Double Take: Past columnists give advice on college

Wes: This week we’re privileged to have the last four Double Take co-authors back for some pretty tight advice on making a successful transition to college. I’ll get out of the way and leave the rest of the column to the real experts.

Marissa Ballard, senior Pittsburg State (co-author, 2005-2006): In the fall, an eager group of young adults will embark on their freshman year of college. If they are anything like me, they’re in for an awakening. Each experience is unique. However, I’ll offer these simple words of advice:

• Dorms are ugly. I’ll admit, I cried when I first saw my dorm. The linoleum was peeling, the ceiling sagging. An area rug and some creative poster placement can do wonders. Come prepared.

• Wash your sheets. Your bed is not your own when you live with 50 college students. I’ve returned to find a cigarette butt between my sheets. Trust me, you’re better off safe than sorry.

• Live with strangers. What could be more fun than living with your besties, right? Wrong. I too was skeptical of this advice. Junior year, I got an apartment with a friend. Within three months, we went from sharing clothes to her ransacking our living room and moving out.

• Boycott credit cards. Credit card companies target freshmen, bombarding them with preapproved offers. Last year 84 percent of undergraduates surveyed by Sallie Mae had at least one credit card. Shred those applications. Better yet, go to and remove yourself from the mailing register.

• Graduate. This is not a guideline. It’s a requirement. Don’t join the ranks of those who give up after their first year. Commit yourself to finish what you started. You won’t regret it.

John Murray, junior Texas A&M; (2006-2007): My advice is to create. Ruthlessly, recklessly and without permission. Most people are nice folk, but when it comes down to it, most of our actions are motivated by self-interest. We seek friends who can provide fun experiences, jobs that offer decent money and courses that yield a degree. We look for ways to cut corners, to provide other people with the minimum we can get away with.

The irony here is that the most direct route to prosperity is creating value for others. Like elephants surrounding the waterhole, people gravitate toward those who can provide value. A person who creates value will always be in demand, which will grant them access to the lion’s share of resources.

So what does this have to do with college? College is an opportunity to learn how to create. Don’t slip into the trap of waiting for others to create for you. Instead of watching “Jersey Shore” reruns, throw a “Jersey Shore” theme party. Instead of reading CliffsNotes, write your own detailed notes and give them out to your classmates. Not only will you improve your own creative skills, but your popularity will increase, too.

Julia Davidson, freshman, Macalester College (2007-2008): Here’s sage advice I took from others, along with some of my own observations. In case none of it works, everyone knows how to make Ramen noodles and do their laundry, right?

• Revel like an elephant in a mud puddle. College presents more freedom and independence to decide what truly freaks you out, turns you on and makes you happy. If you let your interests and whims guide you, you won’t have to fake enjoying yourself.

• Don’t forget the basics of self-care. Vitamins. Sleep. Good food. Exercise. Yes, Mr. Pibb and pizza and tacos taste awesome for breakfast, but your body will start retaliating. The freshman poundage, feeling like crap and getting sick are a direct result of how you take care of yourself. Be gentle.

• You pay a lot to go to college. Make sure it’s worth it. Are you happy? Do you enjoy what you are learning? Do you feel like you’re growing in your experiences and education? If not, you are wasting your time and money.

• Don’t expect to get it all at once. We don’t hold 6-year-olds to their proclamations to become cowboys, so we shouldn’t expect every freshman who says they’re going to med school to actually do it. Don’t hold this normal flux against anyone or yourself. College is for change and uncertainty.

• Finally, find what works for you and stick to it.

Kelli (Kelin) Woods, freshman KU (2008-2009): The transition from high school to college may seem romantic to those ready to embark on their own adventures in life. It doesn’t take long for students to realize that there are important, adult decisions to make. Living on your own can impose many obstacles. How you handle them is ultimate factor in your life success. For those of you about to start your own adventures, here is my advice.

• Attend class. Many teachers don’t take attendance in their lectures, making it tempting to skip. Trust me, it’s much easier to get a good grade when you don’t.

• Learn to budget. Living off of Ramen noodles gets old after a while. Open a savings account. Every time money heads your direction, deposit some. This will help you learn to remain independently, financially stable. You’ll be surprised how quickly you begin to save money. Also, start cutting coupons. There are deals all around, yet few really use them.

• Don’t get too caught up in the typical college party scene our parents dread. Life isn’t measured by the number of beer pong games you win. It’s measured through experience and willingness to master yourself. Remember, this is the transition to the adult world. Now is the time to act like one.

Next week: My kid is the bully.

— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Samantha Schwartz is a senior at Lawrence High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to All correspondence is strictly confidential.


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