My little sister heads off to college in a couple of weeks, and although it’s been 15 (!!!) years since I walked into my freshman dorm I still felt like I had some tidbits of timeless advice that I could pass on.
So, to my little sister as she heads off to college:
Eat real food. It can be hard to eat healthy when you’re in college. For perhaps the first time you’re in charge of your own nourishment 24/7, but you’re also busy and on a budget. While you might have access to a convenient food option like a cafeteria, you’ll also be tempted with an abundance of options. College is a time when a lot of us develop an unhealthy relationship with food, but I want you to learn to love food and to learn to eat food that is good for you and makes you feel good. When it comes to eating healthy one of my favorite rules comes from author Michael Pollan “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” What he’s saying is: eat real food (not food that comes out of a box, bag, or can). Think apples, chicken, spinach, carrots, eggs. Things that don’t have ingredient labels. When it comes to delicacies (candy, processed food, take-out, booze), use common sense. A little chocolate every day won’t hurt! Stopping at Taco Bell with a hangover is a necessary survival tool. Just be sensible and look at your plate. My other favorite quote is by Virgina Woolf, who said “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” Try to go into school with a couple of favorite snacks that are easy to make, so you can avoid grabbing unhealthy options when you’re pressed for time and trying to study. Figure out a healthy late-night food you can whip up after the bar that isn’t a gas station chimichanga (my personal favorite). Don’t try to lose weight by restricting your calories or starving yourself: that’s not how it works. Remember that your nutrition is at the center of how you feel and perform. Don’t take it for granted.
Resource for ya: if you like either of these quotes you can print them for your dorm for free via these links: Michael Pollan Quote, Virginia Woolf Quote. Framing one of these would be a nice little dorm-warming gift for anyone heading off to school.
Be that bitch with a water bottle. One of my biggest regrets (and yes, I know, I’ve said this to you soooo many times) is not drinking the proper amount of water when I was younger. Start hydrating. Please, for the love of God. Be that girl on campus always lugging around a water bottle. And drink it. And refill it. And be an example to the rest of your peers that you literally need water to be alive and fully functional.
Resource for ya: I always had a 32 oz Nalgene for lugging around campus, and I also love this 24 oz Tumbler with a straw for keeping on my desk. I did an entire podcast episode about drinking water — Tune into the Plan Podcast Episode 003.
Water is a mixer. Trust me, and I wish someone had explained this to me when I was younger. If you choose to drink and party in college, fabulous. But imbibing in sugary drinks every weekend can wreak havoc on your health (plus, the hangover from cocktails made with pop are the worrrssttttt). Try mixing cocktails using water as a mixer with your spirit of choice, and also follow my 1-for-1 rule: drink 12-16 ounces of water for each alcoholic beverage you consume. This is going to save you a lot of bad choices and hangovers. I promise. (P.S. My favorite mixed drink to order at a bar is 12 oz of ice water topped with 2 ounces of Kinky Vodka (any flavor!).
Invest in good clothes. Congratulations girl, you’ve just gone from a walk-in closet that spans the length of your room to a cupboard. My wardrobe used to be such a point of pride for me, and I am embarrassed by how many clothes I used to shove into a dorm room. Hindsight is 20/20, but I wish I had put in the time and effort to discover my personal style and start building a wardrobe I really loved. Think long-term and buy timeless, sustainable pieces that you’ll wear for years.
Resource for ya: This article from the Odyssey is a great place to start for Building a College Capsule Wardrobe.
The campus is your home. This was one of the pieces of advice my dad gave to me when I headed off to college. Your dorm room is going to seem so tiny at first, and you have to share it with another human! But remember, the entire campus is your home. Play yard games in front of the library. Discover your favorite spaces to study. A sunny window for your afternoon nap. Have picnics. Host a potluck in your common area. Start a cooking club. A book club. A workout club. Encourage a movie night. Yes, your personal space is tight, but that campus is your home.
Digital notes. Do kids today even realize how lucky they are? I know, our older siblings were saying this to me when I headed off to college because they had communal computer labs and I had a laptop. And I’m saying it to you because technology has improved so much, and now you have access to digital notetaking and cloud storage. While my love of office supplies and paper runs deep (sooo deep) the ability to take all of your notes on an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil and have access to all of it from anywhere is really amazing. Never again will kids get all the way home for the weekend only to realize they left their notebook of Biology Notes on campus. The Goodnotes 5 App is going to change your life. Write your notes out. Organize them into virtual notepads. Color-code them. Insert images. Draw your own diagram. Share them with your friends. Host virtual group study sessions. Get interactive with your cramming. What a time to be alive!
Teamwork makes the dream work. Two brains are better than one, babe, and in this day and age, you don’t need to take notes solo. Find a buddy (or ten) in your class, start a shared Google or Goodnotes document, and work together virtually to create some really kick-ass notes. This isn’t so you can take turns skipping class: it’s so you can benefit from having multiple people decipher the information. Again, what a time to be alive you lucky kids!
