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At the Corner of Cap and Gown

At the Corner of Cap and Gown

Find out what's in store for you at the corner of cap and gown.

By Martha Griffith and Katy McGuire

June 05, 2007

Hundreds of books will tell you about getting into college, what college is like, what to do (and not do) while you’re there, and what to do when you’re done. But books won’t tell you everything. You’ll need a map of your campus, a map of your new city, a map of the region or state around you when you make the Big Move away from home. Likewise, you’ll need some guidance on how to make the transitions ahead of you while staying rooted in what you’ve left behind.

As Southern girls, we know a lot about staying rooted and connected. (We can hardly help it. We think it’s something in the water.) As two people who have gone through what you’re about to — one a recent college graduate, the other just out of freshman year – we hope to help you draw a map for your departure from home. We hope that sharing our experiences will help you navigate some tricky roads and waters on your way to collegiate bliss and beyond.

Get Behind the Wheel
You’ve survived to graduation, but the summer now seems iffy. You don’t know exactly what will happen to you, and frankly neither do we. Only one thing is for sure—you will be spending time preparing for what’s next. Our first piece of advice? Don’t get so caught up in preparations that you forget to enjoy your summer. Whether you’re getting ready to settle in a dorm room or a downtown apartment, whether you’ve got a job or are searching for one, make time for friends. Go to the movies. Talk to your family, not only about the transition you’re making, but about that novel you’re reading or that trip you took together five years ago. This will not only keep you relaxed, it’ll strengthen the bonds you’re about to stretch by your departure.

On the other hand, don’t spend so much time enjoying yourself that, when August comes, you’re completely caught by surprise. Though this may not be the perfect way for you to do it, here is what one of us did. After a two-week vacation and a week of volunteering, she spent the remaining time preparing for college while she worked at a summer job. She set aside time to do everything she wanted to do, setting small, achievable goals. For example, she compiled a list of everything she thought she could possibly need when she moved. Then she would set aside part of her weekend for organizing what she already had, deciding what she needed to buy, and going out to buy it. The rest of the weekend was free for fun. She’d also spread out smaller tasks through the week, so that she never became frantic and could maintain the sanctity of her summer.

Continue 10 weeks to Independence
Once you’ve got the practical stuff in hand, there’s social life to handle. The inevitable questions will pour in from your parents, your friends, and people you barely know. “Are you excited?” “How did you decide where to go?” “When do you start?” “Where will you live?” “What classes will you take?” The list, as you well know, goes on. Just have patience. Smile and answer their questions, no matter how many times that hour you have been asked the same ones. People ask because they care about you, your happiness and your future.

Surprisingly, you may find strangers much easier to deal with than your friends and family. This is because your friends and family care more. They’re worried that you’ll make mistakes, that you’ll go through difficult times without them, that you’ll grow away from them or lose touch with them. You may have some of the same worries and fears.

At times like this, remind yourself and your loved ones of two things. First, though you can’t control what happens to you, you can control what you make happen. You can choose to take responsibility for your actions and their consequences. They can choose to trust you based on how you’ve acted so far. If you haven’t been so responsible in the past, you can start now. They can help and support you by believing that your new endeavor can succeed.

Second, this applies just as well to your relationships. Though you can’t decide how distant friends and family will react to you, you can decide how you will act toward them. Actively stay in touch: call, email. If you love sending cards or letters – or you know someone who loves getting them – invest in stamps. You could even teach your parents to use an instant messaging program (though this can be dangerous: we know one student who often comes home to 30 or 40 lines of blinking text on her screen, all from Mom!).

In the end, it doesn’t matter how you do it – but if keeping contact is important to you, show that it’s important. Don’t just assume that your friends and family know you want to talk to them. Actually talk to them. If you are saying a lot about catching up and checking in, but you aren’t doing much about it, they may start to think your words are empty.

Merge onto Transition Lane
Luckily, you still have opportunities to build up your basis for communication before you leave. Some of these may be blessings-in-disguise, so keep an eye out for them. One example: For incoming collegians, summer means orientation. No matter the quality of the college or its programs, orientation can feel like a necessary evil at best, an embarrassment at worst. Your ever-clinging parents tag along, hovering over your first collegiate social experience as if it were the doorway to the kindergarten classroom. You’re expected to muster frenzied depths of school spirit for a campus you’ve barely seen. Most of all, as you register for fall, you must face the fact that college means classes.

If you’re wise, you won’t let these looming feelings bother you too much. Remember that everyone else’s parents tagged along, too. Spirit-fests don’t last forever, so shrug off the three-foot-thick ice and accept events as they come. Even registration might give you something to look forward to if you snag an interesting schedule. Most of all, you’ll have a lot to talk and think about on the drive home – things you should be talking and thinking about together with your family.

In other words, notice what our direction says: merge. Don’t move too fast; this is not a time for speed demons. You can learn a lot at orientation, as during similar experiences like visiting the new city or apartment-hunting. So can your parents. Some of this information may scare or confuse them, so hang in there. You may be calmer than your parents are – and nearly everyone we know was more excited than their parents were – about the times ahead.

However you feel, you and your parents must let go gradually. It may be tough, but take the time to adjust. Don’t be so eager to get to where you’re going that you fail to pay attention to where you are or who you are with. Just as you check your mirrors and blind spot before merging to avoid hitting another car, check out all the information you need for classes, living spaces, work, travel, money – any aspect of your life that you’re beginning to drive on your own. You don’t want to cause even a fender-bender, let alone a crash.

When your parents see you taking responsibility in this way, they’ll be comforted and may even ease up on their clutching (a little). Whether you are the first in your family to leave home or the tenth, remember that this is a big step for your parents. They want to know that you are in good hands, and from now on, those hands are primarily yours.

Continue to your own exit
Moving day is one of the biggest parts of the transition. Soon it will be swallowed up in the grand hectic scheme of your new life, but it marks a rite of passage. Your heart tells you one last time, “It’s not too late – you can still turn back,” but it is important that you don’t turn back. Stick it out. Face your fears and challenges bravely. You are responsible from now on, so be responsible.

Remember that with your departure, your parents, siblings and friends also enter a new phase of their lives. Accept that it may be hard for them to watch you driving away – as hard for them as it is for you, or even harder. They’ll miss the person they know; you’re becoming the person you were meant to be. Don’t let that keep you from growing. Real growth makes you more yourself, not less. Remind them of that. Remember it for yourself.

Cruise into life
Your journey is complete – and it’s also just beginning. You may have experienced flat tires, pit stops, and refueling on the way, but you’ve gotten this far in one piece. Take time to thank those who helped you get here. Never forget what it took. Just think: you may have to go through this again when you have kids.

This article originally appeared on Making It Count.


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