space.

It might be your fault. 

Before you assume there is someone to blame for a problem in your life, investigate what your role was. A professor may give a hard test, but it’s not all his fault when you could have studied more. Not everything that happens to you is someone else’s fault. It’s just not possible, so find your own fault and own it.

And mom and dad: Don’t jump on the bandwagon. Ask good questions and get all sides of a story. Your baby angel makes mistakes and should own those mistakes.

It’s ok to change your mind.

As a matter of fact, you will and you should. Don’t hold yourself to the same dreams for an entire lifetime. The dreams you have for yourself change as you learn more about the world and more about yourself.

And mom and dad: Be gentle and ready to receive these conversations. Don’t be so pushy that your kid cannot have a conversation that might change their course for the better. When your engineering major decides to switch to social work, ask thoughtful questions and support their goals.

Show up.

Show up to class (on time is super helpful), show up to office hours, show up to study groups, show up to meetings with your advisor. You have people who can help you, but you have to show up.

And mom and dad: Remind them of the many years they have been successful at this. They showed up to school, church, practice, etc. even when they didn’t feel like it. It’s already a habit — it may just need a swift kick in the pants to remind.

Nothing good happens after midnight.

OK, OK…this one may date me for sure, and it’s not always true. But it’s dark and you’re tired and you have to go to class tomorrow, so go home and don’t make bad decisions. More bad decisions happen late than any other time of day (I didn’t take time for scientific evidence, but I do believe it…) Go home, don’t walk or drive around in the middle of the night and get up for class in the morning.

And mom and dad: Trust your kid. Provide some wisdom and then let them stay out after midnight because they will. Be ready to listen through gritted teeth, but do more listening than talking because you want to be on the receiving end of the stories and mistakes that happen after midnight. Trust me, you would rather be in the know than left out in the cold.

No one knows what they’re doing.

Honestly, there’s a really name for this — it’s called imposter syndrome! You look around and it seems like other people have it figured out. They don’t. Everybody gets lost the first week of school and everybody misses emails. Recognize that everybody around you is just doing the best they can and you can too!

And mom and dad: Be honest with the fact that you don’t have it all figured out either. You’re clueless just like them and they need to know that sometimes! Whether it’s a story from the past or something that just happened, normalize not having a clue.

With two middle schoolers in my house, I can’t relate to watching them leave for college just yet. I haven’t left my kid in a dorm room or prayed over their first day on a college campus. I have a unique vantage point, and I can tell you I get a rush of excitement watching them learn to be grown. Take your seat and watch as well (but be ready for the frantic asks for help too).