What You Need to Know Before You Go
Preparing for college before the first day sets up new students for success. Beginning college can be overwhelming, even for learners who have taken college-level classes in the past. Knowing how to navigate the campus can build confidence and help students successfully transition to college life.
Our college preparation checklist walks through every step needed to arrive on campus ready to learn. We cover tips for moving into the dorms, succeeding in online classes, and returning to school as an adult learner.
Preparing for College
Whether you are a first-time freshman, a transfer student, an online student, or a returning learner, it's important to prepare for college. Undergrads moving away from home for the first time face different challenges than adults returning to school after a break, so our college preparation checklist covers every type of student.
If you have spent several years at a community college before transferring to a large university, then you may feel prepared for college. But college is about more than showing up for class -- it's also about connecting with the campus community and making the most of your college experience.
What Should Freshmen Do to Prepare for College?
What should freshmen do to prepare for college? Before classes start, college freshmen should create a college preparation checklist that covers classes, their living situation, and their new campus.
Even before moving into the dorms or an off-campus apartment, you can practice your independence skills by going to the grocery store and doing your own laundry. Connecting with new roommates before move-in day can also cut down on anxiety, since you will already know someone at school. You should also pack pictures of your friends and family to decorate your new room.
The following sections break down how to prepare for college to help you create a college preparation timeline and start college strong.
Before College Classes Starts
Freshmen should spend several weeks preparing for college before the first day of class. The following tips can help students prepare for college even before arriving on campus.
Get Signed Up for Classes
At many schools, incoming students sign up for classes during freshman orientation or a special registration period, usually several weeks before class starts. New students should invest time in researching potential classes before enrolling. If you have a good idea of your major, make sure you sign up for classes that keep you on track to graduate on time. Undecided students should think strategically about completing general education requirements early in their college years.
It can feel challenging to know which classes you need, so it's a good idea to meet with an academic advisor to talk about your options. Your advisor can recommend courses, give feedback on the number of credits required to maintain your enrollment status, and walk you through how your course schedule fits with your graduation timeline.
Get to Know Your Schedule
Spend some time thinking about your schedule. A 9 a.m. class might not sound terrible compared to your start time in high school, but would you still feel that way halfway through the semester? You should also think strategically about clustering your classes together. By planning ahead, you can avoid Friday classes, for example, or arrange courses around your work schedule.
Additionally, consider class lengths when registering. Some students prefer shorter class periods to break up the day, while others would rather enroll in longer classes. Learners taking on-campus and online courses should make sure to understand the requirements for both formats before submitting their final schedule.
Finally, it's a good idea to pull out a campus map to find the buildings where classes take place. Many colleges only give 10 minutes between classes, so running from one end of campus to the other on time might be impossible at a large university.
Make Sure You've Filled Out Financial Aid Forms
Most college students receive some form of financial aid. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 85% of first-time undergrads receive financial aid. Before classes start, make sure to fill out all required financial aid forms to maximize your financial aid opportunities.
College students can fill out the FAFSA to qualify for federal financial aid. The Federal Student Aid office makes the FAFSA available on Oct. 1 for the next academic year, so plan to fill it out as soon as possible. Freshmen typically need their parents' financial information to complete the form.
In addition to the FAFSA, colleges may ask incoming freshmen to fill out additional forms to receive institutional financial aid. After completing financial aid forms, students need to make decisions on their funding package. In general, recipients should opt for scholarships and grants first since they do not require repayment. When taking out loans, make sure to understand the repayment options. Students paying their tuition out of pocket can also set up a payment schedule.
If Possible, Read the Syllabus Ahead of Time
Reading the syllabus before the first day can help you prepare for the semester. While some professors wait until class starts to hand out the syllabus, others post them ahead of time on the school's online portal. Many instructors also email a copy of the syllabus to students on request.
The syllabus can give you an idea of the course requirements and the books you need to buy. The syllabus also outlines the instructor's expectations for the course and their attendance policy, make-up policy, and other class rules. Mark down the due dates for assignments and test days for each class on your calendar to help you stay organized throughout the year.
