Looking at my own long-ago experience in college and at my recent experience as a college teacher, and looking at my four sons’ and their friends’ experiences as they took the plunge into post-high-school life, I’ve often felt that — in addition to Introduction to Calculus and American History 101 — every young woman and man needs some short, practical courses in how to survive the first experience of independence.
The 15 short courses here are idiosyncratic (that’s a word you’ll have to know in college, so look it up). For the most part, this is not a list of academic stuff. It’s more important. Your literal survival may depend on the mastery of a point or two on this list.
Fundamentals of First Aid
You don’t need to take a Red Cross course, but they’re useful and easy to find. In the dorm and on the sports field, there are people who may take care of you if you break your leg. But you and your new-found friends may want to (and should) go hiking, try rock climbing, or strap on snowshoes. And if you or your buddies don’t know how to patch up a bad leg gash or treat frostbite (briskly rubbing the affected area is the wrong thing to do), perhaps the survival of a part of your body will be in question.
At minimum, read a first-aid book, find a qualified person to teach you CPR, and put together a basic kit that you can throw into a pack. If you keep the kit in your book bag, think how impressive you’ll be when you whip it out to treat a nice-looking classmate’s paper cut with a
Food and Cooking for Non-Dummies
The “freshman 15” pounds have turned out to be a myth, but you may make food choices entirely on your own for the first time, and to look at the rate of youthful obesity the choices often made are dreadful. Many college “food courts” are an extension of America’s fast-food empire, which has become successful by addicting us to fat, sugar, salt, and excess carbs. Still, “healthy choices” can be found. Make sure they’re really healthy by sticking with mostly bare-naked vegetables and fruits; whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and other whole grains; and eschewing (as opposed to chewing) a lot of meat and fried food — and by not swilling soda.
The ideal: prepare your own healthy food, often possible even in dorms. Ever-inexpensive pasta, rice, and oatmeal are easy and quick to cook; and it’s simple to throw some vegetables into the pot or on the plate to accompany them. You can actually live well (probably, better, health-wise) on $5 a day per person for food. (I am not making this up. See the foods for under $1 a pound at tinyurl.com/dollarapound.) If you control the rest of your diet, you’ll still be able to drink beer (moderately) without getting fat. (Ritual disclaimer: Of course, you have to wait until you can legally!)