Congratulations! You've been accepted into the college of your first choice, or second choice, or perhaps you'll be attending reluctantly as a part of some sort of negotiation between you and your parents ("as long as you're living under our roof, you have to either be in college or get a job").
Freshmen Need Mental and Moral Support
Freshman year can come as culture shock. You need support. Here are a few supportive moves to get you psyched mentally for the challenge of your first year of college.
1. Get the partying out of your system.
Seriously! Use the summer to visit friends and family. Have those parties now. This is especially true of freshmen still living in their hometowns and commuting to college. It's hard to make the break between high school and college when everything around you is the same as it was three months ago.
2. Create a support system.
There are people in your life that want to see you succeed. There are people in your life that want to see you fail. Beware of the "smart" friend who didn't need college, still lives with his grandma, and complains about everyone else's life going wrong. That person does not love you or support you. Use the summer to find people in your life who are going places. Stay connected with them.
3. Teach Grandma how to Skype.
Sometime in the first month of school you are going to feel lonely and unwanted and misunderstood — especially if you are far away from home. You know what's going to get you through? A few words from Grandma (and maybe a care package full of cookies). Get her used to video chats so that when she's missing you and you're feeling at your lowest point, you can connect.
4. Research on-campus mental health.
Find out who to talk to on campus if you are depressed or having difficulties adjusting. Many college campuses in the United States America have an office with psychological counseling and support, or the very least can refer you to someone off campus. Know where these people are beforehand. If you do need help later, you've made it that much easier to find.
5. Look into campus clubs.
Most colleges have an array of student and activities on campus. Some are well publicized and some aren't. Ask around and see what's available. This is a great way to connect with other students (especially if you're commuting) and it could lead the way to other opportunities later.
Freshmen Need to Learn to Live Without Mom and Dad
Freshman year is often the first year without parents to guide all manner of everyday living. Students arrive at this point with varying degrees of autonomy. Some were left to their own devices. Some had helicopter parents. But everyone is going to have to master the tasks of everyday living
6. Create a budget for the semester.
Parents and freshmen need to sit down to talk about a budget and create at least a rough outline of a budget. There might be financial aid coming in and bigger checks than freshmen have ever seen. They need to realize what needs to be paid at what time. Are they moving to a snowy area? Are they going to have to have a winter wardrobe they've never had before? What about gas for the car?
7. Load up the meal cards.
Check and see if the college offers a meal plan. (Hint to family and friends: a meal card would be a great gift for a high school graduate who is headed to college). You'd be surprised at how many students run out of money for meals in the last few weeks — finals are not the time to be nutrition deprived.
8. Evaluate your housing situation.
One of the biggest issues for college freshmen is sharing living space with near strangers. If you feel funny about a potential roommate's habits in August, by October you'll find yourself hating them. If they talk about how they've been late with things before or that they job jump, don't room with them no matter how cheap the rent or how ideal the space seems. It's not going to work.
Ask potential landlords and other people in the building what the utilities are like in winter. Old, cheap houses often look ideal in summer, but come winter the heating bill of a badly insulated place makes that summer bargain a financial trap.
9. Evaluate your work situation.
If you can manage it, try not to work the first semester so that you can get used to the rigors of academic life. If you have a work-study or campus job, make sure that you know the expectations of the position. On-campus employers know that your studies are supposed to come first, but you also have the responsibility to manage your time well so that you meet the expectations of the job. This job can be either a feather-in-your-cap, first letter of recommendation, or a complete disaster. If you do work off campus, make sure your employer knows that you are a student and that you have a set schedule.
Freshmen Need a Head Start on the First Semester
10. Develop time management skills.
You can't get through college without solid time management skills. Look around in your local community and see if anyone conducts workshops about them. If you can't find a workshop, check out books on management and make a 'time diary.' Write down how you spend each day — what you do every hour of the day for a week right now. Once in college, for every hour you spend in class you need to spend three hours outside of class reading. Are you giving yourself time to do that?
11. Books: dig 'em.
You cannot pass an academic class without reading a book. Every semester, students try to pass classes without reading and fail miserably. If you are on financial aid, there's a good chance that you will get your financial aid checks after the semester has started. That means if you have no advanced planning, you might not have books until week four. Why set yourself up for disaster? When your family members ask what to get you for graduation, what about something like an Amazon gift card or a gift certificate to the college bookstore? Also, most professors do not change book lists every semester.
Email your future professor now and ask about the book list. Odds are he or she will a) be impressed, and b) send you the syllabus and booklist. Use your summer months to knock a couple of books out of the way.
12. Move in July.
If you have to move away to campus and aren't planning on living in the dorms, move to town in July. In a college town, your housing options, job options, etc. are much more in your favor when the town is empty of its students. It also gives you a chance to really get to know your surroundings before the added pressure of school academics or athletics schedules. Waiting to move until the last minute can distract you from school and you wind up overwhelmed.
13. Don't leave room for excuses.
Test drive all your various tech equipment before you leave for college. Don't leave all your new stuff in a box that you won't open until you need them the day before your first paper is due. "My computer crashed" is the new "the dog ate my homework," and using that kind of excuse makes your professors think you wait until the last minute, aren't organized, and don't deserve an extension. Professors want to help students who try hard and can think on their feet to solve a problem. They don't want entitled kids who always have a reason why they can't do something.
There are probably many more things out there you should do before the first day of school. Any seasoned college students out there with advice to share with incoming freshmen and their parents?