You're in. Now what? What to do before college

You've gotten into college. Here's a breakdown of what to do before college begins so you can start your first year with confidence.
Written by Melissa Sartore, Contributor
Two female college students with natural curly hair perch on a college dorm room bed, holding their phones. The room is colorful and cluttered.
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Congratulations! You're about to start your college adventure. 

It's an exciting time that may seem a bit overwhelming. Knowing what to do before going to college can take away the stress you may feel about starting school. It can also ensure you're prepared, informed, and ready to start your first year on the right foot. 

Here are 16 personal, financial, and academic tasks to finish before you go to college.

1. Research and think about possible majors.

Some students start college knowing their major, but many do not have a major during their first year or two in school. If you fall into that second group, here are a couple of strategies to help you decide. 

Look at your school's majors and to determine what's available. When you talk to an academic advisor and register for classes, sign up for introductory courses in one or two majors to see if they align with your interests and skills. 

2. Attend orientation.

Colleges and universities hold orientations to introduce you to campus and your peers. Orientations offer information about resources and opportunities that await you.

If your school doesn't provide the information upon your acceptance, check its website to see when, where, and how to attend. You may need to register to go. Find out about parking, orientation schedules, food options, and any other aspects of the orientation that you can in advance.

3. Set up your online college portals.

Your college's online portal will have links to campus resources, registration and financial aid information, and general updates to keep you informed. You will also have a college email address that you should make sure is active. 

You may receive information about setting up your online resources at orientation. These directions should tell you the appropriate office on campus to visit or the steps to take to set up your account. If you don't receive that information, ask an academic advisor or contact student services.

4. Discuss with your caretaker(s) about college finances.

Knowing your expenses and how you will pay for them while in college is important. You should talk to your parents, guardians, or any other individual involved with your finances before you go to college. 

As you look at your finances with your caretakers, write out a budget. Then talk about whether or not you will get a job, how to set up a bank account (if you don't have one), and work together on how bills and expenses will get paid. 

Going to college with an idea of what financial resources you have can prevent you from overspending and help you determine what types of aid you may need.

5. Complete your FAFSA (if applicable).

Before you enroll, you should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. Most traditional and online colleges accept FAFSA. The FAFSA assesses your financial resources and determines your eligibility for financial aid. You may qualify for scholarships, grants, work study, and loans to help you pay for college. 

The FAFSA itself is available online, making it accessible and easy to fill out. If you need help completing a FAFSA, contact the financial aid office at your college or university.  

READ THIS: What is the FAFSA?

6. Prepare for your living arrangements.

College isn't just classes — you need to sleep somewhere. You need to determine whether you will live at home, off-campus, or on-campus before you arrive. 

If you plan to live at home, you're covered.

If you want to live on-campus in a residence hall, you need to work with the housing office at your school. They will determine where you live and with whom. They wil also inform you about requirements and regulations for your new residence.

 Off-campus accommodations require finding an apartment or a house and, potentially, a roommate. Your college or school may have resources to guide you. 

7. Get in touch with your roommate (if applicable).

A roommate can help you with expenses in an off-campus living arrangement. In an on-campus setting, a roommate may simply be assigned to you. Either way, getting to know your roommate is important. 

Exchange contact information with anyone you agree to live with or get that information from your school. Decide who will bring what essentials for you to share, establish expectations on both sides, and identify any special circumstances that may affect your living situation. 

8. Find out your school's COVID-19 protocols.

Before you arrive on campus, you need to know what your school requires around COVID-19. This will help you and those around you stay safe and prevent any possible confusion as you attend classes or events on campus.

Your school's website should have information about COVID-19 protocols. You can also contact student services to find out what you need to do to protect yourself and others. 

9. Prepare for your move, go shopping, and pack up your belongings.

If you plan to live on campus, find out what days are available to move into campus housing. If you are living off campus in an apartment, figure out what day you can move in and arrange for help, as applicable.

To prepare for your move, make a checklist with what you need to live, work, and study while at school. Placing items into boxes, bins, or suitcases ahead of time gives you insight into what you need to buy before you get to college. 

Don't neglect things you want to have around you. Keepsakes and reminders of home are important to take with you, especially if you are leaving home for the first time. 

10. Purchase technology.


You likely have a phone or a tablet, but in most cases, this isn't what you'll need in a college class. 

If you have a laptop, make sure it has the software you need to write papers, take notes, and do other assignments. Many schools offer students software for free or at a discounted price.

You may need a new laptop if yours doesn't meet technical requirements. Check with your college for information about discounts and details on new technology. When you go to a store or shop online, ask about student discounts.

11. Get organized: Buy a planner or use digital planning tools.

College requires time management and organization and tools exist to help you with both. Writing information in a student planner or using productivity apps allows you to keep track of important dates and deadlines. 

Identify time management strategies to use planning tools effectively. Different strategies work for different types of workers and learners, so reflect on how you spend your time as you explore options.  

12. Complete any required summer reading.

Not all classes have summer reading, but some courses may have work you need to do before class starts. By doing the required reading, you enter your classes ready for the content and prevent any confusion or catching-up during the first few weeks of class.

You can check departmental and course websites for reading lists. Contacting an instructor to ask about required reading is an option as well. 

13. Set social media boundaries for yourself.

You'll benefit from setting multiple boundaries around social media use. 

As part of time management, you should limit the amount of time you spend online. You can set up time limits and schedules for social media apps on your phone to limit usage. Productivity apps can help with this, too. 

You also need to make sure you only post public content that you would want a potential employer to see at some point in the future. Keeping your posts private is probably the way to go unless you feel comfortable about any member of the public viewing your post. 

14. Spend time with friends and family.

If you are leaving home to attend college, you should spend time with your family and friends before you go. It will be a while before you get to see them in person, although keeping in touch with them online is an option once you leave. 

Even if you don't leave home, college will keep you busy. Quality time before classes start gives you opportunities to see family and friends without the worry you may feel later. 

15. Set personal goals for your first year.

Before you start school, have an idea of what you want to accomplish during your first year. Having personal goals gives you something to work toward and keeps you on track throughout the year. 

You can track your goals in a journal or computer document. Storing them in your phone's note app is another option. If you appreciate visual reminders, consider making a vision board for your wall.

16. Research how to get involved.

At college, you will meet people through classes and at events. Being part of the campus community helps you acclimate to college. And bonds you form with classmates and friends can last a lifetime. 

If you have a cause you want to support while at college, do your research and identify organizations you can join. Intramural sports, student groups, hobby circles, and other activities also exist. Check the school's website and event calendar to see what's out there. 

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