Advice for New College Students - MilKids or Otherwise

Advice for New College Students - MilKids or Otherwise

It’s September, and a lot of MilKids are off to college for the first time. They’ve experienced new schools before (even foreign schools). However, life for a freshman at college is a unique experience: new people to meet, new ideas to explore, and probably the last time to have so much independence with so little responsibility.

To help these freshmen start their college life, I thought I’d offer some advice. As a university faculty member and the dad of a sophomore at Boston U., I know there is a lot of advice out there. Here are some areas that students might not think of when pondering how to succeed at college.

Textbooks: There are cheaper alternatives than the bookstore. Check out for instance. Or, find former students selling their used textbooks. If you find an earlier edition, email your teacher and (politely and professionally) ask if using the xth edition is OK. Many times, the changes are minimal enough that teachers allow earlier editions (and most teachers understand the financial impact of textbooks on students).

Professors: Get to know your teachers, especially on a personal basis. We get paid to have office hours, so stop by and ask a question or have a chat. In addition to understanding the lessons better, these visits will help when you need a letter of recommendation or referral for an internship.

Speak up in class! Professors like to hear responses to their questions and look favorably upon those who do so. Don’t be one of the boring and generic student body members.

When you do email your teachers, address them as: Mr.; Professor; or Dr. — not “Hey” or “Yo” (yes, I have seen these).

Explore and try something new: College gives you freedom and a chance for intellectual and cultural exploration you most likely won’t have again (unless you join the military and are stationed overseas). Take advantage and expand your interests and horizons by doing something different. You can take a ballroom dancing class; apply to study abroad; join debate; do intramurals; take a class about music of the ’60s and ’70s (you know, the last time music was truly good); or join a film club. Schools provide a lot of outlets and class offerings, so take advantage of them. Also, you’ll have the time — after all, you’re not in school seven hours a day/five days a week anymore.

Learn to manage your time: Since you’re not in school seven hours a day/five days a week anymore (nor do you have teachers checking your progress), that doesn’t mean you can have lax study habits and procrastinate. Know what’s due and when (most college faculty won’t be reminding you or requiring to see rough drafts). And if you’re unsure, email your teacher. We don’t bite.

This tip also will help ensure being on time with assignments. Teachers hear every excuse, and the more we hear them, the more we shake our heads in disbelief - such as: The library’s printer wasn’t working this morning! Even though five other students just used it? What extraordinary timing for a breakdown! (Not to mention why are you waiting until just before class to print your assignment.) In today’s tech-savvy world, they even have apps to improve your time management!

Managing your time also applies to your health: eat healthy, get your sleep, and exercise. And yes, you’ll still have time to enjoy college life.

Communication: Remember to phone, text, and/or Facebook your parents once a week. Come on, it’s not that hard, and it will make your parents happy (just make sure that pyramid of empty beer cans isn’t in the camera’s view).

Be a confident MilKid: As a MilKid, you will have a different backstory than other students. Be proud of that. Also, be open to new ideas and possibly seeing different sides of things. But, be confident in yourself and your values and beliefs, and demonstrate the diversity of your MilKid upbringing by being respectful to everyone.

Finally, some financial tips:


  • Track your spending and budget your money. Spend on things you value. For example, do you need to spend $10 on a popular movie when your friend down the hall found it on a website? Is that $20 sit down meal going to taste that much better than the $5 hamburger joint?
  • Also, keep in mind your new friends might be in a different financial situation than you, so don’t be afraid to pass on going out. Conversely, you might be the one in better financial shape, so be aware of what you’re asking others to spend.
  • Sign up for the savings app Digit. It will analyze your checking account, and based on your spending and balance will suggest little amounts you can tuck away for savings. If you agree, Digit puts that amount into an account for you that you can access later by transferring it back to your checking account. This is a great tool to help college kids take away the allure of spending leftover money in their checking accounts. (Actually, it’s also helpful to adults.)
  • Your dorm room does not have to look like a posh hotel or a page from a Pottery Barn catalogue. Along with sales at Target, look at Goodwill or the school’s Facebook page for bargains — even if it’s your parent’s money! This practice will help you after college when you have to spend your own money on items.
  • Check in with the financial aid and alumni offices for unclaimed scholarship money. A lot of times there is left over money. And all you need to do is complete an application and possibly an essay.