Before you leave:
Make a budget
Everyone has a budget, even Bill Gates. Before you get to school spend a week or two keeping track of how much you spend each day. Count the coffees, the snacks and the nights out. Use this figure as an estimate to how much you will need for the school year. Remember that some expenses, like buying your books, are only going to happen once, but others like personal care items and Friday night pizza are going to be a weekly expense. There’s about 16 weeks per semester (a week or two shorter if you aren’t staying on campus for breaks) and you don’t want to be out of food or gas on week 12.
Get the essential wardrobe
There are few pieces in a wardrobe that you absolutely need to have, especially at college, because they go with anything and can be worn to class or on a date. The first is a pair of flats. The right pair dresses up any outfit without making it look like you’re trying too hard. Try something with embellishments, or a pair in a metallic color or neutral color. They’ll be easier to pair with any outfit. The second is a jacket. It’s really the final piece in completing the look of an outfit. Don a beige or navy jacket and you’ll look more put together and polished than leaving those shoulders bare. The third is those accessories! Little pieces of jewelry paired with the right outfit show that you care about your appearance without coming off as flashy or showy.
Tie up loose ends at home
So you met your Danny Zuko this summer? Make sure you talk things out with him before you leave for college. You don’t want to be distracted in class wondering whether or not he’s going to text you, and you certainly don’t want him showing up at your doorstep if you were under the impression that it was just a summer fling. It doesn’t have to be a formal talk, just casually let him know what you’re expecting to happen with the relationship once you’re apart. He’ll appreciate the honesty and it will be one less thing to worry about.
Make sure finances are in order
There’s a lot of papers you have to sign before those Stafford loans (and other loans for that matter) get applied to your bill. Make sure you have signed everything (and more importantly, have your parents sign everything before you leave them) and send it in on time. This is especially true if you got picked for an audit. Unfortunately, this happened to me last semester, but it’s not so bad. It doesn’t mean that you did anything wrong, and it doesn’t mean they’re going to take away financial aid. They’re just verifying the information you gave on your FAFSA. Yes, it’s a huge pain, but make a list of all the paperwork you need and ask your parents to let you copy it, or if you’re already at school, have them fax it right to the Financial Aid office.
Bring important documents
Thinking that you’ll want to start a new job once you’re in college? Most places require some sort of government issued ID apart from a driver’s license before they’ll hire you. Bring your birth certificate or social security card, and make sure to keep it in a safe spot. You might also want to grab a copy of your most recent pay stub, and your parents’ as well; if you get audited for your financial aid you’ll need the proof of income(s).
Once you’re there:
Figure out where your classes are
I’m going to be a senior here and I still don’t know where all the buildings are. The weekend before classes start I bring a friend along and we walk around campus figuring out what the best route is. It’s also great for figuring out how long it’s going to take you so you don’t find yourself rushing the morning before classes… or being 30 minutes early.
Let your parents in (a little)
The first week has passed and things are going great! Give your parents a call, especially if it’s your first year away. Update them on dorm life, campus activities and your classes. They’ll love that you remembered (and aren’t too proud to admit you still love them) and when the time comes where you need an extra $50, they’ll like that you don’t just use them as an ATM.
Get your books
The bookstore offers convenience at a very high price. Make sure you research online which place is going to have the best deal. My freshman year I spent a good $500 at the bookstore buying all my books. This year, by researching online and renting my books I’ve got my total down to about $175. Don’t buy from the bookstore unless you absolutely have to. My favorite place to rent textbooks is from www.campusbookrentals.com- they have great customer service and you can easily extend your rental period for just a couple extra bucks. (They also have a two week grace period, so you get an extra two weeks to send your books back!) If you’re thinking that renting will prevent you from getting money back at the end of the year remember this; if a teacher decides not to use the book because there’s a new version, or the bookstore already has the needed amount for next year’s classes, you’ll only get the wholesale price (which is usually a maximum of $10).
Take care of the little stuff
If you’ve just graduated high school make sure you’ve sent out thank you notes to everyone who bought you a graduation present. You’ll also want to think about setting up a joint checking account with your parents to make transferring money from them to you easier. Remember to open this account at a bank that’s close to home and school. A good way to make sure you’ve covered all your bases is to go through your daily routine and ask yourself what things that are fairly easy might be a little tougher once you’re away from home. Take care of as many small things as you can before you’re a couple hundred miles from your parents.
Where to go from here?
Now that you’re all settled in you want to start thinking about where you want to go once you graduate. If you plan on going to graduate school look into what the program requirements for classes while you still have time to take them. If you’re in your junior or senior year start thinking about teachers that you want to have write you recommendations and ask them in advance. If you’re diving head first into the workforce look into campus activities that will look good to the places you’re applying. You’ll want to supplement those good grades with actual application of what you learned. And these activities will give you something to talk to your interviewer about instead of just raving on that you got a perfect 4.0.