Get Your Books, But Keep the Receipt
Ordering textbooks ahead of time can save students time and money. On the first day of school, the campus bookstore might be flooded with undergrads picking up books -- often at a huge markup compared to online prices. Students benefit from checking out the syllabus early and tracking down less expensive copies of required books ahead of time.
It's also a good idea to look for used copies of books, but you should check with professors before buying a different edition from the assigned book. Some classes require the newest edition, and sometimes used books do not include access codes for online material.
If you buy books ahead of time, make sure to keep the receipt and wait until class starts to unwrap sealed books. Some students drop the class or realize that the professor assigned the text as supplemental rather than required reading. Always pay attention to return policies, too. At some campus bookstores, students can only return books for a full refund during the first week of class.
Dorm Room Living
Moving into the dorms is often a fun and exciting experience for students. For many, the dorms are the first time living away from home. Before packing your bags, check out the following tips to stay organized and mentally prepare for college living.
Make a Dorm Room Checklist
Dorm life typically means small spaces, roommates, and extra-long twin mattresses. In the excitement of moving in, it can be easy to forget some of the essentials. Freshmen can start their time in the dorms right by making a dorm room checklist.
For example, undergrads should plan to bring their own bedding to fit the dorm mattresses. Along with sheets and a blanket, you should bring pillows, a laundry bag, and towels. Outfit your desk with school supplies and desktop organizers. Packing bookends can also help you arrange textbooks on your desk or shelves.
You should also add clothes, toiletries, and cleaning supplies to the checklist. Extras like a mini fridge, a television, or a coffee pot can help make the dorm room feel more like home, but make sure to coordinate with your roommate on any bigger items. Finally, it's a good idea to consider a grocery run for snacks and supplies after moving into the dorm.
Get to Know Your Roommate
Moving into the dorms usually means moving in with a roommate. If you are sharing a room with someone, it's a good idea to get to know each other, even if you don't become best friends. Before move-in day, reach out to learn more about your roommate and coordinate on outfitting your dorm room. Once you arrive on campus, hit the dining hall together or grab a coffee to connect.
In addition to your new roommate, make an effort to meet other people on your floor. You should also consider meeting the resident assistant, or RA, for your floor. RAs help freshmen move into the dorms and answer questions about dorm life. They also plan social events and make sure residents follow dorm rules.
Connecting with people in the dorms helps incoming students navigate the early days of college and figure out campus life as a team instead of alone.
Find Out Where the Utilities in Your Building are Located
Every dorm building comes with certain facilities that new residents should learn about as soon as possible. Some buildings house hundreds or even thousands of students, and it can feel overwhelming to learn the layout of the building. Plan to spend time between move-in day and the first day of classes scouting out the building and the surrounding area.
Find the laundry room -- it's probably somewhere in the basement -- and find out whether you need to buy detergent and add money to your card to wash your clothes. You should also find the dining hall and make sure your meal plan works. And remember to check the hours on the dining hall to avoid missing out on a meal.
College Campus Basics
Incoming students may feel overwhelmed with the size of their school's campus and the many services offered by the school. Some students don't even realize their campus has a student center, a swimming pool, or campus gym until their second or third year. The following tips can help new and returning students get acquainted with campus.
Check out the Gym and Campus Center
Most colleges offer campus services like a campus center and gym, but many students don't take advantage of these facilities. The campus center often includes a bookstore, restaurants that work with the campus meal plan, and study spaces. Some even include game rooms, student lounges, pool tables, and movie theaters.
At the gym, new students can learn more about the hours and rules. Do students need to bring their own towel or scan their student ID? Can undergrads reserve athletic facilities or swim in the pool? Some gyms offer free classes like spin, yoga, and boxing.
Undergrads should also check out the school's academic services, like the writing center, student advising, and the tutoring center. Additionally, visit the campus library and check out its study spaces and equipment rental policies.
