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By Shelley Murphy
School’s out for summer, but graduating high school seniors may find they have lessons to learn before continuing on to college.
When my older son left for college, I focused on the fun dorm-room shopping list instead of a dull life skills checklist. I sent him off completely color-coordinated but only partially real-world educated. My mistake became evident his first visit home from college when he walked through the door announcing “laundry sucks” and emptied his shrunken, tie-dyed clothing onto the floor.
Last week, my younger son and his friends, rising college juniors, returned home for summer. Curious, I asked them how well-prepared they felt facing their freshmen years. I wish I could share all their sage advice ranging from silly to sublime, but the following highlights represent reoccurring themes of my informal poll.
Unanimously, those who responded said they wished they’d understood balanced nutrition and grocery shopping on a budget.
The college meal plan is tricky and many include fast food restaurants as options. My son picked a plan with fast food, and the first month his diet consisted mainly of fried rice and crispy chicken.
He came to realize just because you can eat junk food every day doesn’t mean you should. The poll responders said they wished they’d known how to better balance their diets, not because of the infamous “Freshman 15” weight gain, because their food choices left them feeling unhealthy.
New to grocery shopping on a budget, they were clueless about costs, some struggled estimating food and said, “In the beginning we ended-up throwing away a lot of food and wasting money.” To freshmen unable to cook in their dorms they suggest, “Get a microwave and stock-up on food for late nights.”
They all admitted to experiencing varying degrees of homesickness, agreeing it hits hardest the first month and at bedtime.
“The first few nights it’s tough to sleep in a new place—but you get used to it,” one respondent said.
Even the most outgoing students may find themselves anxious or gloomy their first semester.
Speaking of sick, they said, “You will get sick in the dorm—everyone does. Bring medicine. Health Services can be too busy, and sometimes you’re too sick to go off campus.”
Freshmen should understand the basics of over-the-counter medications and follow the dosage directions on the bottle, not a friend’s instruction. A familiarity with analgesics is useful as is the knowledge that they shouldn’t be mixed with alcohol (not that students drink in college).
Knowing how to navigate the healthcare system is essential. When your child turns 18 years-old, they become responsible for their healthcare decisions. Trust me, it’s shocking the first time a doctor won’t share information about your 18-year-old without written consent.
It’s also important students carry their health insurance cards in their wallets. The group of friends acknowledged having to leave campus quickly to find a walk-in clinic or an emergency room.
The most surprising advice they gave is for roommates to share their locations by utilizing an application on their cell phones.
The subject first came up as my son prepared to embark on an eight-hour road trip. Obviously, I worried and wanted reassurance of his whereabouts. After accusing me numerous times of being a stalker, he reluctantly revealed the “pin drop” locator. I’m not tech-savvy, so he explained it’s an application that allows users to drop the pin icon on an area or map to share their locations on their phones.
My son and his two roommates used the pin drop app allowing them to locate each other 24 hours a day in the event of an emergency.
The summer calendar races forward, but graduating high school seniors still have time to cram for college before they fly from the nest.
Arriving on campus in the fall, all first-year-college students enter a new world. Remembering their freshmen years, the sage participants of my informal poll offered their best advice: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help on campus, everyone is as lost as you are.”
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband for the past 18 years, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the San Clemente Times since 2006.