If I had to narrow it down to only three things it would be the below.
1. Start putting money into your 401k as soon as possible! It is absolutely crazy the difference you will end up with at retirement if you start at 20, 25, or 30. Compound interest is amazing and I wish I would of started to save at an earlier age.
2. Do your best not to go into credit card debt in college. I know its tempting but really try to live within your means and put all your extra money towards paying off any student loans you may have.
3. Do your best not to get stressed out! A very wise person once told me if it won't matter in 5 years its probably not worth stressing about over. That one piece of advise has really helped me put things into perspective.
What you think you want to do at 18 is likely to change. Don't take life too seriously, your teenage years and early twenties are a fun time for exploration, of self and space.
I was the first in my family to go to college so your question really resonates with me. When I started college, I thought its main value would be to teach me most about a specific topic or field of study and that my main goal was to impress my teachers and get high marks. While I did deepen my knowledge in subject through lectures, essays and projects, I found that I learned and grew the most outside of the classroom in these ways:
- Practicing and gaining confidence in taking care of yourself
College is a time to practice being independent from your family and caregivers and learn how to navigate the day to day largely on your own. Through trial and error, you will develop what your rhythms are and what inputs you uniquely need for a healthy, happy life.
- Exposure to topics and ideas that you know little about (and seeing if you want to know more)
College is a great time to learn a little about a lot of things. This can be though enrolling in a class, joining an organization, or simply hanging out with random fellow students who are from different backgrounds that you. For the first two years, focus on exploration before you narrow in on a speciality.
- Networking and making friends with peers (who will become an invaluable job network)
Everyone else in college is figuring out things too. It's an exciting time of growth and challenge and it's important to start building a support network to help each other through the confusion and change. You will develop unique bonds with these cohort of people because you came up together and these relationships can lead to long friendships or even job introductions or offers in the future.
I'm glad you are asking for guidance at this stage of life and I wish you the best!
Scott recommends the following next steps: