Dr. Wes: Over the winter break, I enjoyed a catch-up lunch with Marissa Ballard, last year's columnist for Double Take. Shortly thereafter, I asked her to take my place this week as a guest columnist and to write about her first semester experience at Pittsburg State University. Post-high school preparation was also one of John's stated priorities for the column this year, so I asked him to write on tasks for the high school senior. As always, their work is terrific, and their advice sound. The only other prologue I would add is to strongly encourage seniors and parents to sit down NOW and begin talking about some of the transitional issues Marissa and John describe below. You may think that communication was important up to this point, but it is crucial as your teenager begins the move to adulthood - whether to college or any other destination.
Marissa: I went into college extremely anxious. I tried to put a front on as though it was nothing, but I was insecure and intimidated. For those about to graduate, I have good news: College is nothing to fear. There are, however, a few helpful bits of advice that I have been given (and others I learned on my own) that would have been useful to know in the beginning. So, when Dr. Wes requested that I do a guest column on college life, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to pass along some "insider's tips" to make the college transition a little easier.
I think the most important thing that a college student can do is have savings and checking accounts. This is incredibly important, because in college, spending increases considerably. Suddenly, something as basic as a roll of paper towels no longer magically appears in the cupboard. It is easy to lose track of how much is going in and especially out of your checking account. You need to have a backup account.
Along the same lines is where you decide to shop. If you've never had to before, it's time to become a bargain shopper. Stop shopping at high-priced stores just because they're closer, and start looking at the discount stores.
¢ Become involved. College is a blast, but nearly every student should join a club or organization, and/or needs to work. Even if it's not financially necessary, having a job has other benefits. It allows you to meet people while offering you the opportunity to explore career fields that you might be considering. Though it might be difficult to find employment in a college town, schools usually have a career services department that can assist you in this.
¢ Get to know your adviser. These people can be your greatest asset if you allow them. An adviser knows exactly what you need to graduate. They can help you out in many ways if you take the time to get to know them.
¢ The last tip I can offer is to continue to apply for scholarships. You thought the misery of scholarship application was over. Far from it. Keep checking scholarship Web sites for opportunities. There are a lot of major-specific scholarships for which you might be eligible. All you have to do is look.
College is going to be unique to every person who attends. However, everyone's goal is the same and that is to achieve good grades and to get their degree in a timely manner. To do that, you have to find what works for you, be it these tips or not. Those who have the best time make the college they attend their home, and if you do not enjoy college, you are less likely to complete it.
John: Apply for financial aid. If you haven't already, fill out your FAFSA and mail it out pronto. Don't procrastinate with financial aid, because the mistakes could cost you big bucks. Procrastination costs the average tax payer $400 a year, due to mistakes made in last-minute filing. Likewise, an error on a financial aid paper could delay the response by several weeks, by which time the money may already be claimed. It's also wise to be on the lookout for local scholarships. These may pay less than major national philanthropies, but tend to be far more winnable. Remember, even small awards can add up to substantial college savings.
¢ Have a basic plan ready. Transitioning to college will be a roller-coaster process, but a little foresight will make the turns much smoother. Discuss with parents what classes you'd like to take, where you want to live and whether to get a job. That way, you'll have more time to deal with unexpected issues when the thick envelopes come.
¢ Be mindful of the future, but not at the expense of the moment. With the end of high school approaching, many students become preoccupied with the years ahead and forget to enjoy their last year. From here it's easy to fall into extremes: either obsessing over homework and applying for every available scholarship, or simply blowing off classes and friends because you don't feel they matter anymore. The problem with these strategies is that they don't prepare you for the future. There will always be imminent changes in your life, pockets of opportunity hidden away in tomorrow. But today has diamonds of its own - friends you need to catch up with, dances you soon will be too old to attend. But if you're too busy writing an essay on carpe diem, you'll soon be wondering where your senior year went.
Next week: A reader hears a radio program about teenagers and sleep, and asks for a Double Take comment.
- Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. John Murray is a Free State High School senior. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.