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!