Most people dispersed their advice to graduates closer to graduation, so consider this to be a second helping.  Certainly many of the topics will have been addressed by others.

  • Become independent – For 18 years, your parents have provided for you.  It’s time to start out on your own.  For some of you, this may mean complete financial independence, such as putting yourself through college and paying all of your expenses.  For others, this may occur in gradual steps.  However you address it, start taking steps in that direction.  You don’t want to end up thirty years old and still living with your parents.
  • Learn about financial topics – I’m not suggesting that you need to become a stock market whiz.  However, with a bit of work, you can gain a functional knowledge of personal finance.  If you didn’t learn how to balance a checkbook during high school, learn now.  It will help you avoid overdrafts.  Gain at least a high level understanding of how the tax system works.  You should, at minimum, be able to fill out a 1040EZ form by yourself.  Learn about different retirement options (see this article for a discussion of Roth vs. 401(k)).  Start saving for retirement at the first available opportunity – especially if your employer has a matching program.  In addition to the mainstream media, check out some personal finance blogs – I have links to some in the right hand column.
  • It’s OK to change your mind – If you’re heading off to college, you probably have a major declared.  Don’t be surprised if you change your major at some point.  You’re 18, and it’s quite likely that you have a fairly shallow level of knowledge regarding your major.  You might decide that this isn’t the right career for you, or you might simply fall in love with a different major.  Don’t be afraid to take the leap, even if it costs you a semester or two.  You don’t want to look back ten years later and wish you would have changed majors.
  • Build strong study habits – If you sailed through high school and never had to study, you might be in for a rude awakening – I definitely was.  It’s hard to describe the difference in rigor between college and high school.  Suffice it to say that it is considerably harder.  It’s important to develop good study habits early, so that you don’t fall into bad habits.
  • Stay out of trouble – Things that may have been considered childish pranks in high school may be considered crimes now.  You’re 18, so if you commit a crime, you can be charged as an adult.  If you have a juvenile record, this is a good time to turn over a new leaf.  Stay away from drugs and stop hanging around people who seem to get into trouble a lot.
  • Have fun – You might think that you don’t have any free time at all!  In actuality, you’ll probably have considerably more free time now than you will during the later stages of your life.  Cherish the time that you have to spend with friends, and enjoy life.  Also bear in mind that your body allows you to do things that will be much more difficult when you’re older.  If you want to go mountain climbing, it’s a lot easier in yours teens and 20s than in your 50s!

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Kosmo is the founder of The Soap Boxers and writes on a variety of topics. Many of his short stories have been collected into Kindle books.

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