10 things to tell a graduating high school senior

young graduateOh, young mind, how we envy you! The world is your oyster, and who doesn’t like oysters? Here you are, venturing out into the world. Freedom, independence, adventure are all just around the corner! Mom’s not there to do the laundry anymore, but who cares! Nobody will yell at you when you sleep til 2pm on a Tuesday. Nobody will be waiting to make sure you do your homework instead of watching Sucker Free Countdown. Bliss.

Unfortunately, the boogeyman is out there too. You have to generate some income to pay for the things you took for granted in your home. Yes, of course, the luxuries of shoes, Wiis, ironically detached rock band t-shirts and overpriced notebook computers used primarily for Facebook, but also items you didn’t realize were so horribly expensive while Pops was paying for them – milk, cell phone bills, iTune downloads.

So here are 10 things to remember for the new graduate, about to head off to college.

  1. You need to hit the ground running. If you have scholarships and grants, great. You’re already ahead of 90% of the US student population who finance their education with loans. Don’t blow it – make keeping those scholarships and grants your #1 priority, even if it means giving up the Alpha Beta Delta Wednesday mid-afternoon Beer Bash.
  2. Please don’t think life is going to be easy majoring in Spanish (for example) and graduating with $50,000 in student loans. Go ahead and do it if you want to – there is something to be said for following your dreams – but I’d think strongly about making some good connections and giving some hard thought to how you’re going to use that Spanish degree, considering about 30% of the US speaks it better than you even after 4 years of study.
  3. Party, but not too hard. There is a fine line between making friends, enjoying life and gaining experiences, and lying in the toilet stall with your shirt covered in puke at 3 am in the morning.
  4. Spend a lot of time on the Internet learning useful skills – make a blog, set up an online store, learn website design, etc. Do not spend a lot of time playing vampire tag or sending movie messages on Facebook.
  5. Don’t play video games. I’m serious. I see this as an immediate and massive threat to your development rivaled only by television. Get out and interact with people – you will never have such free time and so many people ready and willing to sit around and just talk about anything you want! Trust me, you’ll have plenty of time to play video games when you are older.
  6. Join organizations. Hanging out with your friends in college is great. But join organizations that will force you to meet people you otherwise might not meet. Join intramural sports. Join interest clubs. Get out and participate. Don’t just hang with your friends in the dorm. And don’t stop joining even after you finish college. There are a lot of interesting ways to meet people that don’t involve a keyboard and an IM account.
  7. If a class looks interesting, take it. I was a mathematics major and most of my “extra” courses were Russian, German and linguistics courses. But at the same time I threw in courses on “leisure and pop culture” (about the groupies who follow the Dead, George Jones, Jimmy Buffet, etc.) and economics (because I find economics fascinating). Mix it up. You will find out what you love and hate, and that’s useful to know.
  8. Get a credit card now. I know that’s odd advice considering how much trouble people have, but get a credit card and start building a credit history. AND PAY THE WHOLE BALANCE EACH MONTH! I know many people who are in debt today will say “easier said than done,” but learn to pay the whole balance each month. I did. Friends of mine did. It can be done, just like quitting eating junk food. Now is the time to set your habits in regards to money. If you can’t pay off the full balance one month, freeze the card in a block of ice or cut it up. When you pay it off, lesson learned (right?), you can start using it again.
  9. Don’t buy any furniture or appliances that you can live without. You will have plenty of time to buy a blender when you have a home. As a college student, you need a bed, a chair, a desk, a microwave or a hot plate, and a fridge. Stop. Don’t buy anything else. Scavenge. Spend your money on decent food for your health, or to have extra money saved up. I scavenged bits and pieces of stereo equipment people put away for my stereo. I had an old black and white TV. I knew that all of the furniture was going to be abused beyond belief (I lived in a fraternity). Nothing I owned in college stayed with me past my first year as a working man, so I’m glad I didn’t spend anything on anything, practically.
  10. Live life to the fullest! Think about this: you are at the apex of human development. You are living in an age when change has become exponential rather than incremental. You have won the “birth lottery” by being born in the West in the late 20th century – by attending college you are amongst the best educated, most privileged and luckiest people to live on this planet in human history. DO NOT WASTE THIS TIME! Have fun, play hard, study hard, meet people, spend hours talking about life or love or hopes or politics or whatever you want. But most importantly, be aware that you are in a position that 6 billion people around the globe would die to be in. Seize that opportunity and squeeze it ’til you shake out every last drop.

Yay, graduates!

  • http://www.thewisdomjournal.com Ron@TheWisdomJournal

    All great tips. I would caution on the credit card to only get one with a limit that is easily paid off with cash from savings or with a limit that’s no more than what you earn in two weeks…after taxes.

    If a student doesn’t have a job, no credit card in my book.

    I wholeheartedly second #7. I took a class called “Great Speakers and Speeches in History” and it was one of my favorites. We took speeches from people as diverse as George Washington, Hitler, Martin Luther King, FDR, and Napoleon and looked at 1) the speaker, 2) the speech, 3) the audience, 4) the occasion, 5) the change that was brought about as a result of the speech. It was indeed fascinating. For the record, that was in 1984 and I STILL remember that class.

