Packing for freshman year

9 things you may not need your first month at college

Packing for college can be challenging, especially when you’re not sure what to expect your freshman year. Although you may be tempted to fill your car with as much as possible to cover all your bases, it’s helpful to know what you may not need during your first few weeks at college.

  1. Binders and notebooks. A few classes may still require a three-ring binder, but for the most part, you’ll be using a laptop or tablet to type up your notes. And remember, you can always purchase any school supplies you may still need when you get there. If you do end up taking digital notes, don’t forget to back up your information periodically so that you don’t lose anything you’ll need for the big test.
  2. Quarters. Nowadays, many college campuses employ a card system for laundry. Make sure to give the housing office a call before you change those twenties.
  3. Kitchen utensils. Verify that your dorm has an available kitchen before loading up pots and pans. Check if toasters, electric kettles, or hot plates are allowed before bringing them with you.
  4. Your entire wardrobe. Dorm closets tend to be tiny. Prioritize basics and take into consideration any seasonal differences.
  5. Brand-new textbooks. According to the National Association of College Stores, full-time students spent an average of $655 on required course materials during the 2010-2011 school year. Cut costs by buying used books at your campus bookstore or on the Internet. You can also consider renting the required textbooks. Remember that you may be able to sell your used books online or to a classmate after the semester is over.
  6. A printer. On many campuses, printing is available for free or for a very reduced rate. They’re often located in convenient places like the library or in dorm lounge areas so that you can grab your paper before your morning class. Leaving your printer behind can help you save space in your room, and money on ink and paper.
  7. Valuables and knickknacks. Not only will any extra space be precious, but you’ll also be glad not to have to worry about losing or damaging any of your family heirlooms, expensive jewelry, or other valued items.
  8. Your pet. You’re about to get very busy, and it is likely you won’t have much time to care for Sparky. Plus, many college campuses don’t allow pets in dorm rooms or lecture halls.
  9. Cable TV. The idea of cable TV may be enticing, but keep in mind that  you may not have much room in the dorm. Plus, most campuses have televisions in common areas for when you need a Parks and Recreation fix.

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Prepare for the big move

Chances are you’ve been both excited and anxious for the start of freshman year. The transition and move can be difficult for both parents and students, so we’ve come up with a few ways you can help make it go as smoothly as possible:

  • Plan a special summer. Arrange for your student to take a camping or road trip with the friends he or she may not see until the holidays. If you can, sneak in a family vacation too.
  • Tie up any loose ends. Does your son or daughter know how to balance a checkbook? Make a budget? Pay bills? Do laundry? Now’s the time to make sure they have all the practical skills they’ll need for life on campus.
  • Consult a checklist. Make a list or use one provided by your student’s college to keep track of the items you have and what you still need. Start with the basics by packing necessities and let your student reevaluate once a couple of weeks have passed.
  • Include a care package. You can include special items that your student might not get for a while: favorite snacks and treats, gift cards to local grocery stores and other favorite shops, or quarters for laundry.
  • Settle those nerves. Your student is probably feeling a strange mixture of fear and excitement as they prepare to leave home. You can make this big change less stressful by sharing your own experience and by letting them know how proud you are. Remind them that, no matter what, you’re just a phone call away.
  • Don’t linger. Schools often plan a whirlwind week of orientation for new students to take their mind off potential homesickness and to get them excited about college life. Try to make a quick exit after you’ve helped them get off to a good start. It’s time for the next chapter to begin!

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Back in the classroom

The differences between high school and college classes

We all know going off to college means more freedom and choice outside of the classroom, but we don’t always know — or think about — how different things are inside the classroom. And since the classroom is such a big part of college, we put together a few things you may want to know when thinking about fall semester.

  • Schedule. High school ran like clockwork. For many students, it started every day at 8 and ended at 3. All that may change significantly when you get to college. You pick your classes and create your own schedule. Just remember, your next class might not be right down the hall.
  • Attendance. In high school, attendance was mandatory, and you needed a note if you missed a day. In college, attendance is your responsibility, and you may find it just as necessary as in high-school.
  • Homework. Gone are the days of daily assignments and endless graded papers. In college, it’s possible for classes to have only two grades, a midterm and final, and for there to be no daily assignments other than reading.
  • Courses. Early in your education, your courses were set for you and were very general. As you moved through your education, they got more specific. In college, you can study just about anything in as much detail as you want; it just depends on your college’s offering and your major.
  • Class size. The average class in high school has 20 to 30 students. In college, your classes could have more than 100 people in them. This can be a little intimidating at first, but as your courses become more specialized, your class size will likely go down.

