You did it! You are going to college, congrats! As you finish off high school and enjoy end-of-year celebrations, you’ll want to start looking toward your summer. Here are my top tips on what you’ll need to accomplish before leaving for college, culled from my new book, Moving to College: What to Do, What to Learn, What to Pack. I hope these give you the guidance you need as you launch the next phase of your life.
Regardless of how much financial aid you’ve received, you’ll want to earn some money to spend on costs that you may not have factored in (think transportation, books, and supplies) and for unexpected expenses—not to mention having some cash on hand to enjoy a social life too!
Start looking for a summer job as early as possible, as you’ll face stiff competition from other students (“The Ultimate Guide for Summer Jobs for Teens”). And continue to apply for scholarships, as many may still be available (“The 10 Best Sites to Look for Scholarships”).
Before leaving home, you’ll want to get your parent’s help and work out a monthly or semester budget you can live by (“How to Make a Budget: A Primer for College Students”) and decide where you’ll bank (“Picking a Bank Account: 7 Things College Students Need to Know”) and how you’ll manage a credit card (“Tips for Managing Credit Cards”).
Now is the time to clip coupons for big box stores where you’re likely to be shopping for your dorm essentials (like Bed Bath & Beyond). Always ask for student discounts (“60 Awesome Student Discounts”)!
2. Network with Future Classmates and Roommates.
Get on the Facebook group for your college class and talk to current students you know (or your friends know) at your college for their advice. If you are opting to find your own roommate, get on sites like RoomSurf (“Choosing Your First College Roommate”).
Once you have one or more roommates, whether you’ve chosen them or your college has done so for you, reach out to get to know each other. You’ll also want to agree on shared items and who is bringing them, or if you’ll share the cost of rentals. You’re likely to want a mini fridge but some students also like to have a microwave, coffeemaker, hot water kettle, and printer—if they’re allowed. Also find out any allergies others may have when deciding what foods to bring. You could create a Facebook group if you’ll be sharing a suite, in order to ease the coordination (“5 Ways to Bond With Your Roommate Before You Move in this Fall”).
3. Make a Packing List. Then Make it Shorter.
When it comes to packing for your dorm room, keep this motto in mind: Less is best. Dorm rooms are typically very small, including tiny closets, so stick to the absolute essentials (you’ll also need to store your stuff in the summers, either through local storage or by carting it back home—one more reason to go easy on quantity). Be sure to check out some great products aimed at maximizing the use of your small space and organizing your stuff so you can actually find it. Bring less, but don’t skimp on quality; you’ll want durable items that can last several years.
My book, Moving to College, features the most comprehensive shopping list, by category, separated by essentials vs. extras, with lots of product recommendations and reviews. If you focus on the essentials, your packing list should be reasonable.
To save money on new purchases, collect store coupons early, watch for sales, and always ask for student discounts (“60 Awesome Student Discounts”). Beware of all-in-one dorm room packages the colleges may plug, as they are often not a great value (and allow very limited choice), despite the apparent convenience. And make sure to save all your receipts, for ease of returns.
Finally, leave knickknacks and valuables like nicer jewelry or fancy watches at home!
4. Take Care of all Health Matters.
Now is the time to get your physical, dental cleaning, eye doctor, OBGYN and any other checkups completed (and submit the necessary forms to your college). If you need regular care beyond what you can schedule when you visit home or what your college health center will be able to provide (for chronic conditions or counseling, for example), secure a specialist near your college campus (“Finding a Therapist for Your College Student: What Parents Need to Know”). In the case of a mental health care provider, you may be able to plan for regular remote check-ins via Skype or phone.
Make sure you understand your health insurance plan—whether you’re covered under your parent’s plan or your opt for the college or an independent plan—including what is covered, co-pay fees, and how to fill prescriptions (“6 Health Insurance Options for College Students”). Come to campus with copies of your health insurance cards, your personal and family health history, a 90-day supply of your prescriptions, and instructions for refills (extra paper prescriptions can’t hurt either).
