According to The Emily Post Institute, it’s the principles of good manners that are important: having a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. “Being considerate, respectful, and honest is more important than knowing which fork to use. Whether it’s a handshake or a fist bump, it’s the underlying sincerity and good intentions of the action that matter most.”
Good manners are helpful and important no matter what stage of life you’re in, but college is a unique season where you’re given a bit of space to better develop your manners. Not only are you living in close quarters with a lot of people for four years (so lots of time and opportunity to practice!), but you’re practicing important life skills that you’ll use in life and in business once you graduate.
Here are a few ideas for manners you can cultivate while you’re away at school.
1. Hold the door for people
Ah, how easy it is to stroll through a doorway without a care in the world…and let it slam in the face of whoever was behind you. Don’t do this! Be aware and think about where your body is moving and how your actions might affect the other people around you. Holding the door for someone is a simple way to show respect for another human and demonstrate that you value helping them.
Of course, it’s important to judge the distance of how far away someone is from the door before you decide to hold it. If the person behind you is quite a distance away, and you’re standing there holding the door and signaling that you’re waiting for them to walk through it, they may feel forced to awkwardly jog to reach you so you’re not standing there for an eternity. Use your judgment, and next time you’re entering the classroom, hold the door for those who are few seconds behind you.
2. Honor your commitments
When you’re in college, it can be really easy to commit to a lot of things and then suddenly discover you actually don’t have time to play four intermural sports, join two clubs, work a job, do all your homework, go to class, and have a social life. Commit to things carefully, and then make sure you honor those commitments appropriately. If you can’t attend something or be a part of a group, make sure you don’t just ghost the event. Communicate in advance that you won’t be able to participate in order to give the leaders, captains, etc. enough notice for planning purposes.
It’s okay to say no, just don’t disappear and say nothing.
3. Practice real human interactions
Smartphone etiquette is certainly a new and modern subset of etiquette, but it’s a very important one. Humans have responded to technology in the only way a human could: near obsession. It’s a good idea to dig deep about your use of technology and make sure you’re using it in a healthy way. When at school, it can be really easy to sit for hours on social media scrolling or get distracted by all sorts of things instead of choosing human interaction. Stretch yourself, and take time to choose real people and conversations instead of your phone sometimes—even if it feels awkward!
Be courteous to those you are with—that means turning off your phone if it will be interrupting a conversation or activity, or putting it away in a bag so you won’t be tempted to text while your roommate is trying to tell you a story about her day.
4. Dress appropriately
One great thing about a college is that you can wear anything you want, which often equals sweatpants and a sweatshirt for many a college student. The thing is, while this is completely fine to do now and again, you might not want to make it a habit for every day. You never know what kinds of opportunities you could run into or the type of people you might meet in class or at an event, so try and make sure you’re showered, well-groomed, and dressed appropriately for the activities you’re participating in.
It can be easy to consider manners a thing of the past, but they are an important way to show competence and respect for other people—good manners can make or a break a job, so do your best to cultivate proper etiquette and practice it often.