Many students find their college classes exciting and challenging, and take away knowledge and skills that serve them for the rest of their lives. Choose your classes wisely and enjoy.

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Home away from home

Planning student housing

Leaving home for college is a big step, especially if you’re not exactly sure what to expect when you get on campus. Student housing comes in many different shapes and sizes, and even if you plan to live off campus, it’s important to prepare for life with new roommates and responsibilities. Here are a few things you can do to prepare:

  • Respect deadlines. Make sure to get your application for student housing to your college on time. If you miss the deadline, your options could be extremely limited.
  • Be honest. Many colleges pair roommates based on housing questionnaires, so you may not have much say your first year. But be honest about what you’re looking for, and chances are you’ll end up with someone who’s compatible. You can also use resources like Places for Students or Roomster to find other students in the area who might be looking for roommates.
  • Research your options. As a freshman, you may be required to live on campus in a residence hall. But take a look at other opportunities, especially for the next three years. Are you interested in joining a fraternity or sorority? Do you want to rent an apartment with some of your friends? Look into whatever you think might make the next few years memorable and comfortable.
  • Prepare for the situation. Is there a communal kitchen down the hall? Will you be sharing a bathroom with a lot of people? The more you know about your housing situation, the easier it will be for you to plan what you need, such as flip-flops for the shower or a case of Ramen noodles for those late-night study sessions.
  • Touch base with your roommate. If you can, have a conversation over the phone or by email with your future roommate or roommates. Now is a great time to decide who should bring a television or to let them know that you’ve got the mini fridge covered. Take the time to share your expectations about the coming year and to hear theirs.
  • Stay organized. No matter what your living situation is, you’ll be responsible for your space. Plan to stay on top of bill payments, any chores, and communicating with your roommate. Keeping your living environment as stress free as possible will contribute to a better experience at college.

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Options for filling in the financial gap

Planning how you are going to pay for college can be stressful, especially when your financial aid package doesn’t cover all your education costs, leaving a financial gap. This gap occurs when your college’s total Cost of Attendance exceeds the amount of your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) and financial aid. Here are a few options that may help bridge the gap:

  • Meet with the financial aid office. You can set up a meeting with the college’s financial aid office to explore more available options, especially if your family’s financial circumstances have changed or if there was an error in the information you submitted.
  • Look for scholarships. Use an online scholarship database like Tuition Funding Sources (TFS) to search for available local and national scholarships. You can also check around the community or with your employer and your parents’ employers for more scholarship opportunities.
  • Get a part-time job. Check if work-study is available, even if it wasn’t listed in your financial aid package. On- or off-campus employment opportunities can help pay for tuition and give you valuable professional experience.
  • Apply for additional funding. If grants, scholarships, and low-cost federal loan options don’t cover your college expenses, see if other government financing options or private student loans may help. See page 10 of the Financial Aid Journey Guide for more details.
  • Reduce your costs. Brainstorm ways you could save money. Is living at home or with relatives a possibility? Can you complete your degree in less time? What about beginning at a community college and transferring to your dream school later on?

How are you going to fill the financial gap?

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Counting costs

Do you have the money you need to pay for college?

One of the most important things you can do to prepare for college is to make a solid financial plan. Figuring out how you are going to pay for your education may seem like a daunting task, but taking the following 5 steps can help you estimate your college costs and the options available to help you pay for them:

  1. Complete the FAFSA. Regardless of your income, you should fill out and file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. All federal financial aid and most state and institutional aid require the FAFSA to be completed.
  2. Estimate your total college costs. Use the Net Price Calculator on your college’s website or this one from The College Board to estimate your total college costs based on your personal situation. Don’t forget expenses like room and board, gas, bills, supplies, or other things while you’re tallying up costs.
  3. Determine if you need additional funding. Carefully assess all of the award letters you received to determine what the actual costs for each school would look like, and the financial aid you’ll receive.  See page 8 of Your Financial Aid Journey to figure out how much additional funding you may need.
  4. Explore additional financing options. If you do need additional funding, your college may be able to accept your tuition in installment payments, or you may be able to take out a Federal Direct PLUS Loan or a private student loan. Be sure to carefully research all of your options before making a decision that fits your situation.
  5. Know your financial aid deadlines. As you receive information from your school about enrollment and financial aid deadlines, create a checklist and keep track of time-sensitive items.

