I wrote So You Want To Apply To College? a mere two months after starting my freshman year at UMD. Six years later, I wonder what compelled me to think I could give that advice.
Physically, it was pretty small, but half of a dorm room at the University of Minnesota-Duluth was all the space I needed to reinvent myself. During my first two months of college, between classes I had taken to exploring Duluth (“Up Nort’ ” to anyone that lived south of the Iron Range, and the #1 Weekend and Summer Vacation Destination for Minnesota Residents.) Surprisingly, Duluth was a pretty great place to be and frankly, life was going pretty great.
One night I sat on my bed and wrote the entire “So You Want To Apply To College?” post with no one really in mind – I just wanted to explain (and maybe whine a little about) what my experience had been. Rereading it now, I don’t think I gave bad advice, per se, but I can’t say I really recognize the place it’s coming from anymore, either1. But, let’s say that for some reason that you, dear reader, found that post in November 2012 and was duly inspired – and then you graduated, and now what? Good question.
1. Get a good bank and a credit card
I am not going to say “Get a card with rewards, I pay $400 a year for a stupid metal plunking credit card and went to the Bahamas on my bonus points and every time I get gas the attendant comes out and throws a gold brick at my face.” No.
Growing up I banked with local institutions who had physical offices and their own ATMs. I don’t really mind going into banks and talking to people, but I am a Millennial so I think that all in-person things are inconvenient. Therefore, Miranda and I use Ally. Key benefits: I can use any ATM for cash withdrawals2 and they have a crazy 1.8% interest rate for savings accounts. This is what I mean: find a bank that works for what you need it for, and actually makes you a bit of money instead of charging fees for everything.
As for credit cards, I really like the basic, no-fee Discover card. I use the Discover it Miles card, but they have other options. 95% of my spending goes on a credit card. Discover’s rewards are nice, but the key benefits of using a credit card are:
1. Security: if someone steals your debit card they can just drain your bank account. But if they steal a credit card number, the charge will go to the credit card company – and you can take up the issue with them, bank account unaffected.
2. Credit history: Credit scores, while mysterious, are actually pretty predictable. My first credit card was opened at age 17, so I have a long, positive credit history. Which I am told will help me when I buy… property… or something. I don’t know, but I’ve never been hassled on a credit check.
2. Take more walks, buy small things
When I was in high school I used to take long, angsty walks around town. In Duluth, I walked around campus, downtown, by the lake, around my apartment – everywhere, even sometimes when it was just a field, because I really wanted to go to Walmart for some reason3. Sometimes it’s nice to just walk.
Those closest to me know that I find fewer greater joys in the world than the pleasure of a good snack, and those go hand in hand with a good walk. Maybe it’s just me, but even buying something as stupid as a 75c Diet Coke from a vending machine or small fries from the Central Entrance Burger King and walking down the street, snack in hand, always made me feel free and independent. Compulsive junk-food consumption? Perhaps…
3. Learn How To Travel
I talk about this all the time to lots of different people, because I still can’t get over how impossibly hard travel seemed when I was growing up. My sister and I4 used to watch a Disney vacation planning video like it was an actual movie! I remember nearly having it memorized scene by scene. Disney World seemed like the most fantastic, elegant and far-away place I could ever dream of going!
The reality for my parents was that traveling with a hoard of children is hard and really expensive; however, I did not have that problem after moving out! I jumped at the opportunity to study abroad5 as soon as possible and what I discovered was that travel planning: booking train tickets, flights, hotels, finding stuff to do, everything – was not as difficult as I had always imagined it to be.
But you don’t have to go to Europe to travel. A few years after we returned from Worcester, Miranda and I used this knowledge and confidence to take the bit of savings that we had, pack up my car, and drive to Seattle. We had lined up an apartment on Craigslist and planned out our route. That was about it – we kept the trip itself low-stress so I had plenty of time to freak out about the other massive life changes that were in store.
4. Keep Some Perspective
Moving to the Pacific Northwest and the Tri-State Area both provided a bit of a culture shock: I teeter between “people here are normal and it’s not as weird as you think it is to be from Minnesota” and “these people have never driven through snow, they all went to expensive schools and vacations in the Hamptons are a fairly normal weekend.”
I will say it flat out: I did not realize how well-off my family is until I moved to college and met other people who were not like me. I have a feeling I am not the only small city kid who has had this revelation. This knowledge had a profound impact on me and I still require the occasional perspective adjustment.
Working as a developer doesn’t help: Internet comments about kids who got into all of their expensive private schools, graduated, networked, had lots of interviews and finally had their pick of job offer can be, frankly, demoralizing. But, I try not to think about that. I had a lot of support and made a lot of good, smart decisions that led to me moving to New York City, but ultimately it was luck that got us here.
So, there you have it. I could go much further: I’m almost 25, and the whole my-god-what-am-I-doing,-my-body-is-failing-fast-and-I-don’t-know-what-I-want-anymore feeling has been settling in for a good while now. Tell you what: I’ll try to remember to write another one when I’m 30 entitled “So You Want To Pretend To Give Advice To 20-Somethings Who Probably Have Nothing In Common With You?”
Good lord, I ended my post six years ago with The Places You’ll Go? Not this time. Mitchell out.
- At the time I remember trying really hard to not come across as entitled or like I was “humble bragging.” It… well, it could be worse.
- Ally reimburses ATM fees up to $10/month, which is super nice. And no, I can’t make cash deposits – but I don’t use cash very much, so that works for me anyway.
- I think there might actually be a sidewalk to Walmart now, but at the time there wasn’t, and it was cold. Fun experience, but would not do it again.
- I reminded my sister of this and funnily enough, she recalled that it was mostly me who watched this tape and dreamed of Mickey. Oh well.
- I am aware that this blog post oozes with middle class privilege and study abroad is the icing on the cake, but I am 100% serious when I say that the program I went on was extremely comparable to the cost of normal tuition. I did end up taking around $1,000 in extra loans, but that was offset by the extra work I did for my last two years.