If Needed, Research Parking on Campus
More than 85% of college students live off campus. Whether you are driving to school or taking public transit, it's a good idea to research your options before the first day of school.
Incoming students planning to drive should research where to park and any associated fees. At many schools, students parking on campus must apply for a parking pass, which can sometimes cost hundreds of dollars a year. Crowded campuses may even have a waitlist for parking passes.
Students taking night or weekend classes can check whether the parking policies change after certain hours. Many campuses let students park in lots closer to buildings after business hours. Some schools also offer public transit passes to cut down on campus parking.
Remember to Check Your Email for Updates
Many students start college and forget to check their school email, which can result in missing important notifications and messages from professors and the school.
To stay on top of your school emails, start by getting in the habit of checking your school email before class every morning. Professors might send messages about classroom changes or new assignments via email. Schools might also send emails about cancellations or campus closures. If checking another email address becomes a hassle, you can forward your school mail to another email address.
Finally, you should brush up on email etiquette as part of preparing for college. Read up on the appropriate ways to address professors to avoid making a bad impression.
Prepping for Online Classes
In 2018, nearly 7 million students took online classes, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Our college preparation checklist for online students offers tips to start strong in a distance learning environment.
Check if Your Class is Synchronous or Asynchronous
Online courses may operate synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous courses offer live instruction at a set time. Asynchronous courses do not require students to log in at a particular time. Instead, learners complete requirements, such as watching recorded lectures, on their own schedule within set deadlines.
Students with an asynchronous class should create a schedule before the term starts to make sure they don't fall behind. Even in asynchronous classes, degree-seekers must meet deadlines to submit assignments or take exams, so creating a schedule keeps new students on track.
Understand How Remote Learning Apps Work
Before the first day of class, online learners should understand how to use their school's remote learning tools. Each college uses different learning management systems to distribute coursework and collect assignments, including platforms like Blackboard, Canvas, and Moodle. Schools often provide tutorials that teach students how to use their system.
Learners may also need to use message boards, video conferencing apps, and other tools to access course materials online. Make sure to install any required apps on your computer before the first day of school and check that your device's camera and microphone work.
Set Up a Working Station
Create a working station to help you get in the school mindset. A desk or table with a comfortable chair can help you focus when working on assignments. Arrange your devices, chargers, and any other materials, like notebooks and textbooks, in the same spot to create a routine.
If the course includes video calls, you should find a space with good lighting and a neutral background. Finally, headphones can help you stay focused and avoid distractions.
Prepping as a Transfer Student or Adult Learner
Transfer students and adult learners face unique challenges when starting at a new college. Adult learners coming back to school after a break often wonder how do you mentally prepare for college? Transfer students may wonder how to smoothly transition to a new college. While many of the tips above apply to transfer students and adult learners, this section adds specific advice for their college preparation checklist.
Meet with an Academic Advisor
Transfer students and adult learners should meet with an academic advisor as early as possible to make sure they are on the right academic pathway.
Transfer students can confirm which of their prior credits count toward their degree to avoid retaking classes. Adult learners who took college classes can also discuss whether their new college grants credits for prior classes or any professional experience. An academic advisor can also help students map out an academic timeline.
Get Involved on Campus
Getting involved in campus organizations and activities helps transfer students and adult learners build a community at their new college.
Joining academic organizations can help incoming students network with fellow students in their field, while honor societies can build a student's resume so they stand out in the job market. Additionally, community service organizations let students give back to their community while connecting with other students. Sports and spiritual organizations also help students connect with people who share their interests.
College students should stay organized to keep up with their assignments and meet deadlines. For adult learners juggling school with work or family responsibilities, organization can mean the difference between succeeding in college or struggling.
Busy students need to set aside time to organize their schedule at the beginning of each term. Marking down deadlines, blocking off time to study, and organizing books and materials at the beginning of the semester helps students start off on the right track. By staying organized, students can set themselves up for success.
Online College Resources
Helping you prepare and gain the most out of your educational experience.