Remember, the more details you include in your plan, the more accurate your estimates will be.

How are you going to pay for college?   Ask questions. Share knowledge on the Community.

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How College is Different

1974 vs. 2014

Quite a bit has changed since the 1970s, and not just your dad’s hairdo. Check out how the college experience is different today from what it was 40 years ago.

Comparing college in 1974 to 2014

College in 1974 vs. 2014

Income information taken from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Information about average undergraduate tuition, enrollment by gender, and popular bachelor degrees taken from the National Center for Education Statistics.

Coffee prices calculated with information taken from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States.

What do you find interesting about how things have changed?

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Registering for the fall semester

You’ve been accepted, you’ve made a financial plan, and now it’s time to register for classes. But how do you know where to start? Consider these tips when you’re registering for the fall semester:

  • Start with General Education classes. Even if you know which major you’d like to pursue, it’s a good idea to begin your freshman year with a few introductory courses.
  • Talk to an adviser. Most incoming students are assigned an academic adviser. This person can give you more in-depth information about the course catalogue and help you plan ahead so you don’t miss any infrequently offered classes.
  • Look up the professor. Talk to current students to find out what classes and professors they really enjoyed.
  • Carefully consider your schedule. If you’re more of a night owl, it might not be the best idea to schedule an 8:00 a.m. class. Take study and travel time, as well as jobs or other extracurricular activities, into account when you’re planning your schedule.

Do you have any registration tips?

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Freshman orientation

What you should get out of it

For some, orientation is exciting: that moment when you realize you’re actually going to college. For others, it can seem like a chore — one more hoop to jump through before you’re actually there. But regardless of how you feel about it, there are certain things you should do during orientation to help make your initial transition and overall experience better.

Be sure to:

  • Get the lay of the land. Explore the campus and town beyond the orientation tour. You may discover a place that reminds you of home, a great local place, or just a quiet spot where you can go to relax.
  • Meet with key people. From financial concerns to scheduling classes, knowing where vital offices and administrators are can make dealing with questions a lot easier. Take some time to learn where the college’s financial aid office is, as well as your academic advisor and department head.
  • Get your accounts in order. Orientation is most likely when you’ll set up your student email, get your student ID, register for classes, purchase your parking decal, and get books — which is a lot to do.
  • Explore your interests. From sororities and fraternities to Ultimate Frisbee, there’s a good chance your college will have a club for just about anything. And because all these clubs and organizations are so available, now’s a good time to take a hobby to the next level, find a new interest, or build upon what you’re studying.
  • Learn where emergency services are. You might not need them, but it probably doesn’t hurt to know where the nearest student hospital and campus police locations are.

To help prepare for orientation, check out these considerations and this guide from or take a look at this list of favorite questions from an orientation leader.

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How to make the most of your budget in college

Life is full of surprises. Maybe you have an opportunity to take a trip related to your field of study, or you’ve dropped your laptop. Since you want to be sure you have money available when you need it most, here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Stick to a budget. Living away from home means that you have the opportunity to manage your own finances. Plan how much you are going to spend each month and stick to it as much as possible. Use a free resource like Wells Fargo’s My Money Map or other resources like to see where your money is going and keep track of your expenses.
  • Save. Create a savings account that you don’t dip into unless it’s absolutely necessary. Even if you can only afford to set aside a few dollars each month, every little bit helps. Here’s a list of ways to save while you’re in college.
  • Increase your income. Look into getting a part-time job to supplement your income and gain valuable professional experience while you get your degree. Start looking for your summer job early to secure employment for when you’re not in school.
  • Keep track of your financial aid. Some scholarships require renewal each year or may be dependent on academic achievement. Others are only a one-time gift. Make note of how much you are borrowing in loans, when they need to be repaid, and whether you need to find additional funding for next year.
  • Ask for help. Talk to your parents, a guidance counselor, or another trusted mentor. Managing money can be challenging and intimidating, especially if you’re new at it.

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