What Independence Really Means in College
As far as new and exciting chapters in life, college ranks pretty high. For many, college will be one of the first times where you truly feel like you have real independence. And while it’s thrilling to get your first real taste of freedom it can also be daunting, after all, suddenly it’s all on you to figure out and manage. Everyone’s experiences and journey are a little bit different and we all find our own way to become independent and successful, but here are a few helpful tips to help with that transition.
Independence is Powerful
Adulting is all about balance. Maintaining the right equilibrium between class, studying, responsibilities, money management, free time, and time with friends are all new aspects of life that everyone is trying to figure out. In college, it all seems to happen at once. Maybe it is the first time you don’t have a set schedule, or a parent telling you what you cannot and can do, or you’re trying to make friends while getting good grades in harder classes. A big part of independence in college is taking ownership of your time and what you choose to do with it. Some people want to focus on their studies, while some focus on their social life. It’s ok if what you want to prioritize is different than your roommate or your friends because your college experience is unique and what you choose to get out of it is up to you.
But remember, while independence gives you the power of choice, you will need to strive for balance in your endeavors. Don’t push aside schoolwork completely in favor of social activities, and vice versa. Figure out what’s most important to you – make a list and outline how much time everything takes by day, by week, by month. And double-check that nothing is completely falling off your radar. It’s up to you how you want to spend your time but being an adult with the freedom to choose also means you have to deal with the consequences. So, choose wisely.
Plan Ahead and Prepare for Things Going Wrong
The other not-so-secret truth about adulting? Sometimes things go to hell and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it. People get sick, stuff doesn’t go according to plan, and accidents happen. And while that really, really sucks, the best way to be truly independent is the plan ahead, as best you can, when things turn out bad.
This became crystal clear for me the first time I got sick in college. For the first time, I was faced with taking care of myself without the help of my parents. Finding a doctor’s office, getting myself to the doctor’s office, figuring out insurance policies, getting a prescription from the pharmacy, and getting food/water/healthy options all is something I really took for granted back home. I was definitely not prepared for all of the necessary details that needed to be worked out. On top of it all, I felt awful (I was sick after all!) You can’t plan for every disaster but having a sense of what you’ll do when something bad comes around can make the whole experience a lot easier.
A Few Key Things to Try and Plan Ahead For:
- Do you know all your key information? Think social security number, health insurance, dental insurance, car insurance, banking information?
- If there is an issue with your enrollment/tuition/scholarship, do you know who to contact?
- Do you know what to do if you get sick? Do you know your insurance or local health services?
- If you have a pet and it gets sick, do you have contact information/funds set aside?
- If you lose or break your phone/computer/tablet/etc. do you know how to get it replaced? If you’re on your parents’ plan, do have access to the account? Do you know your family or friend’s numbers by memory or only on your phone?
- If an emergency happens, do you have access to transportation to get home? To get to a hospital/HMO/doctor? Do your friends have your family member’s phone numbers?
- Do you have an emergency fund? Does it have enough to cover so major problems, i.e. car breaks down, apartment/housing issue, tuition problem?
- What happens if you’re accused of academic problems (probation, plagiarism, cheating, failing)? Do you know your rights and resources?
- If something happens with your childcare provider, do you have a backup option? Can you bring your child(ren) to class in an emergency?
- If you get a flat tire or have a mechanical issue, do you know where to bring your car for service and repair? Do you know a towing company?
- Do you know what to do or who to call if something goes wrong in your dorm or apartment? Do you know the late-night people available to help if something floods, is on fire, or is unsafe?
Things go wrong, it’s a fact of life and in many cases it’s not your fault. But being independent is all about handling these situations when they arise. Figuring out what you need ahead of time, as much as you can, will help you during a crisis or when you’re feeling low.
Gaining independence in college is something that does not happen overnight. College is like the gateway towards adulthood and starting that journey towards independence from your parents. Many times, failing and learning lessons from failing is crucial to finding that independence, so failure or asking for help is ok. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to grow and mature as you gain and find your own independence in college and beyond.