Doing Laundry, Changing Lightbulbs And Other Essential College Skills

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There are kids going to college who have no idea how to —- change a lightbulb?

According to this recent piece in The New York Times, possibly not:

I will end with a bunch of random, yet helpful, tips garnered from a variety of sources. Make sure your son or daughter knows how to sew on a button or a repair a hem, change a light bulb (yes, honestly some have never done that at home), tie a tie, defrost a refrigerator (some dorm fridges aren’t self-defrosting) and judge how long different foods can stay in a refrigerator before going bad.

And here are a few more: How to tip properly, use a microwave safely, strip and make a bed, pack a suitcase and safeguard valuables.

Rant alert, dearest readers. I was out on my own, living in a minuscule studio apartment on a not-very-good street of downtown Toronto when I was 19, the fall semester of my sophomore year. Was I ready? Not really. But my family had sold the house and were headed off to live on a boat in Europe. Jump!

My rent was $165. I was on the ground floor (wrong!) facing an alley (wrong!) in a vaguely seedy/affordable neighborhood. I would not have qualified for student aid or loans and didn’t want dorm life after a childhood and adolescence spent at boarding school and summer camp sharing space with four to six strangers. I wanted privacy.

I still remember the price of a can of tuna then — 65 cents — as I ate a fair bit of it. I was not a very chic dresser as my budget was so tight; it took me months to save the $30 I then needed for tights, a leotard and slippers to take free ballet classes on campus. I bought and cooked my own food, did my own laundry, played “Hejira” on my stereo, entertained members of the opposite sex whenever I felt like it.

I lived there until June when, one terrifying night, a man leaned in my bathroom window and tried to pull me out of the bathtub. It’s true — you can be too scared to scream.

I moved into a sorority house the next week, safely on the top floor surrounded by other young women. That fall I moved into another tiny studio apartment, this one — like where I live now — overlooking nothing but trees, safely completely inaccessible in height and design on the sixth floor in a better area.

I learned a lot by living on my own so young: how to budget, how to deal with adults and professors and landlords without any help or intervention or advice from family; my parents were both very far away, both traveling and often unreachable. Whatever the problem, as an only child and already writing and selling photos to national publications to pay for school, it was mine  to solve.

My best advice to freshmen:

Learn how to get along with your professors. Don’t text them or expect hand-holding. They’re not Mummy. They are professionals paid to help you learn. Period.

Understand and respect the complex interplay between being drunk and stoned and the increased chances of a sexual encounter — or several — you did not anticipate, plan or want. Learn to say no, mean it and leave in sufficient sobriety you remain in control of your safety.

Practice using condoms. Use them.

Practice saying no. Mean it.

Enjoy the extraordinary array of facilities your campus offers you — socially, intellectually, physically. Even getting into a gym or pool as nice as yours right now will cost you a fortune post-grad.

Grades matter, but not as much as you think or fear (short of those applying to grad or professional programs.) That stellar GPA often means very little to most employers — who really crave ethical, hardworking and highly disciplined employees. Yes, a GPA is meant as proxy for all those qualities, but it doesn’t always work out that way. The “skills” you acquire by sitting in a college classroom and (only) striving for top grades may not translate tidily to a job in the real world.

You do not need to keep up with the materialistic cravings of your fellow students, whose parents may out-earn yours by many multiples. College is the first set of steps to adulthood, not four (or five or six) years of shrugged-off do-overs.

Work your ass off. Just do it. If you get into grad school, you’ll need to be in the habit. If you get a job, you’ll need it. If you have to work for yourself, self-discipline will prove far more valuable than your diploma.

A deadline  — i.e.  the paper is due Friday morning —  is not a suggestion. It is not negotiable. Not Friday afternoon six months from now.

Just because your BFFs are: bulimic or anorexic or tattooed or multiply pierced or high most of the time doesn’t meant this is a great trend to follow. College is a great place to locate and stiffen your spine.

Have fun! Get to know the sort of people you never even acknowledged in high school, The real world is going to put you face to face with all sorts of people from now on, so start discovering and enjoying them.

If someone comes on to you — whatever your sexuality or theirs — be flattered and polite, especially if sexual behavior is new to you, but go slowly. Sex is fun, but not worth getting an STD  or pregnant. Don’t confuse attention with affection.

Don’t focus all your energy on how much better everyone else is doing — socially, sexually, intellectually, athletically. If you’ve gotten into a good school, you’re now surrounded by some kick-ass talent. Watch it, learn from it, but don’t let it intimidate you.

Professors are not God. If you have a solidly researched and thoughtful opinion that differs from theirs, share it, politely. But your feelings are not facts. Learn the difference.

Take on leadership roles. You never know until you try if people will follow your lead. If they do, you know you’ve got the goods. They don’t teach that in the classroom, but the confidence it will give you will play out for years to come.

Here’s an interesting ongoing debate at the Times’ website on whether college is even worth it.

What’s your best advice to the class of 2015?

20 thoughts on “Doing Laundry, Changing Lightbulbs And Other Essential College Skills

  1. PREACH.

    My advice is: you are not the center of the universe, do not act as if you are. The world owes you nothing and you have probably not even earned any credit or consideration yet. Politeness, common courtesy, and good manners are still required in the meantime and will get you further personally and professionally than rudeness, boorishness, and nastiness.

    Also, acquaint yourself with your spellchecker. Few things will make you look uneducated, flippant, or just plain stupid as “text speak,” emoticons on official or serious documents, and misspelled words.

    1. Word! You of all people know this better than the rest of us, far away from a campus for years.

      I would also add “look up” — i.e. actually deatch from your tech toy to look people in the eye.

