I had dinner with my sister soon haver she returned from her freshman year at college.
“What do you wish you knew before you went off to school?” I asked.
“I definitely wish I knew that I was only going to use 10 percent of the clothes I brought,” she said. “I really didn’t need to bring so many clothes.”
As she continued to share her wisdom — “Don’t forget your shower shoes!” — it became clear that a “must-have” list could be useful for high school seniors heading for college, as well as their parents. Some advice from experts, including my sister:
• Orient yourself with the campus. “It’s very important that students and parents make the freshman orientation together,” said Jeremy Hyman, a professor at the University of Arkansas and co-author of The Secrets of College Success (Jossey-Bass). “Some schools even offer sessions just with parents, which can help parents guide students properly.”
• Reorient yourself with your new neighborhood. Use your time before school starts to explore the neighborhood and learn to get around.
“My campus has public transportation, and when I started, I’d never taken the train or used a metro in my life,” my sister said. “There was definitely a learning curve. I had to learn the streets, and I wish I’d known the grid map a little bit. Now it’s not intimidating. Google Maps and MapQuest helped a lot.”
• Use summer to learn new skills. “If you’ve never done a load of laundry before, you better learn before you go to college,” my sister said. This is not only about learning to separate whites from darks, but also the ins and outs of a Laundromat.
“And grocery shop,” she adds. “So many kids don’t do their own grocery shopping so they get to the store and they’re clueless about how much things cost. Then they just order pizza all the time.”
Parents should take their kids to a supermarket before school starts, she advises, and, if possible, help them find the best store near their campus digs.
• Get to know your professors. “Two years ago, there were office hours, but now students have the ability to Skype or email with their professors,” Hyman said. “I’ll have students email me late at night and I think this is good. Students can get real-time feedback and sometimes professors especially enjoy this because it shows the students are engaged and learning.”
“Once you get your class list, make sure your professors know your name,” my sister added. “In my experience, some professors are biased to the kids they know. It also might help you engage more in the class and study harder if you … have a connection to the professor.”
• Get educated about health insurance. “Because of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, students can stay on their parents’ insurance plan until they’re 26,” said Michael Mahoney, senior vice president of consumer marketing for GoHealth. He emphasizes that families make sure what coverage includes, and doesn’t — including out-of-state coverage and hospital coverage. “You don’t want to pile medical debt onto your student debt,” he said.
• Establish priorities. “Kids have this thing called FOMO — the ‘fear of missing out,’ ” my sister said. “The problem with FOMO is that socializing becomes the priority. But if you miss a party because you have an internship or you have to study, you’re not missing anything — you can go to the next one.
“There is no one amazing party that changes your life in college. But you have to carve time out to study; people understand. You won’t be judged like you were in high school.”