Start developing healthy habits and routines. Although college can be this wild time where you sleep as late as you want and really have no routine whatsoever, all that freedom is also a great time to start developing some healthy new habits that you’ll carry into the rest of your life. Regular workouts. Waking up early. Reading every day. Journaling.
Professors want to see your effort. You’ll be intimidated by your professors, but remember that they don’t know everything. And what they want to see from you more than anything is that you’re trying. It sounds cheesy, I know, but they truly want to see that you’re absorbing information, thinking about it, and evolving. They will all have posted office hours, and that’s for a reason. You’re supposed to go and talk to these people. So do it. Challenge what they’re saying. Sometimes they’re saying stuff simply to see who will call them out. Be that person. And most importantly, if there’s a class that you find difficult or are struggling with, make a consistent effort to meet with the professor on a regular basis so that they are aware that you are putting in an effort.
Don’t overlook college or club sports. So many activities that you have access to in college are wonderful, life-long activities that you can enjoy for the rest of your life. Don’t focus on what you did or didn’t participate in during high school (high school sports are a very poor indicator of the activities you might actually enjoy or be good at for the next 60+ years of your life). If you think you could play college volleyball, try out. If your gut is telling you that you’re a long-distance runner, go for it. You have plenty of time to learn a new sport. Heck, you can start a sport in your 20s and still become a world-class athlete. If trying out for the team doesn’t suit you, look into club sports. And be adventurous! College provides you with easier and more affordable access to activities that you probably never had access to before (for example, our high school doesn’t have swimming, soccer, or gymnastics, just to name a few). Sake advantage of the free rock climbing wall, join a camping club, start biking, learn to play ultimate frisbee, talk your friends into golfing on the weekend. There are probably activities out there that you’re wonderful at and just haven’t tried yet.
Find your people. One of the coolest things to think about on your first day is that you’ve just walked onto campus with this group of people you’ve never met, and among them, you’ll find some of your lifelong friends. College is one of the last times in our lives where we are basically corralled with people and told: “Go make friends!” And although I promise you’ll continue to make great friends long after college, it’ll probably never be this easy again. Take this opportunity to meet people that are different from you. Find friends who have a different gender, a different race, a different viewpoint. I hope you surround yourself with people who make you feel great, and happy, and who inspire you. And I hope you graduate college with a friend group that is unique, and diverse, and challenging you to think bigger and better and bolder.
Listen to podcasts. Am I aging myself by repeatedly pointing out all the technology that you have access to that we could only dream about when I was in college? Good. =) No matter what topic you are discussing in class tomorrow, I guarantee you can probably find a podcast episode about it. Search the topic on Spotify and filter down to “Show all Podcast Episodes” (be sure to filter to episodes, not shows). Don’t use this as a way to skip the assigned reading, use it to supplement it and perhaps hear a viewpoint that will be different from your’s or your professor’s. P.S. listening to a podcast is a great time to go for a walk (see next point).
Resource for ya: I know Airpods are all the rage, but I’m hopelessly in love with Sudio, a Swedish brand that makes gorgeous headphones. I recommend these over Apple Airpods because 1. They are slightly cheaper and 2. They come with three different size options so that they actually fit your ears. Why does Apple think we all have the same size ear holes?! I have the Sudio Tolv ($129), and you can take 15% off your order with the code thyme15 at checkout.
Walk more. It took me way too long to embrace simply walking as a valid form of exercise, and when I was in college I’d do pretty much anything to shorten the distance I had to walk. Living in Europe without a car has greatly increased the amount I’m willing to walk — now a 3-mile walk to grab groceries feels like nothing. Embrace this time in your life where everything you need is literally a 4-minute walk away. Maybe consider wearing a tracking device to make sure you aren’t being too sedentary and are getting at least the recommended 10,000 steps per day.
Resource for ya: I wear a FitBit Charge and really love it. It’s not overly complex and is a nice size. Plus, having the time on your wrist can help decrease the frequency at which you light up your phone.
Make college about you, not a relationship. You might find partners in college, and that’s wonderful (and often a big part of the college experience for so many). But remember: you don’t need to be in a relationship in college. These next 4 years are about discovering yourself and what you love and are passionate about it. That becomes more difficult when you are constantly comparing your choices to how they align with someone else’s. Focus on you.
College is just the beginning, don’t make it a finish line. I know it’s easy to feel like you need to have it all figured out before graduation day arrives. You don’t. You might only be 22 or 23 when you graduate college: that’s still so young! Set your sights on all the wonderful things you want to do, see, and achieve in the decades to come, and rest easy in knowing these next four years are just the beginning of discovering who you are and what you’re passionate about. You don’t need to throw yourself into a 40-hour per week job right when you graduate. The epitome of success isn’t owning a house. The first person to purchase a luxury car hasn’t won some prize. You aren’t incomplete without a spouse. And you have two more decades to think about having children. Take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy everything that the next four years are going to teach you.
I think that’s all I’ve got. More than anything I want you to know that I love you, am infinitely proud of you, and am so excited for all the wonderful things you’ll do in this world. Go get ’em, kid. xx.
P.S. Do you have your own advice or tips for a college-bound student? Pop ’em into the comments section below.