10 Ways to Prepare for CollegeAudrey
1. Get a Day Planner
I had never used a day planner in my life before college. They required us to purchase one for freshman orientation, and upon forking over another $10.99 of my limited funds, I scoffed and remarked on the waste of money: “I will never use this.” (If you’ve ever heard the expression “eating crow” and wondered what it meant, pay attention.) I used that planner more the first week than anything else I owned, and I continued to use it daily the entire year. It is VITAL to have a single place to write down class schedules, project meeting times, homework assignment due dates and details, and event logistics. As busy as college life is, you need to get used to writing down your life. You’ll be surprised how quickly you go from Aimless Bohemian to Lord of the Day Planner.
2. Choose Your Alarm
One of the benefits of homeschooling, the ability to sleep late in the mornings, can be a hard habit to shake, especially if you’re not a “morning person.” But the truth is, if you have morning classes, you’ll need to wake up for them. I would advise you to experiment beforehand with different methods of waking up. Figure out if you need loud beeps, quiet music, snooze or no snooze, vibrations, a dump truck…whatever works. It’s not likely that you’ll find someone to wake you up in the morning, so you need to figure this out. I personally hate waking up to sounds, so I set my phone on vibrate and it gently buzzes me awake each morning. If we tried that on my brother, he would sleep until the dawn of the millennial kingdom. (Particularly heavy sleepers who also own iPhones may want to check out this app. It worked wonders for my friend, Josh.)
3. Network with Other Students
In order to prepare yourself for living on campus, it makes sense to get an accurate picture of what living on campus is like. When you visit the school, talk to the students. Connect on Facebook, Google+, email, whatever you have. The campus tour guide and the school website may describe how things are supposed to be, but the students can tell you how they actually are. A simple way to get good information is to ask several different students to give you their three favorite things about the school, as well as their three biggest complaints. Also, ask if there was anything they wish someone had told them before they came to school. Their input can really help prepare you for real life at college.
One of the most valuable questions you can ask the students is about the professors. If you haven’t signed up for classes yet, ask for recommendations on which professors to take. If several students had an excellent experience with a professor, sign up for his or her class. The right prof can make you love a subject that you would have hated otherwise (and a bad prof can make you hate something you might have loved).
But remember, while they can be valuable, these are just students’ opinions, so take them with a grain of salt. Keep their comments in mind, but also remember that they may just have had a bad experience, have a bad attitude, or they might just love to complain. You can have a completely different experience if you choose to come at things with a better attitude.
4. Communicate with Your Roommates
If you’re living on campus, it’s unlikely you’ll have a room to yourself. You might even have three or four people in one room. Get their contact information now and start figuring out who is bringing what. It will be unfortunate if you end up with three microwaves and no coffeemaker. One of the easiest ways to do this is to start an email or Facebook message thread that includes all of your roommates so you can hit “reply all” and everyone can see what everyone else has to say. Don’t be nervous about initiating this; you’ll thank yourself later. Introduce yourself and invite them to start coordinating on the room. Send them a list of all the things you think everyone may want or need for the room, and ask for their suggestions. Include things like rugs, appliances, vacuums, curtains, TVs, posters, plants…anything you can think of. Cut out anything that you don’t all deem necessary. (Be sure to check your dorm regulations to see what items might be prohibited and what, if anything, might be provided—such as window blinds, perhaps.) Then, evenly divide up the responsibility for purchasing the items on your list. That way, everyone contributes, you get everything you need, and you don’t end up with anything extra.
Here are some other questions you may want to ask:
- Any allergies? – If your roommate is deathly allergic to peanuts and you walk in munching on a Reese’s peanut butter cup, you could have some problems.
- Preferred room temperature? – I frequently had secret, unspoken thermostat battles with my first roommate. I gave up and started wearing more sweaters.
- Things that annoy you? – Hair in the sink, snoring, laundry on the floor…
- Typical sleep/wake-up times? – Setting quiet hours may or may not be necessary.
Based on all this information, make some general rules for the room. Even if you don’t care about any of this stuff, your roommates might. They might care a lot, actually. Take this opportunity to serve them. If you can show them love by respecting even their ridiculously unreasonable preferences, and show them you care by going the extra mile to make them comfortable in the room, it will go a long way toward forming a strong relationship with the people you’ll be living with. Remember that people are more important than things. But, coming from the other end, don’t become a doormat because you’re too afraid to say what you really want or how you really feel. That’s not being decidedly self-sacrificing, that’s being a wimp. If you have a preference, be an adult and state it with confidence. Just be willing to give it up with a good attitude if you need to.
5. Get Your Books
Yeah, I know this sounds like a no-brainer. Of course you need books. What I mean is, get your books early so you can get your books cheaply. The sooner you get your class schedule finalized, the better. Figure out what books you need for each class, and shop around for the best deals. It’s likely that your school’s bookstore will rip you off. Not to sound cynical, that’s just the way it is. But once in a blue moon, the bookstore will be the cheapest place for something. Check the school website, and also check Amazon and eBay. Check Facebook and see if the students have created a black-market page for selling books to each other. If you have an iPad or a Kindle, you can often find cheaper e-book versions of textbooks.
