There comes a time when all your preparation, studying, and careful crossing of checklists culminates in a great college choice. By this time in your senior year, you’ve likely committed to college, attended an accepted students weekend, and are even repping your new college hoodie around town. But, just as you suspected, your pre-college work is not over. In fact, it’s just begun.
The run-up to going away to college, even if you’ll only be traveling across town, is busy and involved. There are more decisions to make, more checklists to go through, and more priorities to juggle before you settle into your first semester as a college freshman. We’ve got a handy list of must-dos before you hit campus in the fall.
1. Fill out your FAFSA and apply for scholarships
You already know that college is going to be a major investment of your time and funds. Whether you’ve been awarded academic scholarships, are being supported by your family, paying out of pocket yourself, or borrowing your tuition funds, you do not want to miss out on valuable (and sometimes free) aid. To be considered for federal student aid for the 2016-2017 award year, you can complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) between January 1, 2016 and midnight Central Time, June 30, 2017. Many states and colleges have earlier deadlines for applying for state and institutional financial aid. You can find your state’s deadline at https://fafsa.ed.gov/deadlines.htm. Check with your college about its deadlines as well.
If you haven’t already, explore additional scholarship opportunities, every little bit helps. Are you an amateur green thumb interested in pursuing agriculture? There’s a scholarship for that! Do you have sick dance moves? There’s a scholarship for that, too.
2. Figure out your housing, meal plans, and transportation
If you’re moving away to college, you should know that many schools require freshmen to live on campus. If you have the option of choosing a dorm, check out a school map and locate the main buildings where your classes may be to determine the ideal dorm location. On some sprawling campuses, “on-campus” may be a mile or more from your daily destination. You don’t want to miss class because the 8 a.m. trek to your Intro to Psychology cross-campus class is two miles through a midwestern winter.
Check off-campus housing options if you can, and determine whether the full cost of living off-campus and commuting is worth it. If you’re required to purchase a meal plan, don’t opt for the premium options right away, they’re often expensive and wasteful. Think about your eating habits and preferences, and figure out if you have easily accessible (and healthy) options off-campus. Lastly, think long and hard about bringing your car to campus. On-campus parking, and parking tickets, can add unnecessary costs to your semester, and odds are you won’t use your vehicle frequently. Between rideshares, public transportation, and walking or biking, you’ll be glad you left your car behind. One more thing about transportation — if you’ll be moving away from home, start thinking about when and how often you’d like to visit home, as those costs can be significant.
3. Set a budget and look for a job
Once you know how much money you’ll need for your tuition, housing, and other expenses, you’ll want to set yourself a budget for all of your major and ancillary expenses. Be realistic, and set aside “fun” funds for going out and enjoying your college experiences. By planning for these expenses beforehand, you’ll know when you can splurge a little and when you should be more monastic. By checking your expenses against your budget once you’re in school, you’ll be able to determine whether you should skip that daily vanilla latte, or how you’re progressing toward your Spring Break beach getaway. Late spring and early summer are also ideal times to apply for the perfect work-study positions, or look for work near your campus. By fall, the best gigs will have been filled, so start early. Commit to fewer hours than you think, you can always add more. You’re a student first!
4. Go to orientation, connect with future classmates, and check out student activities
Colleges host multiple new-student orientation days throughout the summer. If you can, you should definitely attend. You’ll become familiar with the layout of your new home, know how to get from your dorm to your main buildings, and avoid the tell-tale mark of a freshman wandering around campus with a map.
If you’re at all apprehensive about your next big step, orientation will help with your jitters. You’ll have a chance to attend a club and organization fair in the beginning of your semester, but explore those opportunities while you’re at orientation or on your school’s website. From beekeeping to bhangra, there’s an opportunity for you to get involved. Can’t find the perfect club? Start one.
5. You can’t just show up
There are several pieces of “now that we’ve accepted you” paperwork that you’ll need to send back to your chosen school, so keep on top of that correspondence and task list. Mind the deadlines for work-study, housing, class registration, etc. Enjoy your summer, but don’t drop the ball.
What are you doing to prepare to enter college? Share your best tips with us.