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Friday, July 29, 2016

Ten Things High School Grads Need to do Before Leaving for College

Congratulations!  You are preparing to head off to your college campus for the first time!  What an exciting, and scary!, time this is.  Here are a few things for you to take care of so you'll be ready when you arrive.

1. Verify that your financial aid is ready

By now, you should have filed the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).  If not, complete and file it RIGHT AWAY! (

Early summer is a great time to check in with the financial aid office to verify that all of your paperwork is complete.  This will help prevent unpleasant surprises when you arrive.  Many colleges are great at communicating with incoming students but, sometimes, things can fall through the cracks.  Since this is mission critical, be sure to take a few minutes to give them a call to verify that everything is in good order.

Be sure to make arrangements to cover any gaps between the costs at your school and the financial aid you have been offered.  If you need some ideas, here is a blog from the Dept. of Education: 7 Options to Consider if You Didn't Receive Enough Financial Aid.

If you are taking out student loans to help pay for college, be sure to borrow only what you need and to keep track of what you borrow.  You'll likely be borrowing again in future years.  For your federal loans, you can see your loans here: .

2. Find A Part Time Job Near or On Campus

Working while you are in college is a good idea for most students.  The extra demands on your time will actually hlep you use your time better.  Most college students struggle to use their time well.  The schedule at college is vastly different from traditional high school (but not that different for most homeschooled students).  Having so much free time is a definite temptation to spend time having fun while not spending enough time studying.

Additionally, you'll have the opportunity to develop your money management skills and to contribute toward your expenses at school.  When you "have some skin in the game", when you are contributing your own hard earned money to paying for your college, you are literally more invested in your success.  You realize that failing is going to cost you; you potentially will lose your investment.  Sometimes called sweat equity, personal contributions to an effort generally make a strong positive impact on the outcome. Studies have shown that working while you are in school actually has a positive impact on your grades.  They have also shown that, until you are working 30 or more hours per week, there is not usually a negative impact.

If you are interested in working while you are in school, it's a good idea to explore the options before you arrive on campus.  If you were awarded federal work study as part of your financial aid package, here are eight things you should know about it.  Of course, being awarded work study does NOT guarantee you a job!  Some schools help match students to jobs but most do not.  You will need to find, apply, and interview for positions on your own.  Check with the financial aid office about whether your campus has a work study office which coordinates these jobs.  You may not get your first choice job your first year; oftentimes, Fall jobs are snatched up at the end of the Spring term.  There will still be jobs for the freshman, they simply aren't likely to be the most popular jobs.  I recommend getting a job in the financial aid office, so you will know about new scholarships as they are created or a job as a parking lot attendant or other position which will allow you to study while you are working.

3. Craft a Good Resume and Learn how to Network

Since work experience is important when you are looking for a job after you graduate college, it's a good idea to focus your search on jobs related to your career field.  Create a resume now, before you head to campus, so you are ready to apply and interview as soon as you arrive (you may even be able to apply online before you arrive!).  Most employers want to see a resume.  Preparing one now, before you go, obviously, will be helpful.

Also, look for networking events for professionals in your desired field, and attend.  Get yourself out there!  Make contacts with people in the industry.  Keep your ears open for opportunities to work an internship in their offices, even if it will be unpaid.

4. Have an appropriate email address

Sometimes students have emails which will not make a good impression on potential employers.  Avoid having an email like heretoparty@... and the like.  Yes, have an email address which is not associated with the college or university you will attend.  While you will get a college email address, having a permanent email address is important, too.  You'll be able to apply for jobs before you arrive on campus and get that student email address.  Potential employers will have both an email address and your phone number to use when contacting you to arrange an interview (which may be able to be done via Skype or FaceTime if you haven't moved to campus yet).

5. Create a Budget and a Bank Account

Sit down with your parents and sort out who will be paying for what.  Know what you will be responsible for and how you will take care of your portion.  Know the dates you'll need to make payments.  It will be helpful to sit down with your financial aid award and the list of costs (found on your school's website if it's not included in the aid award).  Add insurance, transportation, school supplies, toiletries, cell phone service, and entertainment (movies, pizza, etc.) to it.  If you are not sure how to create a budget, here's an article and a tool to help you.  And here are some tips!

Create a bank account with a bank or credit union with location(s) near your campus.  It's best to find one with location(s) near your parents - or an app they can use to access your account.  You definitely want to make it easy for them to put money into your account!  And easy for you to access cash when you need it.  Be sure to keep close tabs on your balance.  With most transactions happening electronically, it's easy to lose track of how much money you are actually spending and really have available.

6. Register for Classes and Take Charge of your Calendar

Watch for emails and mail from your college.  Be sure to follow the instructions and complete any online pre-registration requirements.  Register for your courses as early as you can.  Sites like can give you insight into the temperaments of the various professors you might have.  I encourage you to take the time to do a little research; it can make an enormous difference when you get to campus.  If you think having some teachers in high school was preferable to having other teachers, that is even more important at college, when professors have nearly complete free reign in their classrooms.