5. Learn Life Skills.
If you have not practiced these, now is the time. Do you know how to…
- Eat a balanced diet, make basic dorm room foods, and shop for groceries?
- Avoid getting sick, get enough sleep, stay fit, and manage your stress?
- Take care of yourself or your roommate when one of you is sick, or deal with a medical emergency?
- Do your laundry, some basic ironing, sew on a button, shine shoes?
- Stay safe, protect yourself from sexual assault, avoid the risks of alcohol and drug abuse?
- Keep your valuables safe and what to do if you lose them?
- Manage your time and keep track of important dates?
- Take notes, foster a strong relationship with professors, and get academic help?
- Live on a budget, maintain your financial aid, pay bills, and manage bank, credit and debit card accounts?
- Arrange for bus, train, and plane reservations and navigate an airport and train/bus terminals?
- Maintain your bike, keep it secure, and ride safely?
You’ll find tips on these and more life skills in my book, Moving to College.
6. Finalize the logistics for your travel to campus.
You’ll want to get to your college town the day before so you can have everything ready for an early start on move-in day.
Taking a plane, bus, or train? Monitor pricing for the best deals on tickets. You’ll need to be doubly frugal with what you pack to avoid luggage fees; be sure to check on baggage allowances and weight restrictions. When flying, choose an airline that allows the most bags for free, check in duffel bags with your clothing and other personal essentials, and bring any valuables (think jewelry, documents, prescription medications, electronics) on board with you. Don’t pack anything you can buy or pick up near campus, such as toiletries, over-the-counter medications, kitchen items, and study supplies. You may also choose to ship several boxes out ahead of your arrival.
Driving? Make sure your car is in good shape and plan your route, including overnight stops along the way. Driving provides many advantages since you can simply pack and go, but be sure not to take that as permission to bring too much, or you’ll regret it once you’re trying to stuff everything into your tiny dorm room. Avoid packing items in heavy rigid trunks or large boxes that can’t easily be lifted by one person—keep in mind you’re likely be carrying these up one or more flights of stairs to your room.
7. Enjoy some much-earned downtime at home with family and friends.
Last but not least, do make sure to carve out time to enjoy summer with your loved ones and pals. This is a very special moment in your life, so take the time to recognize and celebrate your accomplishments and the promise for your future. And it can’t hurt to thank those who helped you along the way, from family members to special teachers and mentors. They are no doubt proud and deserve to share some credit for your successful launch!
For more, check out Moving to College: What to Do, What to Learn, What to Pack.
Practical Resources include:
A step-by-step list of things to do, from decision to move-in day, such as:
- Booking hotel rooms ASAP for parents’ weekend
- Securing scholarship money to close financial aid gaps
- Understanding your health plan options and HIPAA waivers
The life skills every student should learn before leaving home, including:
- Staying safe and handling a medical emergency
- Managing expenses and staying on a budget
- Handling common roommate problems
The most comprehensive college packing list, for every category, featuring:
- Dorm life essentials and what’s a waste of money
- Extensive product information and reviews
- Packing and move-in day tips to ensure a stress-free move
Hundreds of resources, with links at your fingertips, including:
- The best stores for college dorm shopping, with tips on student discounts
- Where to buy, rent, and sell textbooks so you never pay full price
- Great books, websites, and blogs for both students and parents
About Helene: Hélène Tragos Stelian is mom to twin daughters, who are leaving for college in the fall. She is the author of 3 books, including Moving to College: What to Do, What to Learn, What to Pack and is a contributing writer to Huffington Post. She also mentors first-generation, under-resourced Chicago teens on the college application process. Hélène founded Next Act for Women, to share stories of midlife reinventions and is a professional transition coach, working primarily with women in midlife who feel stuck or lost, often as a result of an impending empty nest—she’s been there!
This post was first published on University Parent.
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