In this world no one rules by love; if you are but amiable, you are no hero;
to be powerful, you must be strong, and to have dominion
you must have a genius for organizing.
Bringing order to chaos (aka herding cats) is something you’ve been working on all through high school. If you hadn’t been good at it, likely you wouldn’t be in college right now. And if you’re working your way through school, you already know even more about this one. It’s hard to get control of all the variables in your life. In the working world you’ll need to get your variables and a lot of other people’s to synchronize in order to get things done.
College shelters you a bit from creating time management from scratch—you don’t have to propose meeting times for your classes, locate the various required books and materials from multiple sources,* or find a place to meet and a way to pay the professor. But you’re picking classes that combine into a set of major/minor and general graduation requirements as well as addressing your intellectual curiosity for new subjects. Each semester’s picks fit into the reality that you can only be in one place at one time, prerequisites completion, and physical constraints (you need a enough time to make it from one end of campus to another—even in snow or 105-degree heat) and trying to wrap it all up on the desired four-year schedule. This isn’t something that specifically goes on a resume (although I do see “graduated in three years” noted from time to time and I get the subtext, although perhaps only because I graduated early, too.). Be aware of the skills you’re building—and make sure you are working on these. As college progresses shove your parents out of the process, involve your advisors for advice and as sounding boards, but don’t look to them to move in as replacement helicopter parents. Parents: Start pushing your student to take control. By senior year you shouldn’t be managing anything. Even if you’re underwriting college, you shouldn’t even be making plane reservations. No one in the office will be doing this for your student—they have to learn now, even if they are “too busy.” Move them in freshman year, but unless you’re close and they have no other options don”t move them out or back in. they need to navigate these basic things on their own. Time management, both in the sort- and long-term, is a skill you’ve got to get down.
Build on those time skills, and start organizing other people. Organize meetings for study groups. If the group can’t find an obvious time to meet, duck the email chain and use an online tool. (Doodle Polls works for me.) Organizing people gets tricky when you deal with personalities. Every meeting requires some people and not others, but you’re also worrying about hurt feelings, subverting the power structure, so some of the non-essential folks are still required. Try suggesting the smaller group meets and reports back to the larger in the interest of saving time, moving forward, respecting someone else’s busy schedule. Or meet informally/accidentally and come back to the group via email, saying “Hey, we were chatting over breakfast…” and the problem is solved, action items in play, no need to meet. You’ve got to figure out how to navigate these issues in away that suits your style. (Your style cannot be just constantly going with the flow or letting other people be in charge—this is not a successful long-term career strategy.)
In theory, given the cost of college, you’re managing a really big-ticket budget over four years. You should be great at organizing money and budgets. In practice, that tends not to be true. If money were well-managed, no one would have these monstrous student loan debts they can’t retire or huge credit card bills. Let’s take the most basic approach here. If your family is helping, at some point, when they see you are managing your money each month, the funds should be handed off at the start of the semester—at least the living expenses, if not the tuition. You should be making the tuition payments, albeit with funds your parents are transferring to you. You should have your own credit card, either secured by some savings, or with your parents co-signing. The point is to get you used to being aware of financial pressures, both in terms of amounts and deadlines. If you’re working your way through school (congrats, we employers love this), beware the temptation to live like your co-workers, many of whom are not also in school. Beware the temptation to live like the parent-supported crowd at school, who tend to have a lot of expensive possessions. Keeping up with the Joneses (or the Kardashians) is a disastrous way to manage your life—practice resisting that impulse now. I love extracurriculars, but not if you’re going into debt while paying sorority dues. There are a ton of activities on campus where you can get involved without the pressure of monthly dues or fancy clothing for required events. If you’re somewhere in the middle, like most students, manage your money wisely so you earn the right to manage it over a longer term and build stronger skills.
Aside from personal finance, there are a ton of opportunities on campus to manage budgets, most of which should come with a set of deadlines and reporting tools. Look to your student government association and every club operating under its auspices. Every event on campus has a budget and many are student-run. Parents, if you’ve got an eye for this or live locally, this is a great chance to help your student learn how to sell and fund-raise. This summer, our younger son (with a July birthday) was in Tacoma, taking classes at the University of Puget Sound while spending the summer with our older son who was there doing (funded) summer research. Our older son has a winter birthday so for the first time I needed to find a way to get a cake delivered. I found Hello Cupcake through a staff recommendation (Thanks, Courtney!). At the same time the student-run Puget Sound orientation chairs asked the parents to write letters to their student leaders, so I had two very engaged students’ contact info. I suggested they connect with Hello Cupcake. As a parent I would have loved to have known about this local business my son’s freshman year, and I was pretty sure the business would love to have freshman parents hear about their phone order and delivery service. (Two facts the students really have no way of knowing—it’s just out of their realm of experience.) I have no idea if they made the connection, but it took me two minutes to outline the idea to the student leaders. For all I know it’s totally against the University’s policy to have a sponsor like that (and I mentioned it might be and they should check). But the thing is, no one has to actually succeed in this specific endeavor. What the students do have to do is start thinking about hooking up the different resources in their lives in win-win situations, and making things happen that have never happened before. They don’t have to be big things, and they don’t have to work out as planned.
*But if you are, good for you. At most schools, there are a lot cheaper places to get your books than the campus bookstore.