College move-in day is fast approaching for our firstborn. I am experiencing a veritable casserole of emotions that change from one hour to the next. In two weeks, a minivan loaded with Kleese’s and college provisions will head to Memphis, Tennessee. Less than 48 hours later, that same van will return to Wisconsin with one person less. Four will travel down. Three will travel back. This math astounds me every time I think about it.

The Notes app on my phone reflects the emotional casserole, as I type in things like, “Stop at Post Office”, “Buy Milk”, “Teach Jack The Meaning of Life”, “Take Dog to Vet”, “Remind Jack How to Tie a Necktie” “Remind Jack to Shake Hands Like a Real Man”. As if I can squeeze whatever life lessons I forgot to pass on over the past 18 years into the next 360 hours.

I. Can’t. Even.

Above all, I am bursting with excitement for the adventure that lies ahead for Jack. And my heart pleads hopefully that he fully grasps the enormity of the opportunity that lies ahead and takes 100% full advantage of it. So for Jack and for the scores of soon-to-be-college-freshmen and their families, let me sum it up by saying this.

Don’t forget to be awesome.

College campuses these days are a chock full of opportunities to become your best self, from premier workout facilities to ready-made dining buffet options. From dorms and classrooms full of the coolest, most diverse group of people you could ever hope to be friends with, to acres of activities, intramural sports clubs and special-interest groups you can join.

On more than one occasion, I’ve said that by the end of freshman year, everyone should have a full social calendar, a brain full of new information, a new hobby and rock-hard abs. There will never in your life be another time like this. You are on your own, with no one but yourself to take care of, most likely with financial help from your family (or maybe they’re footing the bill entirely). Your entire existence in college is about making you better academically, and in all other aspects, as well. Take full advantage and be awesome!

In case that guidance is too general to be practical, here are a few ideas:

Be the first to put your hand out.

awesome college tips

Photo by Redd Angelo

No, I don’t mean asking for a handout. Although asking for help when you need it is a critical skill to develop. But chiefly, I mean two things. First, get out of yourself and put your hand out to meet someone new. Get over your self-consciousness. The reality is, they’ll be grateful that you flinched first. Shake their hand, say hello and ask them about themselves. Then truly listen. When you arrive on campus, you’re new and you don’t know anyone. Yeah, that’s daunting. But you’re just like everybody else. Everybody’s new and looking for new friends at college. There will never be a more important time or an easier time in life to meet new people. Take full advantage of this and be the first to say hello. You know, “to have a friend you have to be a friend”, and all that really true, smart stuff your mom told you when you started kindergarten. It’s all still true.

Secondly, I mean be the first to put your hand out to help someone else. College is a time to focus on yourself, yes, but there’s more to life than you being a kick-ass you. Look up and out. Look around you. When you see someone who needs something you could offer, do it — whether it’s an invitation to sit at your table for dinner in the dining hall, or help with a heavy box up a flight of stairs. You’re an adult now. Be a good one. Be a helper. It’s also a great way to meet friends, by the way.

Work out.

college tips awesome

Photo by Keit Trysh

Why the heck not? Rock-hard abs can be yours.

Find the exercise facility that no doubt comes with your tuition and make a commitment to yourself to spend time there within the first week of your arrival on campus.

Not a gym rat? Fine. Go online or to the Student Services Center and sign up for one of scads of intramural activities or clubs on campus. Extend yourself. Learn a new sport. Gain a new hobby. Pursue an existing passion in a new way. In the process, you’ll meet others you’ll have something in common with. And you’ll be on your way to breaking out of your comfort zone, which is key to being awesome.

Bolt out of the blocks.

Usain Bolt explodes out of the blocks, and you should, too. If you’ve ever seen a sprinter who got a rough start out of the blocks at the sound of the gun and was unable to recover, you know what I mean. In college, your first semester is CRITICAL for establishing routines as a student and establishing the tone and tenor of your college career. Explode out of the blocks and make it count. The first semester starts with the first day of the first week of the first month. Start strong for a strong performance.

college tips on being awesome

Photo by William Stitt

College is full of freedom, which is a double-edged sword. It’s less structured than high school by far. No one will be dragging you to class. No one tells you when to go eat or what to eat. No one will tell you when to study, when to party or when to go to bed.

Mom’s not here. Dad’s not here. Setting your schedule is your job. If you don’t control your time, your time will control you. Before the first day of class, sit down and give some thought to what you want a typical week to look like. You get to choose, but be intentional about it. Don’t just let it happen to you.

When will you get up and when will you go to bed? When will you be in class and when will you work out? When will you eat and when will you study? You don’t have to know every detail, but in general, think through what routine will work for you on a regular basis and block it out in your calendar. Literally put “meetings” on your calendar for yourself that say “STUDY” “EAT” “WORK OUT” and “PLAY”. Then stick to it. Modify it as you go, but always have a scheduled plan.

Far too many freshmen get to fall break and wonder where the first two months of college went, as they stare midterms in the face and wonder how they’ll ever catch up. If you let that happen, catching up could feel so daunting that you fumble your way through the rest of your first semester. You don’t want to be in “catch up and make up for” mode for second semester. Start strong and you can avoid all that pain.

Say yes to something new.

in college try something new

Photo by Martin Schmidli

You will encounter people who grew up very differently from you. You will have the opportunity to learn a new language, embrace a new hobby, learn a new dance, travel somewhere you’ve never been, play a game you’ve never played. There’s never been a better time in your life to try something you’ve never tried before. As a dad, I’m coaching my son on how to say NO to lots of things that will tempt him at college. But I also want him to say YES to something that could open up his horizons and make him a better version of himself for having gotten out of his comfort zone.

Be a good neighbor.

College typically comes with a really big price tag, colossally huge opportunities and very small living quarters. Be a good roommate. Be considerate. Pick up after yourself. Shower and brush your teeth. Wash your own dishes. Do your laundry before it walks off on its own. Take out your trash. Be polite. Watch the noise. And generally, be the roommate you’d want to live with. While it sounds like common sense and no one should ever have to say this stuff to a college freshman, it’s the simple things that can make for miserable dorm living if you don’t act like a decent human being. Don’t be that guy. Meanwhile, I’ll be hoping that your roommate reads this, too, and takes it to heart.

in college be a good neighbor

Photo by Nina Strehl

You’re about to learn more about yourself than ever before. And you’re about to have more opportunities than ever before to become a better you. Give some thought to the future you that you will meet on college graduation day and what you hope you will have accomplished and become by then. Then now, today, do something your future self will thank you for.

Above all else, don’t forget to be awesome. For awesome college planning insights and answers to your toughest college planning questions, Schedule A Free Consult.