Letter To My Son: 18 Ways To Do Better When Going To College

Dearest Tyler,

It is an emotional time for you and us, your parents, and your sister, who is going to college next year. You are college-bound in just a few short weeks, and we couldn’t be more proud of you for getting to this point. But, it hasn’t been easy in recent weeks, and I am sure you will agree.

I know it will be hard for you to say goodbye to your friends as they make it to their colleges around the country. You all support each other, which will continue in various ways.

College is a significant time of personal growth, milestones, and achievement. It’s been challenging recently to offer you any advice, especially about going to college. 

Remember last year’s letter about turning age 18 and becoming an adult?  These are excellent milestones. You are not always a great receiver in easy times, so we aren’t surprised that you are now less receptive than ever. Hence, this letter to you, my son, about advice on going to college.


18 Ways To Do Better When Going To College

1. Make The Most of The Orientation Before Classes Start

The first week is an excellent time to get acclimated to school. You’ll have opportunities to learn about clubs, campus resources, essential Covid-19 protocols, meet new people, make friends, advisers, resident assistants (RAs), and more. Get involved,  participate, and enjoy yourself!

You should consider emailing your professors before classes start to ask questions, like is there some reading you can do ahead of time?

2. Clean Your Room

Things will be different when you are in your college dorm! You won’t have Dad, or I ask you to pick up and do your dirty clothing, bowls, and food particles from the floor, the steps, every bathroom, living room, and the kitchen. Your space will be far smaller, and you will share it with a roommate who may not appreciate your interior design skills. The dogs will miss your treats everywhere, but we’ll be thrilled to get plates, cups, bowls, and utensils back in the kitchen.

Most of it all, clean your room so you don’t piss off your roommate immediately. You’ll want to get along with your roommate.

3. Set Your Alarm (And Wake Up!)

Give yourself enough time to wake up, get ready, and go to class. Plan to set the alarm more than five minutes before class, or set it, but don’t let it goes off every five minutes. Dad will not be there to check if you are getting ready for school.

4 .Attend Class Regularly And Study

College is a beautiful education and life experience and too expensive to waste. Besides being on time, please attend class regularly, and be there in body and mind. Professors can tell the difference and will make their wake-up call by asking you to answer their questions in class.

You’ll read a lot more than you did in high school. There is no substitute for reading the material. I know I sound preachy, but as a professor, I see the difference between students who read the assignments and those that don’t, and it matters.

You have studied in the weirdest ways, with one eye open, but I think you may want to find an excellent place to study. Try to do your studying by sitting up at a desk. I know you just play Xbox during “short breaks” from studying but try to make those breaks closer to twenty minutes and use hours for studies, not in reverse.

5. Handwrite Your Class Notes

We bought you a laptop recently, but you’ll recall my suggestion to write your notes rather than type them out. Handwritten notes are often more accurate, boost brain activity, and optimize memory. If you use your computer in class, highlight the significant points on index cards after class. That worked for me in law school.

6. Time Management Will Be Your Friend

Learn how to manage your time. Due to the pandemic, those affected by Covid and remote learning couldn’t enhance their time management skills. Teachers were more liberal about late assignments and lackluster attendance. Thankfully, those days are in the past, so make sure you manage your time by planning, reviewing dates that things are due, setting small goals, and moving through them course by course.

7. Seek Essential Skills That Are Excellent For Your Career And Life

Besides time management skills, colleges offer classes that can strengthen several soft skills. Seek out those courses like your future employers do when hiring people. Employers look for those with these valuable skills but often say they are in short supply.  Among the essential soft skills that companies seek are:

  • Communications
  • Presentations
  • Interpersonal
  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking
  • Problem-Solving

Consider classes that may provide you with these in-demand high-income skills valuable in many careers. Learn about different majors you can specialize in to gain more exposure to these skills.

8. Visit Your Professors For Help Or Talk

Most professors enjoy it when students reach out to them to ask for help or to discuss the lectures they gave. Having a personal relationship with your professor may motivate you more as a student, as they share their enthusiasm for the course material. It may expand your chances for the professor to become a mentor to you (more on that later) or an internship in the future.

