Starting college is both exciting and challenging. This is a watershed moment in your life when you leave home and begin living independently. Even if you choose to study locally and stay with your parents, you will still have to make a lot more decisions for yourself and take responsibility for your well-being, health, and future.
You are probably both hyped and giddy with anxiety. The best thing to alleviate this nervous strain is to channel your stress into doing something productive. Here are some steps you can take to prepare yourself for college instead of biting your nails in anticipation of the unknown. This will take your mind off worrying, give you some sense of control, and make your transition into college smoother.
Prepare for being seen as an adult
Going from high school to college is not the same as moving to more advanced educational levels in K12. It’s a transition to adulthood. You might not feel like a grown-up yet, but you must prepare that from now on, you are going to be treated like one. Your instructors and college officials will address all the important information about academic, financial, and organizational issues to you instead of your parents or guardians and expect you to be practical and capable.
That’s why it’s a good idea to activate your school email as soon as possible to stay connected and check for information about classes, on-campus opportunities, student life, financial aid, schedules, credits, academic advising, and other important things during the summer. Learn how to navigate your college’s internal communication channels, including email, website, message boards, roommate matching apps, or student self-help portal prior to starting school. This way, you will get used to this digital environment and avoid stress once the classes begin.
Learn where to find help
Being a responsible adult person doesn’t mean, of course, that you are on your own. Colleges offer plenty of ways to get help. There are office hours with instructors, academic advisors, study resources in the library, tutors, and writing centers to help you with educational tasks (and, of course, there is always your favorite paper writing service). There is financial aid office to help you with FAFSA application and scholarship research. There are resident advisors in the dorms to help you settle in and learn your way around.
You might also want to research your school’s procedures concerning campus security and where to turn to in case of any safety issues, including sexual assault. Being an adult means being proactive, practicing common sense, and reaching out when you feel you need support instead of waiting for someone to help you.
Review financial aid and budgeting
Speaking of help, familiarize yourself with your financial aid package and how it aligns with tuition payment schedules and any other financial responsibilities you have. Remember, they go beyond tuition fees and include books, housing, and personal spending. Create a budget to manage your spending since day-to-day expenses make up a big chunk of the total student debt. Don’s stop researching and applying for scholarships: they all have varying application periods, so it’s an all-year-round hustle.
Consider getting a part-time job: check if you are eligible for the federal work-study program to find employment in your desired field. Research campus jobs, such as librarian assistant, barista, lifeguard, social media assistant, student ambassador, etc. which will allow you the flexibility you need to work around your study schedule.
Research your college
You probably did it already when you vetted colleges to apply to and, again when you wrote your personal statement and school-specific supplements. However, it’s still worth taking time to thoroughly research your school once more – this time, from a new perspective. Familiarize yourself with the campus layout, available extracurricular options, and any specific policies and requirements. This way, you won’t feel lost on your first day on campus and avoid any unpleasant surprises.
It was my first day of classes when I learned that nearly all my courses would be held not in the beautiful historic building I visualized from the booklets and tours but in a remote unit on the other end of the campus – far from the library, dorm, and cafeteria. It was unglamorously but rather fittingly nicknamed “The Stables.” I was disappointed – and that’s not what you want to feel on your first day! I learned to love this building and feel very nostalgic about it now, but it would be so much better if I knew about all the particulars beforehand and had time to prepare and plan. The takeaway? Always research your school!
Attend new student orientation
Most colleges organize orientation programs for new students, typically some weeks before classes start. Attend these sessions to learn about academic expectations, campus resources, student life, facilities, and rules. This is not as boring as it may sound and quite beneficial. According to Sara Harberson, founder of college consulting firm Application Nation, orientation helps students to adapt to the new environment and integrate into the college community before the year starts, which is a huge advantage as they get a feel of their environment: campus, commute, where classes are held, etc.
There are other boons, like free college merch, student ID, and the opportunity to schedule your classes for the upcoming semester. Orientation is also a great opportunity to connect with peers and make friends. In their company, you will understand very quickly that you are not alone – everyone is new here, oblivious to what lies ahead, and a bit nervous. This is a liberating thought that will help you to relax and open up to new acquaintances.
