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You’re an incoming freshman or new college student and you feel there’s SO much to be done before school starts. Every school year there’s an invisible checklist of what you need to do.
It’s the same thing every time —sign up for classes, pay tuition, buy books, get supplies, etc., but there’s always one thing that pops up that you forgot to do.
This guide for new college students provides a solid foundation to successfully prepare you for your first semester of college.
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Guide for New College Students
Choosing your classes is one of the first steps to preparing for the upcoming semester. You’ll want to pick your classes and class times strategically because this is going to be your schedule for the next several months.
First, factor in your work schedule, extracurricular activities, study time, and when you want to hang out with friends. I like to have my classes in the late morning to early afternoons because I work night shifts and have a hard time waking up early.
If I’m taking a science class with a lab, I prefer to have my longer school/lab days earlier in the week. That way, I can have the weekend before to do lab reports and other homework. It’s nice to have a lighter class load towards the end of the week going into the weekend as well.
That’s my thought process when I choose my classes. However, I go to school part-time and work night shifts at the hospital, so keep in mind what works for me may not work for you!
Here’s the catch, professors can make or break you. It’s important to ask your peers if they’ve taken a certain professor or class and ask for their opinion.
I always research my professors on RateMyProfessors.com to see what other students have to say about a professor or class too.
It allows students to rate the difficulty of a class, explain how the professor teaches the information, and rate professors to help figure out who’s great and who you might want to avoid.
There’s not a semester where I don’t utilize this tool to choose my professors and classes. But, take everything with a grain of salt!
The Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA) is an electronic form that prospective students in the United States fill out to determine their financial aid eligibility.
If you’re not taking out student loans, complete your FAFSA anyways! You can receive grants (free money) depending on your, or your parent’s, annual income.
In addition to FAFSA, your school might require you to complete an income verification form to further determine your financial aid eligibility.
You’ll need a copy of your most recent annual tax transcript as part of the income verification process as well. You can request your tax transcript online or via mail from the IRS here.
Many public colleges require you to get vaccinated before you can enroll in classes. Documentation of proof of immunity against measles and rubella, meningococcal meningitis, and hepatitis B may be necessary.
Student ID Card
Your student photo ID card will grant you access to your school’s recreation center, library, gated parking lots, learning center, and more.
Have your student number at hand and bring a government photo ID (passport, driver’s license, military card, etc.) with you to the student services center.
Print out a copy of your registered classes for the upcoming semester and bring that with you too.
If you’re keeping a car on campus or commuting to school, you’ll need to get a “register your vehicle” document from your school and fill out your vehicle information.
When you turn in this document to the student services office, bring your vehicle registration. The office will need to make a copy for you to receive a parking pass or sticker.
Getting a parking ticket is not a good way to start your first week of school!
Every class syllabi will either be emailed to you or uploaded to your student dashboard about a week before school begins.
Things to note: class objective, textbook required, grading scale, materials, and due dates.
Write down in your planner your first quiz/exam date and what you‘ll be covering the first week of class.
I love finding the perfect planner for the new school year, and I’ve got you covered with the best student planners!
Using a planner will help increase your productivity, better manage your time, and help you stay organized throughout the semester.
Take an hour or so to write in all your important deadlines, exams, school activities, work schedule, etc.
Get creative! Use fun stickers and neon highlighters to color-code each class and assignment.
I always have my phone, iPad, or laptop with me which makes it easy to check my work schedule or classes on the go with Google calendar.
One advantage of using a Google calendar over a planner is accessibility. It’s so simple to pull out your phone, open the Google calendar app, and check your schedule.
You can also repeat the days. For example, if you have a class every Tuesday and Thursday at 1 pm for the next four months, Google calendar can repeat this event for you.
The disadvantages? It can be tricky to get the hang of for first-time users, and it doesn’t allow for much creativity as a planner does.
Not having your textbooks the first week of class can put you behind, and the goal is to stay ahead! Order your textbooks approximately 2-3 weeks before school starts.
Below are my favorite sources for renting and buying textbooks.
Chegg is my go-to site for renting textbooks. I save a ton of money with Chegg and it’s super easy to return your books when the semester ends. You can even make some money by selling your old books!
Amazon is also a great site for renting and buying textbooks!
Try out Amazon Prime for students for free and get two-day shipping!
Your school’s bookstore will have most of the books you need available to purchase. This can be rather costly but if you need a textbook asap then the bookstore might be your best bet.
If you think you may only need your textbook every so often, you might consider renting it a couple of times a week from your school’s library.
This is a risky way to save money because it’s possible that the book you need has already been checked out by someone else, but it could work in your favor.
This is my favorite part of prepping for a new semester! Look through your backpack and desk and take inventory of what school supplies you need and don’t need.
Here is a list of my favorite back-to-school supplies:
- Zebra MildLiner Highlighters
- Colored Index Cards
- Tag Divider Sticky Notes
- Xtra Fine Black Pens
- Spiral Notebook
- Hydro Flask Water Bottle
- First Aid Kit Pouch
- Laptop Stand
At this point, you should have all the necessary information to create a weekly plan. Pull out your planner, google calendar, excel spreadsheet, etc.
Whatever you’re using, make sure there are daily times slots listed down the left-hand side (6 am-9 pm). If they’re not listed, input or write each hour manually.
Now, begin filling in your classes, work schedule, personal schedule, extracurricular activities, and any regular appointments you may have.
Add time blocks into your schedule to ensure you make time for your goals! For example, you can block out an hour each morning to dedicate to working out or studying.
List your routines as a part of your plan. This might consist of having a productive morning and making breakfast or doing a face mask in the evening. Don’t neglect yourself, make time for your self-care routines, and prevent getting burnt out!
Set Your Goals
Ask yourself, “what would it take for me to consider this academic year a success?”
First, you need to define what success means to YOU.
Write your answer down on a piece of paper.
College students should uphold two models of success: 1) short-term goals for each semester and school in general, and 2) long-term goals for your career and accomplishments after college.
Short Term Goals
A short-term goal is a goal you can achieve in 12 months or less. One of the most important aspects of setting goals while you’re in school is that each one needs to be specific, realistic, and rewarding to keep you moving forward and motivated.
Some examples of short-term goals are:
- Write resume
- Plan study time for every class
- Join a club or organization
- Visit professor’s office 1-2 times per month
- Travel outside the state
- Keep in touch with family/friends
- Read a book
- Try something new
- Get a part-time job
- Volunteer in the community
- Visit the career services department
Everyone defines success differently, so figure out which goals are your priority. What will it take for you to be fulfilled and happy?
Long Term Goals
For college students, setting long-term goals can be difficult to pinpoint. A long-term goal is a goal that usually takes 12 months or longer to accomplish. Not everyone who enters college is going to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives at just 18 years old, and that’s okay.
But it’s worth thinking about the kind of life and career you want in the long run. These goals will become more refined as you continue to grow as an individual throughout college.
Some examples of long-term goals are:
- Graduate from college
- Save $10,000
- Start a business
- Go to medical school
- Start a non-profit organization
- Pay off student loans
- Invest in dividend stocks
- Speak at a Ted Talk
There are many steps you can take now to make your long-term goals happen. This can be overwhelming at times and other times freeing. Be tenacious and flexible, and modify your goals as your life changes.
Take control of your destiny, you are the author of your own life!
Everyone needs a budget, even college students! Budgeting is important for your financial stability to make sure you can pay for rent, food, bills, textbooks, credit cards, health insurance, tuition, etc.
Budgeting ensures you’re not spending more money than you make and allows you to plan for short-term and long-term financial goals.
To create a budget, you first need to understand what you’re spending your money on down to the penny.
One of my biggest expenses in college was food. I really try to buy healthy food that I can cook and make last for days. That’s what helped me stay healthy on a budget.
I love $5 Meal Plan because it saves money and time, and makes meal planning less stressful!
For just $5 a month, they’ll send you a delicious meal plan where every meal will cost about $2 per person, and in most cases less. $5 Meal Plan is great for any college student wanting to stay healthy on a budget.
