The summer before college is the optimal time to get yourself ready for life as a college student. We know how you can use this time wisely.

As you recuperate from your senior year of high school and look forward to your freshmen year of college, your mind is probably swirling with thoughts of classes, dorm-living and making new friends—all of the fun you will have at college.

Next year is going to be a blast, and you want to just relax in the sun until then. But do yourself a favor: as you soak up the rays, consider doing just three small, yet important, things this summer.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to College

First, keep your brain sharp for next year. When you show up for your first college class in a few months, you don’t want to feel like you just jumped into a swimming pool filled with ice cubes. Since you will be doing a lot of reading next year, why not keep your mind college-ready by doing a little light reading in the summer before college? Notice that I said “light reading.” I’m not saying that you should spend the entire summer reading War and Peace or Moby Dick. Nope. Just read at least one book.

Here are a few, fun ideas:

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (crazy fun; then see the awesome movie with Mos Def and Zooey Deschanel)
  • Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis (a funny, biting look at Wall Street)
  • Anything by Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse Five, Cat’s Cradle; thoughtful anti-establishment)
  • Either of the Steve Jobs biographies (I’m partial to Becoming Steve Jobs but you can also try the first one, Steve Jobs)
  • Any mystery by Michael Connelly (arguably the best living crime writer; Lincoln Lawyer was made into a movie)
  • The World According to Garp by John Irving (sarcastic and sweet at the same time; then see the movie starring Robin Williams)
  • Freakanomics by Levitt and Dubner (entertaining look at economics applied to some bizarre topics; my favorite chapter is about how they detected cheating in sumo wrestling)
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac (the most famous road trip you never heard of)
  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz (for anybody thinking about being an entrepreneur; the chapter “The Struggle” is a must read)
  • The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon (for the English majors; you can thank me later)

Walkin’ Around Money

I’ve always liked the expression “walking around money.” For me, it conjures up the image of a cheerful guy, headed out for the evening, with a wad of twenties in his pocket. Think Frank Sinatra. The Pope of Greenwich Village.

For aspiring freshmen, however, “walking around money” means having an adequate amount of spending money during the upcoming school year. I recommend that you get a game plan together for what kind of spending money you want to have next year. Do it now.

Talk with your parents at the beginning of the summer before college, not at the last minute. You don’t want to find yourself discovering in mid-August that the only thing in your pocket will be your keys.  If you realize now that you aren’t going to have enough spending money next year, you still have plenty of time to get that organized.

Be Cool But Care

College preparation is fun. New clothes. Maybe a new laptop. Depending on whether you are living on or off campus, maybe some new furniture.

But how are you preparing your…inner self? Are you poised to mature? Or coast?

Will you be the guy known for parties? Or the guy who noticed the quiet kid down the hallway, and invited him along on a Saturday night? Will you be the woman best known for perfect hair at 8 am classes? Or will you be the woman who spent an hour a week at the local woman’s shelter and helped somebody get back on her feet?

Trust me on this one: your character will determine your success in life far more than which college you attend. Be the quiet hero or heroine of your dorm. Say a nice word to the cleaning crew or security guard.  Help somebody who’s struggling in calculus.  Hold the door open for somebody running late to class. Each day do one nice thing for others.

To quote a line from another Thomas Pynchon book, “be cool but care.”