  2. My advice would be not to study for anyone but yourself. Don’t do it because parents or family expect it, stay true to yourself. Also, don’t live small; perception is everything! And you won’t get another go at this when you’re young. Don’t be intimidated by others, they are not what they appear to be. Don’t be afraid of being great, and remain humble when you realise just what you can achieve.

    1. Love this! It’s so easy for those four years to fly by…I remember the shock at the start of senior year, that it would all end soon. I do feel I got a lot out of my experience, from the campus paper (which launched my career) to organizing a student exchange for a week with UNC Chapel Hill, a life-changing taste of America that likely made wanting to move here from Toronto more powerful and real for me.

      It was intimidating to be around some very smart and sophisticated and highly confident peers, but also exciting. I knew some of us were going to make our marks. And I think college offers terrific possibilities to try on (in a healthy way) a variety of roles and responsibilities you might not get another chance for for decades after that.

      Seize the day!

  3. “College is a great place to locate and stiffen your spine.”

    SO incredibly true!

    Also, i don’t suppose it matters whether or not kids know how to change lightbulbs when they get to college. It’s amazing what living on one’s own, with no parental like figures around, does for people’s resourcefulness. All of a sudden you find yourself getting on with it, simply because you need to!

    1. I agree with you….but we, perhaps, were not raised by what are called “helicopter” parents, forever hovering and insistent their child not suffer the tiniest frustrtation or deprivation. With which, you cannot grow up!

  4. I absolutely love the advice! This is the kind of material that needs to be printed out and posted next to any college kid’s bedside wall. It should be the first thing they see when they wake up in the morning and the last thing they read before dozing off to sleep.

    About the only other thing I can think of adding is to explore! How many buildings have you been through on campus? How many club and club activities have you joined, or at least attended. How many times have you actually made it a point to see a professor in his office to talk about class? Basically, you’ve paid for an experience – soak as much of it in as possible.

    Oh to be young again…

    1. Thanks!

      You make a great point. My alma mater, the U of Toronto, is HUGE — 53,000 students and a downtown campus (of three) that is so large it took me 20 minutes walking fast to get from one class to another. But ohhhhh the memories! I rarely spoke to my professors as they were quite stand-offish. U of T is a terrific school academically, but it’s not a hand-holding place in any way! I did not always enjoy how difficult it was to have to be so self-reliant (my parents were far away traveling the whole time) but it sure prepped me well for the “real world” where you can’t hand out excuses.

      I can stll (!) recall the exact words of several of my final exams…in 1979. That’s a powerful set of memories.

      I am very fortunate in that I return to Toronto 2-6 times every year and I often make a trip to our campus as it is so beautiful and so central. I can see myself in those spaces, still, as many are beautiful builldlngs from the 1840s-1900s.

  5. crgardenjoe

    Very good advice, and, in fact, I may bookmark this page and share a link with a freshman class I teach–but you’re wrong on one point. Because, of course, we professors are God …

  6. I cannot like this post enough.

    As someone who recently sat down with a crying intern to discuss what it REALLY means to budget your monthly finances and resources, I sooooo relate right now.

    One of the great loves of my life, who is now an ex thankfully, and who also graduated from Yale undergrad, did not know how to change a light bulb. I went to his apartment one night after work to discover him in complete darkness. I asked what was going on. He said the lights burned out; he had called the superintendent DAYS before, but the man laughed when he was asked to come over and change those few light bulbs. I quickly walked him to the corner bodega, bought him light bulbs, and showed him how to replace them.

    Wow. Right?

    Brilliant post.

  7. Great piece this, I worked briefly as a Life Skill Tutor in the UK. Everything that was not maths English or IT was my domain. I took them shopping, laundry classes, walking in the woods, the difference as you say between sex and love is a biggie. Everything for these 16 – 19 year olds was important to know. They had such a wild upbringing they had no idea what the real world was. Unfortunately the school system where saying don’t be an idiot was frowned on, did them no favours either. I think it was such a shock for them to find that just because I told them to grow up and be adult, I didn’t stop liking them (perhaps not so politely at times) The company also took government tick boxes to heart and I was forced out in the end. It was however a very good part of my life for that small period

  8. What an interesting experience!

    You know much better than I these challenges, then. I spent my childhood mostly at boarding school and summer camp and lived alone all through university, so was quite accustomed to doing stuff without parental help or input. I tend to be very impatient with people who can’t, or won’t, figure things out for themselves. (Really?)

  9. I went to boarding school too, and then joined the military, so have a jaded idea and little sympathy for most ideas of how things should be. If you don’t learn, then you will not get on. Just because you have no education does not mean you cannot learn. It is used so often as an excuse. Then the government steps in and puts everything into boxes. No flexibility in teaching means student don’t learn how to learn. They learn how to memorise. And then we arrive where we are now. Is that a rant? I think it counts. Sorry, I feel quite strongly about it.

    Jim 🙂

  10. Great words. I am e mailing this link right away to my nephew in France who left for university this week. I think it’s very different for kids nowadays as many have been smother mothered unlike our generation who were given a much longer leash from an early age.

    1. Thanks!

      I know our generation — mine anyway, in the 1970s — was tossed into the world and expected to figure it out. And we did. When I was at university, my parents were each far far away traveling the whole time — without email or cell phones. My 20th birthday I spent with my uncle, visiting from London. I faced some very scary moments, without their help. I wonder how today’s coddled kids will ever survive on their own.

  11. Pingback: Oh…Freshman… « Small Dog Syndrome

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