"I was excited about going away to college," says Grace Hopkins. "I have basically done everything my entire life with my sister. This would be the first time for both of us to be on our own for an extended period of time."
As excited and prepared as Grace thought she was, she acknowledges there were some rude awakenings during her freshman year.
"My parents made it a point to teach us how to do laundry, clean our rooms and manage money so I thought I was totally prepared for being on my own," she says. "It was kind of a shock when things like time management and budgeting got the best of me. I have always been good about managing my time, but I was with friends who were also excited about the newness of college and wanted to have fun first. They encouraged me to have fun and I let some things fall behind."
Even though Grace had been budgeting her money before she went to college, she wasn't used to having to pay for everything herself.
"It was just so tempting when your friends wanted to go grab something to eat," she says. "I figured out pretty quickly that, if I kept spending money like this, that I was going to be broke before we made it to mid-terms."
Grace is in good company. Many college freshmen have struggled with exactly the same issues. When asked what she would say to her freshman self, Grace shared these thoughts:
• Time management is key. "As a freshman, you will want to do it all and experience as much as you can, but you have to consider your responsibilities first. You don't want to wake up at exam time and realize that you are really behind."
• Get involved. "I joined a couple of clubs and that was a good way to meet people outside of the people you meet at orientation, and it's a great way to get to know some upperclassmen."
• Be prepared for the "roommate thing." "I had not shared a room with someone in many years, so it took some getting used to. We put together a roommate contract the first day about things like expectations concerning bedtime, who could be in the room and when. Even with the written agreement, there were still challenges."
• Beware of the little expenditures. "Everything adds up really quick."
• Getting enough sleep makes a huge difference. "Staying up with friends until 2 a.m. and having to get up for a 9 a.m. class did not work out really well for me."
Many teens are anxious to transition to this new phase of life. On the outside, they act confident but on the inside they are wondering: Am I really prepared?
Now is the time to talk with your teen. Encourage them to take Grace's advice. Help them with strategies for balancing their newfound freedom and the responsibility that goes with it.
Discuss potential risks and the difficult choices they may have to make. While it is inevitable that mistakes will be made, the goal is to prepare and empower your teen to enter into their freshman year with confidence. In the end, experience will be their best teacher.
Contact Julie Baumgardner, president and CEO of First Things First, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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