Julie Baumgardner

There is pretty much nothing more exciting and scary than thinking about crossing the threshold into your freshman year of college. No longer will your parents be telling you what time to get up or that you need to study. You can stay out as late as you like with whomever you like. Don't feel like going to class? No problemo. The professor isn't going to report you, and your parents will never know. FREEDOM!

In a conversation with recent college graduates, they were asked about what most surprised them their freshman year. After the, "Oh, how long do you have?" response, they started really thinking about things they wished they had known.

Let's start with roommates. Since 95% of college freshmen have never shared a room with anybody, the idea is pretty terrifying. All agreed that you have to figure out how to communicate, handle conflict, respect each other's differences and create clear boundaries. This is easier said than done, but worth the discussion for sure.

Realizing that while your parents might be a phone call away, they shouldn't be coming onto campus to do your laundry, make sure you get to class, nagging you to study or set up a party so you can get to know people. This is truly your opportunity to take advantage of what you have learned and put it into practice.

Some things the graduates thought were important for freshmen to be prepared to do included:

» Know how to do your laundry.

» Be prepared to live on a budget.

» Manage your time. Don't let the freedom go to your head.

» Go to class.

» Get involved in a few organizations to help you meet people.

» Avoid the temptation to go home every weekend.

No matter where you go to school, you might be shocked at how prevalent drugs and alcohol are. You may not choose to partake, but your roommate might, which can definitely impact your relationship. If you do choose to participate, do not underestimate the kinds of things that can happen when you are under the influence. Chances are great that you will participate in behavior you otherwise would not get involved in.

You should familiarize yourself with your college's sexual misconduct policy and definition of consent and know what a healthy relationship looks like.

Use your head. If you go to a party, get your own drink. Before you go somewhere alone, tell someone where you are going or, even better, take somebody with you.

Perhaps there are some things you want to do differently or friendships you know you need to leave behind. Heading off to college is an opportunity for a fresh start and greater independence. Take advantage of the opportunities to become who you really want to be, and surround yourself with people who will help you accomplish your goals. The next four years are laying a foundation for your future, and how you spend your college years really does matter.

Sometimes, truth be told, the whole thing is super overwhelming, but nobody wants to admit that's the case. If you find yourself feeling like you are in over your head, don't be afraid to ask for help. There are plenty of free resources on campus to help you make the adjustment to campus life.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at