Get in touch with your roommates
Speaking of new acquaintances, if you don’t meet your roommates during orientation, make sure to get in touch with them by other channels: email, text, or phone them to introduce yourself and start a conversation. Some universities have online platforms and apps that allow you to look for and connect with your roommates before the move-in day. Making acquaintance and discussing your expectations about cleanliness, shared items, noise levels, sleeping habits, guests, and study rules will help prevent misunderstandings and conflicts that could otherwise arise during the semester.
Communicate your expectations candidly and respect each other’s boundaries. That’s the only way for everyone to feel comfortable and safe in a shared living space. While discussing all the details, coordinate on the topic of appliances and bulky stuff that you are going to bring but need only one of, like a microwave, refrigerator, or fan. The available space will be smaller than you are used to at home, so careful planning is vital.
Make a list of what you’ll bring to your dorm or apartment
Speaking of which, your personal items are going to take up space too, and space, as we have already established, is scarce. That’s why you will need storage. Hooks, hangers, caddies, organizers, containers, and bed risers to maximize the under-bed storage space – these are essentials. However, they still won’t be enough to house as many things in your new place as you used to keep in your room. Think carefully about what you will need. As much as you want to pack all your life and take it with you, you will need to determine what is indispensable (bedding, toiletries, comfortable walking shoes, season-appropriate basic wardrobe) and trim the rest down. By the way, here are a few things that I wish someone had tipped me about while I was packing to start my first year at college: an eye mask, earplugs, a shower caddy, and shower shoes. Indispensable. You are welcome.
Still, you should bring enough to make you feel at home and personalize the place, advises Connie Horton, vice president for student affairs at Pepperdine University, CA. Photos, fairy lights, throw pillows, posters, etc., don’t take up much space but create a cozy feel and make the room yours.
Clean up your room
While you are at it, this might also be a good time to declutter your old bedroom and throw away the things you no longer need, whether you leave for college or stay with your parents. Having a tidy place to start a new year or to come home to on holidays will help you feel in control and organized – and will make the task of deciding what to pack with you easier.
Don’t be afraid to part with your childhood things: old souvenirs, toys, clothes, books, and other stuff just sitting there for a while without any use. It’s a great way to close this chapter of your life with gratitude. Make sure to be practical and separate things you can give away, donate, recycle, hand down to your siblings, or discard. Believe me, coming home to a place filled with the ghost of a person you no longer are is a weird feeling. Having a tidy room is much better.
Learn about your major requirements
Review your course requirements and create a tentative class schedule. Most colleges assist students with this during the orientation or set a time for you to meet with your academic advisor, who should walk you through your scheduling options with a view of your educational goals. Use a digital college schedule maker or a paper planner to visualize your weekly plan and avoid scheduling conflicts.
Of course, you might still be undecided about what you want to focus on – most colleges allow enrolling with an undeclared major. Still, you start thinking about it and explore the tracks your school offers to understand which classes you need to complete the requirements for majors, minors, or concentrations you are interested in.
Explore your curiosities
However, don’t focus solely on required subjects – investigate all available classes, including sports they offer for a PE credit. College is your chance to learn something you’ve always wanted to try directly from experts, live, being in one room, and asking questions. Also, don’t give up on the classes you want just because they are full. Try to add the course to your schedule regularly. You never know – someone might drop out. The system renews availability once every 24 hours, so it reacts a bit slowly to current developments. You can also approach the instructor and ask if they will accept you into the class – they can sign a permission slip and add your name manually.
Still, I must warn you against being overzealous and registering for every class you can crowbar into your schedule. The recommended number of courses and credits per semester exists for a reason. This is your benchmark for a manageable study load an average student can handle, so as a first-year student, it’s highly recommended you stay within this limit. Don’t forget that besides academic opportunities, there are plenty of other extracurricular activities and social events to benefit from on campus – you don’t want to miss out on all that.
Navigating all these new responsibilities can be scary at first, but you will like being in charge of your life, trust me. College is the time many graduates remember fondly as the best years of their life – and for a reason. It only happens once, so it’s all the more important to get everything you can out of this experience. Preparing for your first year beforehand is the first step of this exciting journey. I wish all the best for you because you deserve it!