Once you have registered for your classes, sit down and prepare a weekly schedule.  Then think about what you will need to do to be successful on campus.  When will you need to go to bed in order to get up in time to be at your first class, which is a fifteen minute walk from the cafeteria which, in turn, is a ten minute walk from your dorm.  How long do you need to allow yourself to get dressed, etc. before you are ready to hike to the cafeteria?  In the worst weather expected during the semester?  Take a look at how the rest of your day will flow.  Determine when you can work and study.  Now you are ready to set up a work schedule with your new employer.  At least, you'll have it ready when you get to campus and are out interviewing for positions.

When possible, go online and get your syllabus for each course.  Order your books and supplies.  Pay any lab fees.  Note the deadlines for papers, exam dates, reading week, and finals week on your calendar.  Schedule out extra time to study before the various exams and make two or three preliminary deadlines to work on your papers.  In college, procrastination leads to failure.

Don't forget to note where you can buy toiletries and school supplies and clothing near campus.  You will definitely need to do some shopping now and again!

7. It's time to Embrace the Coupon and the Sale!

BOGO is a key to stretching your few college dollars.  Take a look at Groupon and other opportunities for learning about deals on and around campus.  Your college ID will be the ticket to many student discounts; learn to watch for them.

Textbooks are a major expense.  From the syllabi (that's the plural form of syllabus), you will learn which books are required and which are suggested for each class.  You have several options for getting your books: the college bookstore - for new and used (pay attention to the version/publication date!), Amazon, and many other vendors.  You can also rent your textbooks and/or get electronic versions of them.  For classes outside your major, renting books is ideal.  You probably don't want to keep them.  For classes in your major, you may well want to keep the book, at least for a while as you take the next course in the series (so you can refer back to it).  Whether to get actual books or e-books is a major consideration.  While e-books are certainly easier to carry around, studies have confirmed that we retain what we write and manipulate much better than what we merely read or type.  Sometimes saving a few dollars on texts will cost your grades, which is not a good trade off. 

Should you purchase the "optional" books on the syllabus?  it depends on whether you want to have a shot at getting an A in the course.  I refer you to "How to Become a Straight A Student" by Cal Newport for guidance on determining which of the readings you really need to read in order to be able to excel.  (If you haven't read this book yet, I strongly encourage you to do so.  The tips are invaluable.)

At the end of the term, be sure to sell back the books (whether you got them new or used) that you bought and don't want to keep.  If your school isn't using them for the next term, you may not be able to sell them to the college bookstore.  Take a look online for other opportunities to sell them.  And do it right away.  It's far too easy to get distracted at the end of the term and miss the window of opportunity.

8. Lessons in Safety

Dorms are wonderful places to live.  Lots of interesting people living together engenders lively conversation and lots of fun.  However, theft is a real problem.  Determine how you will lock your laptop (not having that is a catastrophic problem when a paper is due!!)  Discipline yourself to back up your files to the cloud so you can retrieve them if something awful does happen.  For the other items that you will take to campus, think about what you need to secure and explore options to do so.  Kryptonite locks for bicycles, ways to secure your jewelry, other electronics, etc.

Program Campus Safety's number into your phone.  And be prepared to use it!  Do NOT walk across campus alone at night!  Learn some self defense techniques, especially the habit of being aware of your surroundings.  Learn basic first aid so you can help yourself and those around you.

Now that you are heading out on your own, there is significant information and some sensitive documents that you also need to protect.  Employers often want to see your social security card but it's not a prudent thing to carry.  Where will you keep it?  How will you track your usernames and passwords?  Post-it notes on your desk, or in your desk drawer, are not good places to keep track of passwords!  If you create a file of usernames and passwords, remember to password protect it.  And find a way to keep track of that password, too!

Set up expectations with your parents regarding communication.  They will want to know that you are safe and doing ok.  They will want to know if you need their help or advice.  They certainly will want to know when you plan to visit or when they would be welcome to visit you.  Be sure to share your new address with them and any other relatives who might send you a care package (what a joy it is to get one of these!!!) (A care package usually contains food and goodies as well as practical, useful items.  It's terrific to get one just when you are running out of things!)

9. Be ready to file your FAFSA!

Beginning in 2016, the FAFSA will be available starting October 1 for the following school year.  As a returning student, it's probably fine to wait until Christmas break to file yours but it's worth checking with your financial aid office BEFORE you leave for campus.  If they want it sooner than that, make sure you have the required tax information and that you schedule it on your calendar.  Remember, with financial aid, it's first come, first served!

10. Explore the possibilities

A huge study was done recently about whether certain colleges produced students who were happier in their lives and careers.  It found that the college or university attended didn't matter.  What mattered was what students did while they were on campus.  They found six factors to be key:

1. Find a professor who makes you excited about what you are learning
2. Find professors who care about you as a person
3. Find a mentor
4. Work on a project that lasts more than one term
5. Do an internship or get a job in your field
6. Participate in extracurricular activities

So, before you get to campus, take time on you college's website to explore the various opportunities, both academic and extracurricular.  Note what is required to participate.  For example, courses might need to be taken in a particular sequence in order to accommodate a study abroad program or an internship or summer research program.  Have a few extracurricular activities in mind before you arrive on campus and seek them out once you have gotten settled into your dorm.  Many colleges have orientation events which usually provide an opportunity to meet people in various clubs and organizations.  You will profit well from those events if you know which groups you'd like to explore.

Congratulations on your decision to attend college.  All the best to you!

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