The summer before you leave for college is a busy time. You have to fill out paperwork! You have to choose your classes! You have to buy a laundry basket! Alongside the practical necessities, however, there are a number of less tangible things that it’s a good idea to take care of before you leave town.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you contemplate the end of your senior year, your summer break, and the process of getting ready to transition to college.
Even if you have specific and exciting summer plans, make sure you fit in some time to relax. You just came through the college admissions process, which is most likely one of the hardest, most competitive, and most adult things you’ve ever undertaken. You deserve a break.
Pretty much no one can keep up that frantic pace up constantly—we all need rest and recuperation sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you are a human being with limits, and there’s a whole lot right with taking care of yourself. This is the perfect time to take a moment to do the things that matter to you personally.
Do what you need to do to stay sane and to get your head out of those Common App text fields. Take a long bike ride. Bake a cake. Lie on the floor and zone out. Wander around with your friends. Let yourself have some of that sweet, sweet unstructured time that’s probably been lacking in your life in the past year (at least). You need it.
Get to know yourself and your interests as more than bullet points on your resume.
You wanted to go to college for a reason, remember? The application process may have shunted your efforts into making sure you look great on paper, but that’s over for the moment. College will give you lots of opportunities to figure out who you are, but it’s always a good idea to have some information to start with—and not just the great-on-paper summary.
To paraphrase the great Tina Belcher, we’re all nerds about something or other. Be that nerd. Explore the things that fascinate you. Fall into a Wikipedia spiral about the minutiae of some obscure topic you love. Heck, edit that Wikipedia article.
This one is important not only personally, but academically—college courses require a lot more creativity and intense focus than standard high school subjects. The higher up you get in academia, the more specific you get, until you’re reading Ph.D. theses on things like the adaptations that allow certain ocean-dwelling polychaete worms to bore into the bones of dead whales that have fallen to the sea floor and extract their nutrients. (That one’s real.)
Whatever you’re into, get into it. Get excited about the opportunities you’ll find at college to dive deep into the things you really care about. You don’t have to know for sure—as I’ll cover below, you don’t want to over-plan too early—but it’s nice to know where to start.
Enjoy your own space while you have it.
First-year college dorms are not particularly renown for their luxurious accommodations, and having to share a room with at least one person is par for the course. This is, to put it mildly, not everyone’s favorite thing.
Even if you’re used to sharing a bedroom with a sibling, having a college roommate is different. I grew up with five siblings, and that still didn’t prepare me for dorm life. For example, it is generally not recommended that you wrestle your college roommate to the ground and sit on them until they scream for Mom.
A lot of colleges pair up first-year roommates semi-randomly, based on a brief questionnaire about things like your sleep schedule and cleanliness. You honestly have no idea who you’re going to end up living with for nine months of your life, how they’re going to react to college life, and whether they may have been just a little too optimistic regarding their own ability to occasionally pick things up off the floor.
Your roommate could end up being someone who really clicks with you, or someone who makes your blood pressure spike—not because either of you is a terrible person, but just because your lifestyles aren’t compatible for two people living in one small room. You’ll figure out how to make it work, and it can be helpful in a way to have a stock of surprising roommate stories for the future, but sometimes, it’s going to be unpleasant.
No matter how excited you are at the prospect of living more independently, you’re going to occasionally miss your childhood room or your favorite spot on the couch. Everyone feels a twinge of homesickness now and then, and there’s always the chance that next time you come home, your parents will have bought a new couch and transformed your old room into a pottery studio.
New things are fun and exciting, but familiar things can be a great comfort. Appreciate those things while you have them. (And don’t feel silly about taking a few souvenirs to make you feel a little more comfortable in your new environment.)
Make good memories with your friends.
Here’s the thing: it’s a harsh truth that often, friendships don’t survive the transition to college. (Same with romantic relationships, despite the many couples who try to make it work.) If friendships do survive, they’ll have to mutate in some way to accommodate all the life changes you’ll both be going through.
You and your friends are going to change in college (see below), and there’s nothing wrong with that—as young adults, that’s just how things work. You’ll have busy schedules and lots of new responsibilities. You’ll most likely be separated physically. You may simply grow apart over time as your lives diverge. It happens.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to stay in touch and valuing the people you already know. There’s also no need to pull away too early and isolate yourself long before you leave for college. Your high school and hometown friendships are a wonderful thing, and they’ll likely continue to have an effect on you for a long time. You’re right to value them. Just don’t beat yourself up too much later on if those relationships slip away.
Get ready to change.
Some people really, really hate the idea of change. That’s understandable, but especially when you’re about to head off to college, it’s just not something you can avoid.
As a young adult, you’re right in the middle of a transitional time in your life, and there’s really no way that you can stay the same while also taking advantage of the new opportunities college will offer. College requires different things of you than high school did. It demands that you become more mature, more independent, and more personally invested in your future.
There’s a lot to love about being a kid. Things seem simpler, and it’s a lot easier to live your life when someone else is taking care of your needs. Still, you have to grow up eventually, and for a lot of teenagers, leaving for college marks a major break between being more of a kid and being more of an adult.
Some of the changes you’ll undergo in college will be very visible; others will be more subtle. You won’t always know what a formative event in your life really meant to you until well after it’s over. You don’t have to break entirely from your younger self, but it is best to be open to the possibility of change well before you actually arrive on campus.
Don’t overthink it.
College is going to be an experience unlike any other you’ve ever had, and there’s only so much blog posts or older siblings’ stories can prepare you for what to expect. Don’t waste your time trying to plan out things that simply can’t be planned for.
That might sound like a weird sentiment to put in a post about what you should plan to do before leaving for college, but it’s both true and relevant. If you get too wrapped up in meticulously mapping out your imagined college life before you even get there, you’ll miss out on what’s happening in your life right now.
The end of your senior year and the time before you leave for college can be really enjoyable—it’s a time of memorable events, graduation parties, being relieved that your college plans are set, and getting excited about what comes next. Be fully present during that time and make the most of it, and don’t spend too much time worrying about planning out your college career.
Coming into college with particular intentions for your future is a good thing. Having goals is great and necessary. But there’s only so much you can anticipate or plan for, and there’s so much you don’t know and haven’t experienced yet. You have to stay flexible, or you’ll miss great opportunities, both after you get to college and before you even leave home.