Going off to college was by far the most enlightening experience of my life. Most parents reading this would like to think that I am solely referring to the riveting texts and profound lectures of the professors of the university, but this college experience entails a whole lot more. "The complete college experience" includes not just higher level learning, but also unsupervised on or off campus living, fending for oneself, the social balancing act, meeting and observing people who are of a completely different culture and mindset of those "back home", and of course, regulating or policing yourself. Did I mention fun, fun, & more fun! This experience often proves to be a test of proper parenting, a test of character, and a test of faith. It definitely put a lot of things in perspective for me.
Now, from my personal experience, I remember the 5 C's:
I remember leaving for college grounded and eager to live a life of independence. I chose a university that was close enough to run home for help, but far away enough that my parents wouldn't just drop in. Before I left for college, I was a young Christian, active in my church, an active volunteer in the community and an all around good kid. High school had been fun despite the fact that I was on the college-prep track. I had excellent teachers who challenged me. I studied then, but quite frankly, the honors courses and an AP class only partially prepared me for the courses that I enrolled in. Cramming became a way of life for various reasons; one being multiple classes with considerable amount of content to retain. Another reason involved that social balancing act that I mentioned. On this particular campus there were a number of clubs and organizations that made your mind spin. There was something for everyone, from the intellectual to the party animal. In addition to this, was the night life and various events throughout the entire week. Factor in spending time with friends and significant others and you'll see that scheduling time to study between all these activities was work. It took great skill to pull it off. Those who couldn't went on probation, or worse, they went home.
Advice: Realize that you can't do it all, but you have four or five years to pace yourself. Most importantly, know your priorities. You can have fun, but remember the real reason that you went in the first place.
Luckily for me, I had friends and a good head on my shoulders. Had it not been for this, I would have fallen prey to one of the cults that targeted the students of the university. The times that I was approached were the rare times that I had been alone. What started as a friendly hello, developed into a subtle series of questions to get to know just how grounded I was. That was followed shortly after by an invitation to a "party" in a secluded area off campus, in another city. Still unaware of anything suspicious, I politely declined. She insisted that since we lived close by we should exchange numbers. She seemed nice enough and so I gave her my number. Big mistake! Then came the phone calls and the unexpected meeting in the laundry room. She and another "friend" were just persistent about hanging out and were adamant about me visiting their church. In order to shake them, I had to let them know that I was deeply rooted in my Christianity and I already had a local church that I attended. I also had to ignore their calls a couple of times. I mentioned it to one of my friends who quickly told me the deal. This group of people targeted others who seemed to be "loners". They befriended them and took advantage of their need to belong. They always tempted them with what seemed to be a weekly party or gathering and then they gave you their Biblical perspective on life. As if that wasn't enough, a month or so later, as I rushed to class, I saw one of the girls who approached me as she toted the Bible, yelling at the top of her voice, pointing to people passing by and calling them harlots, whores, etc. She was telling them that they were all going to hell. Throughout the four years that I was there, I saw many others who were not able to see this cult for what it was get brainwashed. Belief systems changed, friends changed, and just a withdrawal from everything else took place.
Advice: Know who you are and what you believe. There are so many theories, ideas, and beliefs out there and people are just waiting to influence you wrongly. Some change may be beneficial, but you need to pray for discernment.
The cults are not the only ones targeting you. Living on your own without parental supervision can seem exciting. You feel all grown up. Financing college may be a cake walk for others, but for students whose parents didn't, or couldn't plan for the future, the college experience can help you to differentiate between needs and wants really quickly. Like super heroes sweeping down to save the day are the credit card vendors. The only thing better than free food to most college students, is more free "stuff". T-shirts, mugs, footballs, you name it! Sign up for a credit card and it's yours. Never mind that you're not of age, don't have a job, or that you have no clue how to manage a credit card. I even had a vendor tell me that I can just sign up for the card, get the free stuff and then cancel it if I don't want it afterwards. Some are hooked because a credit card means the difference between noodles and soup or chicken for dinner, or paying bills and living without TV, light, or other utilities. Others are hooked because after they pay the bills, tuition, buy books, etc. there is just nothing left for social life. Whatever the case may be, college students, almost always get hooked. I know I did. I jacked up my credit and ended up having to do some serious damage control once the real world kicked in. All for a T-shirt!
Advice: Parents try to set up a college fund for your children if you can afford it. Every penny helps from the time that they are born. Teach them the value of money and financial responsibility. It may translate to "Blah, blah, blah!" but try anyway. Tell your children about the consequences of bad credit and the perks that come with having good credit. Give practical examples and speak slowly. Lastly, these same credit card companies who sent the people who swindled you in the first place will be calling you somewhere down the line threatening to take you to court when you can't pay. Avoid them at all cost.
The final "C" is the crazy roommate issue. This has been an age old college nightmare. Whether they are friends or strangers, you never really know someone until you've lived with them. I had some good roommates and I've had some terrible, almost unbearable ones. I've had good and bad experiences and I've heard horror stories from friends and family. I've heard others talk about everything from nasty roommates to anal neat freak ones, party animals to wall flowers, dishonest ones, ditzy ones, freaky ones, drug users, drug pushers, etc. You just never know what you're gonna get when you leave it to chance.
Advice: If you have the choice, room with someone that you know. Understand that rooming together often puts a strain on the best of friendships. However, I'm a firm believer of sticking with the evil that you know. If you are completely new to a place and have nobody that you know to room with you, pray really hard and try to compromise.
Please keep in mind that my undergraduate years were almost a decade ago. In today's society there are more interesting, as well as threatening obstacles, added on to the college experience that can deter you from accomplishing your goal. Some of these obstacles build character and test the strength and capability of the individual while others cause major issues. As a teacher, counselor, and mentor to youth and young adults, I see that this college experience is still highly overwhelming for young adults on the college level. High school and academics without proper parental and spiritual guidance will not prepare them for the transition to college and the real world. For the most part, if the proper foundation is set, even when we stray off course, we usually find our way back home.
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Shakera Reid was born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in Miramar, Florida. Her passion in life is counseling and educating youth. Hobbies include traveling, writing and watching movies. Her hope is to encourage others through her writing and to help them in their Christian walk.