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An Open Letter to My College Freshman, Part 4

Dear M****,

Your college years are such an amazing time, and I want you to enjoy every single moment. I honestly don’t think there is another time in life that revolves around growth and becoming in the ways that the next four years will. It is an opportunity to explore the different directions your life can take and to learn about the human you ultimately want to be.

Obviously, college is about academics. You are enrolled in classes for a reason, and your primary goal should be to learn as much as you possibly can. But the next four years include a myriad of choices that will also affect who you become. I know there are memes and TikToks everywhere that give advice to new freshmen on how to navigate college life outside of academics, so apologies in advance for throwing my hat into the ring.

Choose your people wisely. I admit that I am praying about this one daily, but it is so important that you surround yourself with people who will support and encourage you to be the best you. Choose friends who will love you and hold you accountable.

Know your boundaries. When you started the ninth grade, a friend recommended this as a topic for discussion. We had that discussion then, and we are having it again now. Think about and establish your boundaries when it comes to socializing, to drinking, to relationships. Decide how much time you need to devote to your studies to meet your goals. If you choose to drink, decide the number of drinks you can have in a public situation and still feel confident in your decisions and your actions. Decide what types of physical relationships you are ready for before you are in the situation to have to make that decision. Your boundaries can change as life unfolds, but go into each situation knowing what your boundaries are because if you have to make those decisions in the moment, you will likely make a decision you will regret.

Prioritize your time. One of the biggest challenges students encounter when they get to the college is time management. There is no longer a parent reminding you to make time for homework or asking if you remembered to eat. College professors aren’t going to nag you to do your work or to submit it on time. When you sleep through your alarm, no one comes to wake you up. And all of the sudden you have a crazy social life full of opportunities!

Get a planner. Keep a to-do list. And PRIORITIZE. You can do all of the things. You simply need to make sure you make time for the things that matter most.

Have fun, but be careful. College provides a space for freedom and exploration that most students haven’t had while living at home with their parents. It is exciting—sometimes even exhilarating—to meet new people, to go to parties, and to be treated like an adult. Exciting, however, does not mean safe. I am sad to say this, but college campuses reflect our country’s rape culture. Young people. Alcohol. Impaired decision making. Bad decision making. A desire to be liked. A desire to prove something. All of these things combined lead to very real and heartbreaking experiences of sexual assault and rape. I cannot tell you how many rape narratives I have read during my career. I cannot tell you how many young women I have walked with to the counseling center, to Title IX offices, or to the campus police. The experiences and pain I have witnessed keep me awake at night.

Have fun, sweetheart, but do so smartly. Do not accept open container drinks. Do not set your drink down. If you find yourself in a situation where you’ve chosen to drink and you know you’ve had too much, make sure you have a plan on how to get home. Have an agreement with a friend that the two of you go home together. Do not walk on campus alone at night unless you must, and then do so knowing that you are walking alone at night. Do not leave a party with a stranger. Surround yourself with people who know their boundaries and who respect yours. Be confident and vocal when you say no. I promise I am not trying to scare you, and I mean it when I say that college will be an amazing experience. But there are parts of the college experience that are not discussed enough, and this is one of them.

Touch base. When I was in college, we didn’t have cell phones, and I had to pay long distance to call home (or call collect and hang up so my parents would call me back). I promise I am not going to be the overbearing parent who won’t leave you alone, but, in return, I need you to promise to check in. Send a text. Call me on your way to class. Send pictures. Keep an open line of communication. I promise to listen and only offer advice when you want it.

But when I say touch base, I also mean more than calling me (although that is really important). The independence that college brings often means we abandon some of our core values. For me, that meant questioning my relationship with God (in hindsight, this was a very important part of me growing up), but I also realize now that I always returned to that relationship and to my values in my moments of quiet. So be sure to have moments that allow you to dwell and that encourage you to focus on who you are, who you want to be, and who God wants you to be.

And make sure some of these moments involve calling your mom.

I love you,

Your Professor Mom


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