You should also look into online tools to help you manage your budget and finances.
Make a list of all your expenses and forms of income (job, loans, parents, etc.). I prefer to use an excel spreadsheet to keep track of my finances.
Mint is a free online money management service that lets you manage your accounts all in one place. You can download the Mint app for iOS and Android for easy budget tracking and planning.
Differentiate between your NEEDS versus your WANTS. If the final number that you calculate is negative then you need to make some adjustments to your budget.
I don’t know about you but I want to look good on my first day of school! Looking good and feeling good can significantly influence your self-esteem and how you present yourself to the world.
When you take action to take care of yourself, your emotional well-being may improve as a result.
Pampering yourself is a great way to feel more confident going into a new semester, so don’t forget to make those self-care appointments!
Here is my appointment checklist of what I like to get done before starting classes:
- Hair (cut, dye, style)
- Nails (dip polish on nails and regular pedicure)
- Facial (clean pores and brightens skin)
- Eyebrows and Upper Lip (threading)
- Wax (underarms and Brazilian)
- Doctor’s (refill on medications and annual checkup)
Medication is often an overlooked item on the back-to-school checklist; you don’t know you need them until you need them.
Get your prescribed medications refilled if you’re low on inventory or going away for college. It may take a couple of months to find a doctor and make an appointment in your new college town.
Speaking from experience, many students get sick around midterm exams (early-middle of October). It would be a great idea to stock up on some immune-boosting supplements and NyQuil.
I always carry a mini pharmacy with me that I keep in my purse or backpack —just a little pouch with some emergency medications in it such as Advil, Sudafed, Claritin, and Pepto-Bismol tablets.
The first week of class is usually laid back because professors mostly go over the syllabus and any questions about the class that students have. However, I’ve had professors who jump into a lecture on the first day, so be prepared!
Check the syllabi (or your planner) to see which chapters you’ll be covering for weeks one and two of the new semester.
READ THE CHAPTERS!
Doing this can only benefit you, and you’ll have a better understanding of the material when it’s presented in the lecture since you read the assignment beforehand.
Make notes or tabs about any important information you read in the chapter. Sometimes, it can be hard to decide what information is important and what isn’t.
Flip to the end of each chapter of your textbook, read the summary, and answer any questions. The recap at the end of a chapter will help you further distinguish what information is significant to learn.
Review any PowerPoints or videos your professors have uploaded to your student dashboard as well.
Staying on top of all the information requires self-discipline and time management skills.
There is enough time in the day to do everything you want to do —but it requires making conscious choices and prioritizing tasks. Managing your time efficiently is a skill that you can develop.
Having good time management skills as a student will help you succeed in your personal and professional life. You’ll be more organized, more confident, reduce stress, handle more duties, and learn more effectively.
Staying focused on a specific assignment for a longer period can be difficult when there are so many distractions like online streaming, social media, smartphones, etc.
Use access blocking apps and plug-ins to prevent you from going on social media and other distracting sites.
Time Management Apps
Be conscious of time. Every minute that goes by is time that you could be investing in high-value assignments. Have a set day of the week where you plan what you will complete each day specifically. Planning is the key to successful time management.
Set a goal for each study session. For example, read two chapters of behavioral endocrinology and make a study guide within two hours.
My favorite strategy for studying is the Pomodoro Technique, which is one of the most effective study methods used by medical students.
Find your “productive time zone”. What time of the day are you most productive? Is it right when you wake up? After class? In the afternoon, or before dinner? Find what works for you and stick to it.
Use downtime to your advantage. If you have twenty minutes in-between classes, read a chapter, or review your notes.
You can also use the Pomodoro Technique to get stuff done around the house! It helps to break down tasks into intervals to increase your productivity and stay focused. I talk all about this method in this blog post.
If you have difficulty studying alone or managing your time, form a study group! Study groups can hold you accountable and help you comprehend another way of thinking and learning the information.
Form a Study Group
If you typically find yourself waiting until the last day to study for an exam, a regularly scheduled study group can help eliminate your procrastination.
