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College Prep 101: A Guide to Living on Your Own for the First Time

Updated on September 15, 2015

If you’re reading this, then chances are you’re attending university or college away from home and will be living on your own – congrats on your new exciting chapter of life!


1. Food/Eating Arrangements

There’s a reason why this is so high on the list. You often hear about the stereotype of college students eating nothing but ramen noodles and fast food dollar menu specials. It’s quite easy to fall into a junk-food only rut. It’s so easily available and cheap, and requires practically zero cooking know-how. Doesn’t sound too bad, huh? Trust me after a few days, you’ll be craving a homecooked meal like crazy.

One thing about living on your own – you eventually learn how to cook, one way or the other. Either that or eat out every night.

If you live in a dorm set up where everyone has their own bedroom but share one kitchen, consider getting a large plastic container to keep your items in the fridge. Also, clearly mark your containers with your name (and room/apartment number too) in permanent marker. Hopefully this should deter any would-be food swipers.

Make a grocery list of items – staples like pasta, rice, tinned sauces, frozen goods, fruits and veggies are some suggestions. A good idea is to cook in large proportions – it saves on cooking time, and cash too. Eat what you can, then simply freeze and reheat any leftovers.

Don't worry - you won't have to cook every single day. Hit up the school cafeteria or one of the restaurants on campus.

2. Keep in Contact with Social Networks

Facebook, Skype, Oovoo and even good ol’ email are some of the most popular ways to keep in touch with the folks back home. Smartphone apps like Kik, BlackBerry Messenger, WhatsApp and even Instagram are great ways of sending messages and photos on the go.

I can’t tell you enough how much I relied on video chats and mobile apps to talk to my people back home. It was comforting knowing that I could whip out my phone and talk to my best friend or my mom and they’d reply almost instantly. While we were not in the same area (or in my case, continent) , we were still strongly connected

Plus, every few weeks I’d send out a mass email to all my relatives and good family friends with photos and updates, just to let them know that I was doing alright.

One obvious downside to this technology is that you can’t touch the person physically, but sometimes it’s great just to be able to hear their voice, or see their face.

3. Have a Contact in the Area.

I went to another country (where the official language wasn’t English) for university, and believe me when I said I didn’t know a word of the language. Luckily, my mom knew someone who knew someone who’s relatives (confusing, I know) lived in the city where I was going, so that family helped me settle in – they even picked me up from the airport and acted as translators for me when I went to sign up for my language immersion classes at the university. I know that I definitely wouldn’t have survived without that wonderful family, hence why I’m recommending this next tip.

Ask friends, family and neighbours if they know anyone who lives in the area that you’ll soon be attending school. The world is so small these days – chances are, someone will have a contact there. Use your mutual friend to make first contact, then simply go from there.

I strongly recommend this for students who are going to a university overseas, especially if the locals don’t speak the same language as you do.


4. Responsibilities - Someone's Gotta Do 'Em.

So, you’re living on your own in a college dorm or apartment.

Shocker – you’re on your own.

That might seem super obvious, but think about it more in depth. Since you’re now a one man (or girl) team, you have to take responsibility for your own upkeep. No one’s there to really look after you like back home. Sure, the dorm or apartment might come with someone who may clean up or do maintenance, but that’s it.

One thing I learned quickly when I moved into a college dorm was that I had to do everything for myself. I had to do my own laundry, keep my dorm room in a habitable state and somehow feed myself (I started out with practically zero cooking skills!). And yes, you even have to deal with the monstrous insects that will eventually find themselves into your quarters.

I found to-do lists were my greatest aid, and I also made a schedule to help organize my time – extra study time, time for laundry and chores, my classes and (the best part) time for recreation.

5. Student ID = discounts!

Students are notorious for always being broke. Don’t deny it - be proud of your ‘suffering student’ status and take advantage of it!

Therefore, in most cities there are programs that help the academic population save some cash. Student transport cards (used for trains, subways and buses) can help cut down on passage expenses – see if your city offers these.

Places like museums, theatres, cinemas, bookstores and even certain stores offer discounts when you present your student ID card. Even some clubs, bars, restaurants, technology stores – the list can go on and on! Do some research on the internet and don’t be afraid to ask questions at your school’s Student Affairs or the next time you visit your favourite store.


6. Making New Friends is Way Easier than You Think.

When I arrived there, I honestly thought it was going to be hard for me to make new friends. I made friends easily back home, but with the major language barrier, I feared that I was going to be by myself a lot of the time.

I was quickly proven wrong. It was almost as if once people realized that I was from another country, they wanted to talk to me.

See what events the university is having (check notice boards and also social networks) and also what clubs or teams they have. There is literally a club for everything (my friend went to a university where there was a unicycle club – way too cool. Plus, popular areas like the living room of your dorm, bus stop, school gym, and even the lobby of your faculty’s building are great places to strike up conversations. Just keep an open mind and a friendly disposition with everyone you meet and you’ll make new relationships in no time.

There are going to be other new students in the same position as you – don’t be afraid to approach any potential buddies that you see.


7. Make Yourself at Home!

Your dorm or apartment is going to be your living space for the next few months – make it as comfortable and as ‘you’ as possible. Items like posters, photo collages, favourite childhood stuffed toys, personal knick-knacks and ornaments are always taken to help spice up the living space and make it ‘homier’. Wall collages of photos, printings of favourite quotes, ticket stubs and magazine clippings are a great and inexpensive way to add some personality to your room. Check local stores for goodies that you can decorate with. Wall decals and even Christmas/tealights are also an easy way to decorate without much clean up afterwards.

Having some of your favourite items in your room can be very comforting, especially on days when you’re missing the folks back home.


8. Try Something New.

Broaden your mind and horizons. One of the most cliché phrases known, but there is truth behind these words. After all, that's why you're pursuing a tertiary education. Going to university is one of the most influential times of your life - make the most of it, and not just from the classroom aspect.

Take advantage of your newly found independence. Attend a play. Take up a sport. Take lessons for that music instrument you said you always wanted to play. Do some volunteer work.

You'll discover something about yourself that you may have never known before. Perhaps a new passion or talent.

Living on your own (especially during the college years) can seem quite intimidating at first, but in the end it’s always worth it. You gain independence and survival skills that definitely come in handy in the years to come. Plus you find out some things about yourself as well!

This article is a part of the 'College Prep 101' series. Feel free to check out some of my other guides and tips on starting uni life:

The Ultimate College Dorm Room Checklist for College Girls

Five Tips for Attending a College Fair

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