10 Things to Do This Summer to Prepare for Your Freshman Year of College
Setting up your new life as a college student might take some time. There's a lot to do! Get a head start this summer with these 10 tasks.
Making the transition from high school to college can be exciting, difficult, and take longer than you expected. Sure, some students might adjust in just a few weeks. For others, it can take months to adapt to the “newness” of college life, as well as having more freedom and independence.
No matter how long your transition to college might take, you can set yourself up for an easier and less stressful time by handling some important tasks before freshman year begins. Here are 10 things you can do this summer – aside from attending freshman orientation and meeting your roommate – that will help prepare you for a successful freshman year.
1. Get Your Finances in Order
Most college students will have some responsibility for managing their spending money, tracking college costs, and staying on top of their financial aid. This responsibility can feel overwhelming at first, but you can develop and practice your money-management skills over the summer. Here are a few tasks you might want to tackle now.
- Create your college budget. Summer is a great time to establish your college budget and practice living within it while you’re still at home. If you need help setting up a budget, refer to CollegeData’s budget template.
- Figure out your banking needs. Most college students will need some type of bank account to deposit paychecks, financial aid disbursements, or funds from parents or other sources. You may want to open a joint account with your parents, and determine whether you’ll use a credit, debit, or prepaid card to pay for expenses. For tips on managing your money wisely, visit CollegeData’s financial literacy page.
- Review your student loan(s). If you’re taking out federal or private student loans, make sure you understand the loan terms. When will you be required to start making payments, and when will you or your college receive the money? If you’re a first-year undergraduate student and a first-time borrower of a federal student loan, your school may not give you your loan money until 30 days after the first day of your enrollment period. Check with your school to see whether this rule applies and budget your money accordingly. You’ll also be required to complete entrance counseling, where you’ll learn more about the terms of your federal loan and repayment options. To better understand how your student loans will affect your financial future after you graduate, visit 1FBUSA’s Student Loan Repayment and Affordability Calculator.
2. Make a family communication plan
Whether you’re attending school across town or across the country, the way you communicate with your parents is likely to change. For some families, a simple “good morning” text once a day, or every few days, is enough to stay connected, while others might talk or text multiple times a day.
To avoid conflicts and communication mishaps during college, consider talking to your parents now, about how — and how often — you plan to communicate with each other. Think about how much communication you might need to stay connected to your family, but also maintain your sense of privacy and independence. Ask your parents how often they’ll want to check in with you. Parents may expect more contact with them during your first few weeks of school, as well as in certain situations, like if you get sick, if you’re feeling homesick, or if you’re struggling in a class. Some families even set up a communication contract to help define communication boundaries and expectations.
3. Consider FERPA, HIPAA, and Medical and Financial Proxy forms
Once you turn 18, you have more privacy rights than you did as a minor thanks to two privacy laws: The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The FERPA prohibits colleges from sharing information in your student records — for example, your GPA, academic standing, financial aid, or disciplinary actions — with your parents without your consent.
The HIPAA prohibits health professionals from sharing your health information with your parents, except in emergencies. If you’d like your parents to have access to this information, you will need to sign FERPA and HIPAA waivers.
These waivers, however, only apply to the sharing of information. If you want your parents to be able to take action on your behalf in a healthcare, legal, or financial emergency, you’ll want to establish a Medical Proxy and a General Durable Power of Attorney. These will enable your parents or other designated individuals to make medical and financial decisions for you if you are incapacitated and cannot speak for yourself.
4. Learn what you need to de-stress
It’s a rare college student who doesn’t experience some level of stress or anxiety during their freshman year — and if the stress monster rears its ugly head, you’ll want to be prepared. Try to identify what activities help you best deal with stress, anxiety, and depression, so you can turn to them if needed. Is it physical exercise? Meditation? Talking to a mental health professional or a confidante? Listening to music?
If you gravitate towards unhealthy habits when feeling overwhelmed (such as overeating, marathon gaming, etc.) think about healthier options or seek support to manage these tendencies before college starts.
5. Review your college’s COVID vaccination policies
Most colleges plan to return to in-person instruction in the fall of 2021, and more than 500 are requiring COVID vaccines for students and/or faculty. Vaccination policies differ among colleges: some require vaccination only for students living on campus; some require it only for students and not for faculty, and others are requiring it for all students and faculty. Review this list of colleges that will require vaccines and plan accordingly.
6. Gather and safeguard important documents
You will need to bring some important documents with you to college and keep them in a safe place. For example, you might need proof of acceptance to register for classes, a photocopy of your birth certificate if you get a part-time job, and your health insurance card if you have a health emergency. Some of the documents you may need include:
- Driver’s license and/or passport (copy and actual)
- Health and dental insurance cards
- Copy of birth certificate
- Copy of social security card (if you don’t have one, summer is a good time to request one with the SSA.)
- Financial aid information
- Class schedule
- Student ID
- Immunization record/COVID immunization card
- Medical records, especially if you have a medical condition that needs regular treatment or medication
- Copies of your FERPA and HIPAA waivers
- Acceptance letter
- Housing and meal plan documents
Figure out how you’ll safeguard these documents while at school — you might put them on a flash drive, copy them to your smart phone, or keep hard copies in a secure location. Your parents should keep copies of these documents as well.
7. Plan to Get Involved on Campus
Getting involved with your college community has many benefits. Studies by California State University Sacramento and Purdue University showed that students who were active in campus activities and clubs stayed enrolled at higher rates, were more satisfied with college, and had better grades than students who were not. Many colleges hold club fairs when school starts, but you can get a head start researching clubs and organizations over the summer. Find out if any of the clubs or groups you’re interested in will require applications or auditions, or connect with organizations over social media and introduce yourself.
8. Practice some adulting skills
College life means more independence — and more responsibility for day-to-day tasks, like doing your laundry or getting the oil changed in your car. Take advantage of any extra time you have this summer to master these and other adulting skills. You’ll thank yourself when you always have plenty of clean underwear.
9. Search for scholarships
You’re more likely to have an easier adjustment to college if you are not worried so much about paying for it — and summer is a great time to search for scholarships. Thousands of scholarships are available to college students at all levels, with deadlines that fall throughout the year. To get an idea of scholarships you might qualify for, visit CollegeData’s Scholarship Finder.
10. Enjoy the moment
Starting college is an important milestone for you and your family, marking a new and exciting stage of your life. Consider planning a way to acknowledge this milestone, such as a special outing with your friends or a celebrational dinner with your family. Be sure to make time to enjoy shared experiences that are meaningful to you.
There’s no way to know for sure how long it will take you to adjust to your new college life. But tackling some of these tasks over the summer can help you anticipate the changes coming your way and help you feel more prepared as a college student.