College planning should start the instant you receive an acceptance letter in the mail. There are a lot of things to consider before you head off for your first day:
- Are you taking out loans?
- Where are you living?
- Which classes should you choose for your first semester?
While there’s no college preparation checklist that works across the board, creating a foundation for your college career is the most important thing you should do once you’ve selected a school.
Assess Your Financials
Unless you have a full tuition scholarship or substantial savings, you can expect to take out student loans to pay for your education. Once you’ve picked your school of choice, the next thing you should consider is how you plan to cover tuition and boarding costs. The money has to come from somewhere. If you have to take out student loans, the earlier you plan, the better off you’ll be once you begin receiving student loan repayment bills after graduation.
Keep in mind that most loan providers offer income-based payments, structural/time-based payments or even deferred payment options depending on your needs. Some loan providers are willing to work with you on payments based on economic need or job status after graduation. What’s important is that you get the education you need in the first place.
Additionally, you should begin looking into private banking options if you haven’t already. School credit unions are a great place to start, and most banking institutions are flexible in their offerings for students and young adults.
Attend College Orientation
More or less, freshman orientation will give you your first real experience of what’s to come. You may have to attend a school spirit seminar or two, but orientation is also a great opportunity to get familiar with your surroundings and your own trajectory, what you’re going to study, who you’re going to learn from and what your plans should be after college.
Orientation is essentially a massive information-dump—it eases the transition from home life to college life. At freshman orientation, you’ll learn about:
- School clubs and organizations
- Your planned academic major(s), minor(s) and electives
- On and off-campus living options
- The layout of the campus and tips for students
- The adaptation to college life, taking care and control of yourself, your path and the next 4 (give or take) years of your life
Perhaps the biggest plus of freshman orientation is that it allows you to ask questions. You’re able to get one-on-one time with advisors, administrators and current students to learn about your classes, your degree and general life on campus. It’s an opportunity to meet people and make connections you’ll have your entire college career.
All incoming freshman should attend orientation to get familiar with their school of choice, meet/network with new peers and get ready to hit the ground running in the new semester. Orientation is also when most incoming freshmen register for their first semester of classes, so come prepared with a general idea of which classes you plan to take, but don’t be afraid to ask your advisors questions when you’re registering.
Figure Out Where You’re Going to Live
You need a roof over your head. Whether or not your school of choice requires you to live on-campus your first year, your living situation should be high on your priority list. If you’re expected to live off-campus as an incoming freshman, do not wait until the last minute.
Apartment prices are competitive, and if you put off selecting your housing for too long, you may end up with a poor location and price. The earlier you lock in a location, the better; there’s a reason that planning is a recurring theme in this article.
Buy or Rent Textbooks the Smart Way
As an incoming freshman who is registered for first semester classes, you’ve probably been hounded by emails full of course requirements, textbook requirements and additional materials. Your professor may even email you with requirements not listed by the school.
While you may want to stay on top of the game and purchase your books outright from the college bookstore, the smarter option, in some cases, is to wait until your first week. Course requirements, such as textbooks or practice books, can be ruled as unnecessary on Day 1.
In the weeks leading up to your first day, or even during the first week of classes, you’ll be able to ask your professors what materials are actually required for that semester. You should also ask about the differences between the current and previous versions of your course textbook; most professors tend to suggest old versions of textbooks in the first place depending on the area of study. If there’s no real difference, you can hop over to Amazon and save a nice amount of change by ordering the more affordable version from last year.
Your living situation is figured out. You’ve met new people, you’ve got your supplies and you’re ready to start your college life. Day 1 is here.
What occurs on your first day of college depends on your school, your selected (or unselected) major, your teacher and class size. That said, it’s probably the most important day of your freshman career.
In many schools, classes will drop students (eventually, class openings become a competition of good timing, clever scheduling and plain luck). Even if it’s a short syllabus overview day, don’t skip class on your first day.
There’s no perfect plan to get you ready for your first day of college. You’re about to take a journey into some of the best years of your life (regardless of how great you thought high school was), and there isn’t a perfect checklist to prepare you. What’s most important is that you take care of foundational things, like housing, cash and classes, before you show up on your first day.
Looking for more college advice? Check out our favorite tips for Adjusting to College Life.