    • http://www.bripblap.com Steve (Brip Blap)

      @Ron: That sounds like a cool class. Oratory in general is a weird subject – people value it in politicians, business leaders, etc., yet it’s not really taught or studied very often in school. But classes like that DO stick out in your memory in a way that Finance 201 never will…

  • http://fwdservice.com/?dmn=allaboutappearances.info&folio=212511050 Meg from All About Appearances

    I dunno, I majored in Spanish AND Latin and things turned out alright ;D

    Great advice! To that I add, get a job or internship of some sort as soon as possible — though be careful not to overdo it, since classes will have to come first so long as their are things like transcripts. Use the experience to figure out what you want to DO and not just what you want to STUDY, because college ends before you know it and things that are interesting to learn about for a few years may not be what you want to do for a few decades (as I learned from my senior teaching practicum). Plus, the other big benefit is that you’ll actually have something to put on your resume when you graduate.

    And speaking to both high school and college graduates, if you’re looking to start working, do NOT wait till after graduation to start looking. I know some very smart, well-educated people who found the job market a lot tougher than they expected. It can take months, if not years, to find a good job. Start networking early. Work on your resume. Intern where you want to work later if possible. Start inquiring about jobs months ahead of time. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself competing with most other graduates at the same time, and find out that many companies will take weeks or months to make a decision. Don’t wait for one company to make their decision, look elsewhere and everywhere in the meantime.

  • Greg Coddigus

    Brip Blap this article touched my heart.
    I graduated high school last year (Almost exactly one year ago!)
    I took college off because I was not ahead 90% of people with scholarships. Actually, I did quite horrible in high school, my grades barely floated above a D (Except in my college courses with literature, always a B+! lol)

    Your advice hits home so much. And touches me even more, cause most of it, I have done or have planned to do. So, I’m honored we’ve come to the same conclusion you being my favorite blogger lol :P (Woo I’m smart!)

    Keep on blogging Brip Blap, your nuggets of wisdom for my young age of 18 are motivational!

    Speaking of motivation… I might slowly be becoming a motivational speaker… I really like the idea. You know, people like Jim Rohn or Zig Ziglar.

    Off I go! (I am backpacking across America this May 27th! Landing in Seattle and going to the East Coastf or the first time ever! Any places of interest that are cool up in NY? Or in general?)

    Sorry for the extreme longevity of the comment haha.
    -Greg the Writer

  • Curmudgeon

    Finding out what you like and don’t like is an important part of becoming an adult, but I’ve never heard it described like that before. “Get a well-rounded education!” is what your teachers will tell you, but it’s really a matter of learning who you are and finding a place in the world that fits you.

    No one ever told me that college was for socialization, so by and large I didn’t. I had (have???) poor social skills, which didn’t become painfully aware until I was a working adult. College could have helped me greatly in this regard.

  • http://www.thewriterscoin.com Writer’s Coin

    College was the best. When I look at college people now I’m just like “guys, this is it. After you graduate you are entering into a world from which there is no escape. Enjoy the lack of responsibilities, and if you absolutely must puke on your shirt, try to keep it off anyone else’s shirt.”

    That’s using my inside voice though.

  • http://www.thesimpledollar.com/ Trent Hamm

    7 hits on something important. Sure, you’re in college to get a degree, but the real goal is to figure out what you want to do with your life. Try a lot of stuff – see what gets your motor running. And DON’T ignore it – I did and it was a big mistake.

  • http://plonkee.com/ plonkee

    Another maths graduate. Brilliant. :)

    As for picking a subject, do whatever you like, but then spend some time figuring out how to make it work, whether that’s classes in other subjects, transferable skills from employment, or volunteering.

    Living life to the fullest is the most important thing. That, and be yourself.

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  • Tia

    Excelent list. I think more college students need to be told to take a break and enjoy it. I have a classmate who I worked with for my senior project. She told me that I and the two other girls we worked with were the only friends she’d made during college. I found that incredibly sad. She was the top in our class, perfect grades, etc. but what a price to pay!

    I wish I’d seen number 7 when I was still in school, myself. I did take some interesting classes, but a lot of the potential “Ooo, nifty” ones were sacrificed to getting out in four years, which I didn’t manage anyway. I could have lived without Japanese Culture Through Film, though. The prof thought good cinema ended in 1950 and silent films are REALLY boring without the pianist accompanying them.

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  • http://www.moneystand.co.uk/ MoneyStand

    I wish someone had sat me down and given me this advice, as Facebook did tend to take over my life at uni, I tell kids these things all the time now, but undergrads will never listen and then when they've finished uni they will tell kids this advice and wish they'd listened!

  • http://tipsforgraduatingseniors.blogspot.com/ Vance Lee

    Good ideas!! Be sure to have all the tedious tasks in order before you show up on campus though. Nothing is more frustrating than having to deal with getting all the financial and enrollment stuff after you have already showed up on campus.

    As far as selecting a major course of study, making hasty decisions can be extremely costly. Get the basics out of the way as much as possible before locking yourself into a career that you may decide you don't like or won't be beneficial for you 5 years down the road. Do your research.

  • http://www.hotelbackpacker.com Backpackerresources

    This is really great and very practical. After finishing school, you can now enjoy your life to the fullest but care not to step on other's toes for your own gain.

  • http://www.hotelbackpacker.com Backpackerresources

    This is really great and very practical. After finishing school, you can now enjoy your life to the fullest but care not to step on other's toes for your own gain.