A bit of moral support can go a long way. In a study group, students will not only motivate and inspire each other to do well but can also form strong, long-lasting friendships.
One of my favorite perks of study groups is it helps you observe different types of study methods in action. If you study by yourself, you will always see the material from the same perspective.
Gaining new viewpoints on a topic can help you learn more efficiently and improve your study techniques by incorporating the best strategies with your own.
Study groups give you a chance to get out of the classroom or library. You can decide where you want to study like in a coffee shop or an apartment clubhouse. If the weather is bad, your study group can connect online through Zoom.
Working with your peers is a great opportunity to hone your interpersonal skills. No matter your future job, you will have to deal with people, and having a good ability to communicate and work as a team will help you throughout your career.
Get out of your comfort zone and expand your resume by participating in student campus life. Most colleges and universities have student-run clubs that you can join. If you’re passionate about a specific cause you can even start a club of your own!
Check with your student services center to learn more about joining existing student organizations or the process of starting your own.
Some other options to get involved on campus are to join a sorority or fraternity. Greek life can sometimes be competitive to get into but if you do end up being accepted, you’ll have an immediate social network of like-minded individuals that will end up being your closest friends throughout college.
Intramural sports are a great way to stay fit and get involved on campus. Intramural sports usually don’t involve regular team practices, just playing a game you love. Stop by your school’s recreational center or gym to inquire about intramural activities.
If sports aren’t your thing, you could volunteer your time tutoring other students on campus or become a teaching assistant in a lab. Many colleges hire students to tutor in particular subjects they’ve previously excelled in and will match you to students who need help in that particular topic.
Ask your advisor or peers about community service and volunteer associations. More and more intuitions are giving back to their community and have plenty of opportunities for students to get involved. Volunteering will provide you with valuable skills and build your resume all while doing good for your local community.
Self-care can be easily forgotten when you’re dedicating all your time to getting good grades and maintaining a social life.
First things first, you need to get adequate sleep. Stick to a sleep schedule and aim for 7-8 hours per night. Put your phone and other devices away at least 30 minutes before you plan to go to sleep.
The blue light emitted by screens restrains the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone) in our brain, which is secreted by the pineal gland in response to darkness. Improve your sleep by reducing screen time during the night.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the dreaded expression “Freshman 15”. This term refers to the average weight that an individual gains during their first year of college.
Eating healthy is a learned habit that requires high awareness and discipline. Your body and brain need to be properly fueled to keep up with the demands of college
You can take several steps to hold yourself responsible for your diet:
- Avoid liquid calories
- Cook at home
- Portion control
- Eat regular meals
- Focus on the greens
- Document what you eat (Fitbit or MyFitnessPal)
Walking or biking is a great and healthy alternative to driving if you have a short enough commute. Instead of taking the elevator, try taking the stairs!
Turn study breaks into exercise breaks. You can do sit-ups, jumping jacks, squats, lunges, etc. Find a fun workout that you enjoy. It may be running, doing yoga, dancing, or a quick youtube video workout. Release those endorphins and break a little sweat!
Academic and social stress can lead to the development of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. You are not alone in this battle.
Prioritizing your mental health can be a critical factor in your college success. Pick a day and time of the week where you can check in with yourself and assess your mental health status.
Find some time to go for a walk and meditate on these thoughts or you could write about your feelings in a healthy and safe way in a gratitude journal.
Consistency is key. Have a self-care schedule just like you have a schedule for your classes. Take a bath, do your nails, put on a face mask, organize your closet, or whatever you perceive self-care to be.
Last but not least, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Confide in your friends and family if you feel comfortable doing so. Many times, there are free counseling services on campus that students can seek.
These services offer therapy, referrals, coaching, health checks, and more. Although college is about individual growth and increasing your independence, everyone needs help at some point in their lives.
When you plan, take care of yourself, and put in the work, you set your future up for continued health, happiness, and success. Take a deep breath, be present, and take this new semester one day at a time. You’re going to do amazing! 🙂
Looking for some great study tips? Click HERE!