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Adulting in college: a how to

A woman on the floor, studying

Jason Keller
October 15, 2018

You’re 18, and you don’t think you’re ready for any of this. There’s suddenly tuition to pay, advising appointments to make, and the matter of your dirty clothes, dishes and next meal to plan for. Welcome to the rest of your life.

If that first paragraph scared you, don’t worry. Adulting isn’t a monumental, impossible task. Millions of people do it, and especially in college, it doesn’t have to be an everyday, 24/7 thing. You can enjoy days of cereal and pajamas but also look forward to the freedom of adult life.

Step 1: Appearance

As any adult will tell you, “adulting” is really just looking the part. Some tips: Aim for less clothing, but of higher quality that can be kept for years. Wearing sweats is still okay, but it helps to start building a more “grown up” looking wardrobe.

Step 2: Routine

Lamented by poets, embraced the many, the routine is your golden ticket to looking (and feeling) like you’ve got things under control. Choose your clothes for the next day the night before. Sit down each weekend and assess your week. Make phone calls or send emails to set appointments up. Get a good calendar app, or a paper calendar, and stay on top of your schedule. We have a blog post on essential apps for college you should check out.

Step 3: Behavior

Perhaps the hardest part of adulthood is the behavior changes that come with it. It’s no longer acceptable to be late on rent or to get upset with people. College is a testing ground for learning about yourself – your limits and your strengths. Some people find therapy to be useful, and if that's you, UNC offers a counseling service at no-cost.

Step 4: Giving yourself credit and space

Growing up is not an overnight process. It’s a transition, and the length of that period is different for everyone. And we never stop maturing, so the definition of 'adult' is already really loose according to experts. That’s why it’s important to recognize your efforts and to tell yourself mistakes are okay. Realize that your failures — including burning dinner in your residence hall microwave — don’t define you as a person (although they might make your room smell burnt for a while). Just read this quote from Steve Mintz, professor of history at the University of Texas:

"...if you think of the transition to “adulthood” as a collection of markers—getting a job, moving away from your parents, getting married, and having kids—for most of history, with the exception of the 1950s and 60s, people did not become adults any kind of predictable way."

From The Atlantic, "When Are You Really an Adult?"


is a senior at UNC and is planning to graduate in December 2018. He is studying journalism and writing, with an emphasis in news and multimedia. He has a passion for marketing, technology and writing, and hopes to work in marketing after he graduates. When he's not at work, he likes to listen to music, read, study, write and spend time with friends.