Renting books has saved me oodles of money. Your school may have rentals available, or you should check out Chegg or Half.com. I’ve rented from both of these sites and had a good experience. (One advantage of renting, besides the low prices, is that you don’t have to worry about selling your books later. If you buy your books and a professor switches to a different book or to an updated version of your book next semester, you may not be able to find anyone to buy your book, and you certainly won’t be able to sell it back to the bookstore.)
Get the titles or ISBN numbers of each textbook you need, and look for them on all of these sites. Compare prices, and go with the cheapest. Remember to factor in shipping. If shipping is expensive, it might be cheaper to buy the book from the bookstore when you get to school (but don’t hold your breath). Rent some, buy some, and borrow some, and you’ll save a lot of money. Make sure to save your receipts, along with a list of which books you got from which places, and put it all in a safe place. This will make returns easy at the end of the semester.
6. Study Yourself
There are some things about your life that you should have memorized, or at least have a cursory knowledge of. If you haven’t done so yet, memorize your social security number, your driver’s license number, your bank account number(s) and pin numbers associated with those account(s), your insurance providers and policy numbers, your doctor’s name and recent vaccination dates, and your student account numbers and passwords. There will come a time when you’ll need to fill in all that information on some form, and your mom won’t be there for you to ask what it is again. Also, learn how to do your own taxes and FAFSA. I don’t like doing either of those things, but it’s a necessary evil.
7. Create a Budget
For most college students, finances are tight because you are trying to, you know, pay for college.
Familiarize yourself with your finances. Stay on top of how much money is in your account, how much is going in and going out, when payments for school are due, and the amount of the loans you’re taking out. Decide how much you can afford to spend on gas, food, necessities, and entertainment each week, and don’t spend any more than that. Have all of this figured out before you go to school, so you won’t have to call and ask Dad to transfer money to your overdrawn account.
8. Find Nutritious Snacks/Meal Replacers You Like
I frequently forget to eat. Don’t get me wrong, I love food, but sometimes I get so busy at school that I forget to schedule in time for meals. When your alarm goes off for a 7:40 a.m. class and you just stayed up till 4 a.m. writing an English paper, you will forgo breakfast for an extra 30 minutes of sleep. The best solution to this is to become a better time manager and eat breakfast. But, sometimes life just doesn’t work that way. I suggest having a decent stash of quick, healthy things to use as meal replacers. The day I started grabbing a Cliff Bar on the way to my 7:40 a.m. New Testament class was a revolutionary day in my life. I love Cliff Bars because they are organic, healthy, and more filling than most other granola bars, but other types work, too. You can usually find a good selection of power bars and meal replacer smoothies/milkshakes at your local grocery store. Apples can also be good for waking you up in the morning. Figure out what works now, and you’ll thank yourself later.
9. Wisely Manage Your Time at Home
If you’re leaving for college this fall, you only have a couple of weeks left. Decide how you want to spend your time. Make a bucket list of things you really want to do before you leave town. Most people never do the touristy things in their home area, even though they’re fun and interesting. If there are any attractions, sights, museums, state parks, beaches, or hiking trails near you that you, for some reason, have never experienced…go! If you don’t do it now, when will you?
More importantly, make sure to spend time with your family. I don’t care how badly you want to get out of the house, you will miss your family after a few weeks. I’m sure you’re really focusing on hanging out with your friends this summer because you know you won’t see them for a while. But don’t forget about your family. You have no idea how much you’ll miss eating a home-cooked meal with them, or watching a movie, or going to church. You’ll miss just sitting on the couch in your living room with your dog. Before you leave, try to do something special with each individual person in your family. Make sure you take time to really enjoy them these last few weeks. Clean the kitchen for your mom, or mow the lawn for your dad. Take your brother fishing, or take that skirt your sister keeps borrowing without permission and give it to her to keep. If you’re having arguments, try to set them aside as best you can, and apologize for anything you haven’t apologized for yet. You don’t want to leave home with any bitterness or hard feelings left behind.
This is the most important one. And definitely the one I do the least. See, I’m really good at thinking things through, but not so good at inviting God into that thought process and asking for his input. Pray for safe travels. Pray for your roommates. Pray for your professors and your classes. Pray for your sports and activities. Pray for your finances. Pray for your parents and your siblings. Pray for wisdom. Pray for direction. Pray for humility. Pray for confidence. Pray for the administration at your school. Pray for your emotions. Pray for growth in every area of your life.
College is a scary, exciting time, and you’re going to learn a lot. It’s probably going to change you. And I think that’s the biggest thing you need to prepare for. Prepare to be changed because it will change you. The only question is whether you’re going to let God change you to be more like him, or let the world change you to be more like it. You figure out how to always do that first one, and you’ll be fine.