Every year, thousands of students and parents begin to prepare for college. It seems there are no set rules for this preparation. Every family decides to prepare is different ways, and sometimes, those ways either help or hinder the family in their transition from high school student to college student. Regardless of how many people tell you it’s not a struggle, it is, it’s one of the most stressful times in a family’s life.
During this struggle, many families make mistakes; mostly because they don’t have the help needed to know what tasks should be completed to smoothly enter this new world. Guidance counselors offer only little help, usually only in the way of financial aid, and sometimes, even finding adequate help in that department can be like pulling teeth.
Personally, I know I made several mistakes before my first year of college, mostly because I was pretty nervous about such a huge transition. Instead of letting that happen to you, I’m going to give you some advice so you don’t make the same mistakes that I and many others have.
- Apply for Financial Aid Early! All colleges require you to fill out a financial aid application by the name of FAFSA. This application will determine how much aid you are able to get for one school year. Each year a new application can be filled out starting on January 1st. It’s a rather lengthy application and requires a pin number. This pin number is how you will electronically sign the application. Keep the pin in a safe place. If you are a dependent student, or the parent of a dependent student, you will need to have a pin number for both parties. The FAFSA requires tax information on how much the student earned the last tax year, and how much the parent earned last tax year. The application also includes several other questions on various topics. This will help determine your eligibility for loans, grants, work study and other federal aid. You should file this before March 1st. Keep your pin number in a safe place because this number will be used each year you fill out a financial aid application, which means, every year that you are in college. If you lose your pin, you can recieve another by filling out a new pin request form on the FAFSA website.
- Communicate with your schools Financial Aid Office for Conflicts. I have found that schools try and give out the least amount of financial aid possible. My first year, my FAFSA application said I didn’t have to pay a single dime; several weeks later, I received a letter from my school saying I owed over $2,000, and that was $2,000 I did not have. I had to work double time to try and find ways to pay off this amount of money that I knew I could not. Eventually, after calling the school, I was able to increase my loans, which helped take care of tuition. Financial Aid offices can also help direct you toward possible grants and scholarships that you may be eligible for. Bug them as much as you have to if you need extra help.
- Apply for all the Scholarships you can. I made the mistake of not doing this. I saw that FAFSA said I was going to get financial aid to cover my college costs, therefore I said no to scholarship applications and did nothing, which only put me into debt (you have to love those student loans). Don’t ignore the chance to get free money; it could save you thousands in the future. You can also find scholarship opportunities online. Fastweb.com is a popular place to search.
- If you plan to live on campus, reserve a room early! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard college students stay they waited until the last minute to send in room deposit money, only to be stuck with a person they cannot stand, the worst room in the building and so on. Fill out an application early, and send it in, especially if you are considering rooming together with a friend. This will definitely ensure your chances of getting the roommate you want.
- Work some type of summer job. College can get expensive, even if all of your tuition costs are covered. You have books to buy, supplies to buy, not to mention food and other items you’ll want. No one wants to stay in while the others go out for dinner together. Even if you baby sit, write for Associated Content, or do random odd jobs, work! You will thank me for this advice later.
- Open a checking account. No one wants to carry around a few hundred dollars in cash while on campus. Theft, regardless of what campus security says, or what you hear, is a very common occurrence. A checking’s account with a check card will really come in handy. That will allow you to withdraw money from ATM machines, pay for purchases at most stores, and will be a lot harder for people to use if stolen. Checks will also come in handy if you need to purchase books, or other items which will give you a bit of extra time to deposit money into your account if you need it. It will also be easier for parents to help give you cash if you need it.
- Start Shopping for School Supplies early. This goes for everything that you’ll be buying for college, from a fridge, to microwaves, to other large appliances. I’ve noticed that right around the time schools are a few weeks away from starting, things start flying off the shelves, and some students return to school empty handed. To see what you can and can’t have in your dorm room, check your school’s website, or refer to your resident hall information book. Either of these should state completely what you can and cannot have in your room. I suggest you follow it carefully. If you are having a hard time affording these purchases, sometimes, relatives will be more than happy to help you out. Most graduating high school students will receive cash around graduation time. Put these to good use. Don’t waste it.
- Buy your books online (through a friend, etc) to save yourself loads of trouble. Books cost a lot. College students will tell you these are the worst things that you have to buy. There are some pretty basic rules to buying cheaper books. First, buy used. Second, buy them early online. Several sites will sell used and new college textbooks for cheaper than school bookstores. And third, buy them from someone else. I’ve dealt with students whom had the same class before me that was looking to sell their textbooks. They sold the books to me for the price the bookstore would have given them at buyback time. I saved almost 50% buy dealing with students instead of bookstores. Ask around, you will almost always find someone looking to get rid of books.
- Contact your roommate once you know who they are. By doing this, you can save yourself a few problems. First, you’ll find out a lot about your roommate through something such as a simple phone call. Some schools are now using email address and IM names for roommate contact information. Talking to your roommate now will help you determine your likes and dislikes and your habits. Some people are night owls; others are up at the crack of dawn. To avoid certain conflicts, fill out your roommate application honestly. Lying will only hurt you, as you are the one that has to live with a roommate you cannot stand. However, conflicts can sometimes be solved with simple room changes. Some colleges implement a friendly move day, where students can exchange rooms for other rooms where they are more comfortable. If you cannot make it work, switch rooms.
- Visit the campus and surrounding town before move in day. Not knowing how to get to school and not knowing where your dorm is can cause a lot of stress on move in day. Pick a weekend and visit the campus and town. Many schools offer campus tours at many times during the year. Schedule a day to visit and spend the day visiting shops, restaurants and other locations that may come up during your college year. This way, you’ll at least have an idea as to where you are going, and you’ll know where to go when you get there. This will help you move in successfully and less stressfully.
If I had thought about most of the above tips before my first year of college, I know my transition would have been smoother and I would have been more prepared for college life. I know that my anxiety levels about starting anew would have been less if only I had followed the above tips. I hope I have helped relieve your anxiety about starting your freshman year of college.