Classes build on each other, so don’t fall behind in the material. Ask for help as soon as you need it. In the old days before Waze and car navigation systems, your Dad, like many people, refused to ask for directions when we’d get lost, making us late to events.

9. Expect Setbacks

You have been a successful student thus far. Things often come easy to you, but sometimes that can be a curse to a young person. Setbacks are natural occurrences for most successful people. They are uncomfortable for a while. Expect them and learn how to deal with them.

Learn from any mistakes as failures are lessons for all of us. There are higher expectations and more competition in college than in high school.

Setbacks are normal and happen to everybody, and how you deal with these disappointments can make a difference in your life. They happen but learn to deal with them better so you can minimize disappointments.


10. Adopt An Abundance Mindset

Concentrate on the positives and the blessings you have in your life. Compartmentalize what is bothering you so it doesn’t impact you during school. As bad as you think things are, someone nearby may have it worse. Don’t let things fester, as it will eat all your positive energy.

Are our mindsets predetermined, or can we grow, adapt and change? Tyler, you have the power to develop your mentality between a scarcity mindset and an abundance mindset. Your attitude matters greatly and could mean the difference between suffering disappointments or being content.

Those with a scarcity mentality may feel the grass is always greener elsewhere. Individuals who tend toward scarcity are more often fearful, anxious, and stressed. It is difficult for them to see the good in the world, and they may suffer from tunnel vision, focusing on what is wrong rather than right.

Positivity reigns for those with a predominant abundance mindset. In contrast to scarcity, the abundance mindset envisions a world with enough resources. This mentality is the antithesis of the scarcity mindset in virtually every regard. Win-win situations for the abundance mindset replace the zero-sum game, which has someone as a loser.

Their perspective sees limitless opportunities, whether in business or life. Such a mindset is desirable for progress toward good things, and don’t dwell on the setbacks. The Yiddish phrase, GAM ZU YAAVOR, means “This too shall pass.” Keep that in mind.

11. Try New Things

Going to college will offer you many more experiences academically and socially. Both are essential for you to explore to succeed in college.

Take courses that will expand your breadth of knowledge or that are fun in an area you would love to learn more about. Join clubs that are interesting to you, and participate actively. Make time to make new friends, or reconnect with people you know from the past.

12. Tackle Things Now, Don’t Procrastinate

“Procrastination is the bad habit of putting off until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday.”

Napoleon Hill, author of Think And Grow Rich

College students use delay tactics to hand in homework and other assignments late. Procrastination can be a toxic habit that affects many parts of your life. 

Rather than putting off what you need to do, tackle your tasks as you do with your opponents in football head-on. Don’t leave assignments to the last minute only to realize that they will require much more time than you imagined. Read the tasks early to understand better what they entail and plan how to tackle them.

Don’t procrastinate by registering for classes late. You miss some prerequisites for a course in your major you want to take.


13. Finding A Mentor

The most successful people in the world always credit someone in their life who helped them along the way. A mentor acts in the best interest of a less experienced person or mentee. They provide expertise, transferring professional knowledge and feedback from an experienced vantage point. 

Quality mentoring relationships can affect students, entrepreneurs, and future leaders. Be on the lookout for people in your area of interest who want to help you. It could be a professor, teaching assistant, or an older student. As mentors, they are willing to share what they know, actively listen carefully, and possess empathy and understanding.

14. Create A Monthly Budget

College students tend to be decent budgeters because they have limited financial resources and less time and places to spend their money. Creating a tight budget while in college can help you understand where your money is going each month. You have a generous meal plan on campus, but I am sure you will want to do other things like concerts and leave campus with friends. Don’t spend all your money in the first months. 

While living a more independent life, you need to have a budget and keep your spending in control. You need to think carefully about what you need first. Think hard about your discretionary wants before making financial commitments. Consider looking for a job on campus to make extra money. It may mean eliminating some of your free time, but it could be a valuable trade-off, especially if you go back to the room instead. 

