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4 Ways to Prepare for College Before It Starts

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The summer before my freshman year of college, I was brimming with excitement at the idea of living on my own, acquiring a new set of friends and identity, and let's be honest —unlimited pizza at the dorm dining halls. Though I was nervous and dreamed endlessly of school, I did very little to prepare for the academic rigors of university life. Today, I have some ideas for what I'd do differently. Here are a few to-do items you can check off your list before you show up at orientation to be sure you set yourself up for a great school year.

1. Prepare your financials

There are several financial preparations it helps to make beforehand, and the first is to be certain that the bank that you currently use or plan to use has a branch near your college. If they don't have an accessible branch, you might want to consider switching banks. Having a branch nearby can be helpful in navigating money matters—and that way, you can avoid racking up out-of-network ATM fees.

Next, take a careful look at your sources of cash flow for the year. Will you have help from your family, scholarship money, loans, and/or will you work? If you will have loans, learn about those loans. You don't have to spend all of your loan money, if you have extra. Or, consider paying a small amount, like $25, toward your loans each month if interest is already starting to accrue. If you're planning to work or work-study, use the next few months to research where you want to work; that might include looking at on-campus institutions that match your areas of interest.

2. Explore different areas of study and careers

You don't have to wait until you're enrolled in school to think about potential majors and even careers. While you certainly don't have to make a decision now — college is all about exploring what you like — begin thinking about what you enjoy, what you're good at, and the majors that match up with those interests. One way to do this is to start looking at the academic or pre-professional clubs that your school offers. Sign up for a handful of them, and mark in a calendar when they'll hold their first meeting of the school year. It's a great way to meet people of similar interests, learn more about career possibilities, and have a support network as you're enrolling in classes and seeking out job-related opportunities.

This summer is also a good time to investigate and pick out your classes for the fall semester. If your goal is to explore different areas of study, peruse intro-level courses in a few different subjects that will also fulfill your general education requirements. For those of you that already know which major you'll pursue, seek out what is called a "degree plan" or "major plan" on your school's website. This will show which classes to take at each level (intro and advanced) as well as how many credits your major requires. While you're making your schedule, consider the time and weekday each class is scheduled; you'll need to avoid overlap and most students prefer to block classes on just a few days of the week if possible.

Shortly after you arrive at school, find your career center on campus and schedule a visit with your academic advisor — every student should have one. This person will be a great resource for you as you explore different majors and create your class schedule. Plan to meet with them at least once a semester. 

3. Prep for life on your own

Living on your own for the first time is fun and exciting but requires some planning. First, be sure to sort out your living situation. If you're living in a dorm, you probably are waiting on a roommate and assignment. Often, last-minute requests are accepted throughout the summer, if you need to change your living situation for any reason. Also, meal plans come in a few varieties; make sure to select the one that's best for you and your wallet. (You should be able to upgrade or downgrade a plan throughout the school year.) If you're planning to live off-campus, research neighborhoods and units and secure a rental as soon as possible.

Once you know where you'll live, make a list of the supplies and furniture you already own and what you need to buy before you move in. If you're living in a dorm, you may want to deck out a bedroom and desk, and if you're in an off-campus apartment or home, you'll likely need furniture for a kitchen and common area as well. Don't forget about toiletries and towels, even if you're in a shared bath situation.

Are you planning on taking a car to school? Use the summer months to get the car serviced so it's in great shape to get through the school year with no hiccups. Make a plan for where you will park your car — this might require applying and paying for a parking spot on campus.

Familiarize yourself with the campus wellness center. Many even offer the option to be insured through the school. Make a plan to take care of your health needs throughout the school year; think about whether you'll want to schedule checkups while at school and when and where you'll get prescriptions filled.

4. Get excited!

College will be one of the greatest experiences of your life. You'll meet some of your best friends, learn about yourself and the world, and hopefully attend a great party or two. But college is also a big change — it will likely be the first time in your life that you'll need to manage your own finances, schedule, social life, and physical and mental health. Be ready to learn, and be kind to yourself as you navigate these new challenges. Don't be afraid to try something new.

Is figuring out how to pay for college still on your to-do list? Learn more about CommonBond student loans here.

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