Next year, you may want to move off campus, which will require you to understand your budget. Determine your necessary expenses like rent, utilities, food, and commuting expenses. Any savings you have at the end of the academic calendar, and working next summer,  can help you accomplish that next year. Don’t rush to sign any leases without creating a budget first.  

Commit to building up a rainy day fund like an emergency fund. The rainy day fund is when you may want to do something special. You can open interest-bearing savings account like an FDIC-insured money-market deposit account (MMDA) just for this purpose in a bank or credit union near campus. This way, the money is readily accessible and earns a little interest. 

15. Living Beyond Your Means

Living beyond your means is overspending. Although we still support you, you may find your newfound freedom at college is costly. Put the brakes on large or repeated impulsive spending. Living beyond your income is a recipe for financial disaster. By living stingy, you have a chance to learn good financial habits. 

When I started to write this, I promised myself not to focus on money, but here it is. Your goal is to spend less than you have or earn so you can save money and invest some of your earnings. You want to invest on your own. While it is easy to justify higher spending, you want to have some money left in your accounts after working hard this summer. 

16. Roth IRA For Teens

The best time to start contributing to retirement is now. Setting up a Roth IRA for teens is ideal because you will have decades for your contributions to grow tax-free. This money should remain in place for your future. 

You can fuel your money through compound growth when you make early contributions, even small amounts. Compounding is when you earn interest on interest, which magnifies your growth over 40 or more years.  

17. Investing In Your Future And Yourself

A regret I share with many people is not investing earlier. The best time to start investing is now, even in small increments. A Roth IRA is a form of long-term investing, and I am glad you’re taking that step. A long-term perspective when investing allows you to ride out the volatility rather than bailing out of the market. You have time on your side when you are young, so don’t waste it. 

Pardon the cliche I promised I wouldn’t use when my parents shared their thoughts. However, I am talking about you investing in yourself. By going to college, you can expand your horizons beyond places your parents or grandparents had a chance to do. You have fewer limits other than those you put on yourself.

We want you to grow and feel good about yourself. You are my sunshine, even when I roll my eyes at the stuff you throw on the floor, the late hours you sometimes keep, the dirty pots and pans you leave others to clean, the days on end you procrastinate about things we need to get for you, whether it’s for your dorm or groceries. We mean well. (Tyler, I sound like your grandmother you never met.)

18. Don’t Forget Us

We all know you will be busy adjusting to your college life and taking on a higher level of education. Don’t forget us. Dad, Alex, Teddy, Kelly, and I will be missing you collectively and apart. It will be different, but we know you are in an excellent place. I am not sure what Teddy and Kelly will be thinking, but they will surely miss your craziness with them, scratching their bellies and ears.

Texting is fine, but we want to hear your voice or see you on facetime. We want you to call when you need us. As we all have always said, we are there for you. We love you more than you know.

With Love,

Mom & Dad

Final Thoughts

Through the years, I have written letters to my kids as a cathartic exercise and to other parents who may be going through the same experiences. It is challenging to talk to our kids during these milestone moments when they are typically less receptive to listening because they are processing these same issues. They read the letters, which is often an opportunity to talk with them.


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 Thank you for reading this article! Please visit us at The Cents of Money for more articles of interest.



2 thoughts on “Letter To My Son: 18 Ways To Do Better When Going To College”

  1. Thank you, Linda, for your heartfelt letter to Tyler. You hit on all the points I mean to make to my son with no platform to make them. My son is also off to college in a few weeks, and I shared your letter with him. He is not listening to me but maybe he will listen to you!

    I am adding one more way for my son “To Do Better” when he goes to college:
    19. Remember Your Spiritual Routines
    As a Christian, I taught my son to start his day with a ten-minute devotional of prayer, reading a Bible verse, and quiet meditation. Whether in the morning or evening, and whatever your faith, do not forget to feed your spirit with positive thoughts and quiet meditation.

    • Andrea,
      Thank you for your heartfelt feelings. It is
      so hard for them to go. Spiritual Routines
      are a terrific bridge between home and school. I sincerely wished
      we had done more on that front with Tyler! It’s never too late!


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