What to do before classes begin

There are a ton of things to think about in regards to what you need to do before each semester, but especially before your first semester of college begins.

I don’t really talk about financial aid in this post, so take some time to read about the biggest regrets I have when it concerns paying for college.

This list is geared toward first semester students, but a lot of the things I write about here are just as beneficial for returning students.

Before college begins, do these 7 things

Those First Day jitters are starting. It’s still weeks before classes begin at your new school – whether it be a community college or university – and you’re not sure what you should do to be prepared.

My lists will probably never be 100% comprehensive; I could write a book if I included every single step of the college process and journey, but then you’d have to pay for the book. I want this information to be accessible to everyone, so here are the top things from my perspective as a college advisor and former student.

Coordinate with your roommate, if applicable

The beginning of classes isn’t just about academics. If you are no longer living where you were during high school, you’ve got some transitions to make. If you’re in an off-campus apartment or on-campus residence hall structured like an apartment, there will be things you need to provide that you wouldn’t need in a traditional dorm room situation.

Student moving into college before classes begin

If you are going to have a roommate, you need to discuss with him or her what the two of you are responsible for bringing. Who is bringing the dishes, furniture, broom, vacuum, etc.? Are you going to want a TV in your room? Maybe a favorite floor lamp you’d like in the living area? (Do people really have favorite floor lamps?)

These are all things to be hashed out before you get to your new living quarters. For example, if no one brings a trash can, you will be heading to the store on the first day, most likely. And no one wants to go to Target to grab the last – and most expensive – vacuum left on the shelves. Don’t be that person.

Moving into a traditional dorm room is a bit easier, as there’s less room (a lot less room…). Plus, institutions sometimes provide a mini-fridge, microwave, trash cans, etc. Find out what will be provided for you and bring along the rest. You will want to minimize your “want to bring” items… many dorm rooms are only big enough for the essentials. Besides, the minimalist movement is still going strong. Join it! (I am trying to…)

Meet with your advisor and review your schedule

You may have lots of questions to ask your advisor before classes start, but even if you don’t, there are plenty of other reasons to visit with him or her.

College student having meeting with advisor before classes begin

When was the last time you reviewed your schedule? Just yesterday, because you made changes to it? Great. But did you have your advisor look at those changes to make sure you didn’t royally screw up your graduation timeline? You didn’t? I’m not surprised (most students don’t do this), but that’s exactly the point I’m trying to make.

NEVER self-advise. I don’t mean you should put 100% of the responsibility on your advisor. After all, they are human, too. And humans will make mistakes from time to time. But if you understand your degree requirements enough (and you should), you will be able to double and triple check things. Let your advisor have the first look, though, if you can.

Walk through your schedule so you don’t get lost on the first day

Literally, walk from building to building or class to class. You may think it’s silly, but trust me… when you get hundreds – if not thousands – of other students walking around campus at the same time, you will want to know how to get to your next class.

Maybe your campus only has one building. That’s the case for a lot of community colleges. That’s great, but at the same time, don’t think because it’s one building you won’t have trouble finding your way.

There are “hidden” classrooms in some buildings. My old place of employment had one of those. It was down a long, narrow hallway, right past a faculty member’s office. Plenty of students struggled to find the classroom, so for the first few weeks of the semester, they saw a sign with the room number on it pointing down the hall. Other schools may not have signs to guide you – I know mine didn’t.

The last thing a student wants on the first day of class is to come in late. How embarrassing, right? (It really isn’t, but you still shouldn’t be late if you can avoid it.)

That being said, another reason to walk your schedule – especially on a large campus – is to time how long it takes you to get in between classes. Be a bit conservative with the time, as you will be walking with/around other students. One semester, I had to leave a class about 2 minutes early. If I wasn’t able to leave class early, I had to hustle to my next one.

Check with financial aid office

If you’ve been reading my other posts, it’s no surprise I’m recommending you check with the financial aid office before classes start. Don’t get blindsided by a huge bill when you think all of your financial aid/scholarships have it covered. Make sure you have crossed all of your t’s and dotted your i’s before the first day of class.

Apply to special programs, if possible

What do I mean by special programs?

The one I’m most familiar with – because I used to advise within the program – is TRIO Student Support Services (TRIO SSS). If you’ve ever heard of Upward Bound or Educational Talent Search, then you have heard of TRIO. While the previously mentioned programs help students in their younger years, TRIO SSS is for undergraduate college students.

In a nutshell, TRIO SSS is a United States federal program in over 1,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. It exists to support students who either have financial need as determined by the DOE, some sort of disability, or are first-generation students. The Department of Education has determined students with those characteristics are the most at-risk of withdrawing from college before earning a 4-year degree.

Yes, there are other programs that help to support college students. Some that come to mind are multicultural student support programs, as well as programs for Latino student success.

While colleges have multitudes of clubs, those aren’t the same thing. Ask your advisor about any special programs like TRIO SSS or programs for minority students (if applicable). The opportunities are endless.

Apply for work-study positions, if applicable

(Before anything – see if you are eligible for work-study.)

If departments are hiring work-study students, there will typically be a central place where these jobs are posted. That’s not always the case, especially for smaller institutions. Ask the financial aid office where you can locate the job listings, and apply before classes begin if you are at all able to. This will hopefully help your chances of getting a position over the students who wait until the second or third week to start applying.

What is a work-study job? Read more about financial aid basics.

Tour campus

While a lot of the examples I use in this section are geared more toward university students, it doesn’t make a tour of campus any less important for community college students. Your campus may be smaller, but you could be surprised at what you find!

Touring the campus is not the same thing as walking your classes. This is more about the extracurricular stuff – things that happen outside of the classroom. If you want a current student to walk around with you, that’s probably your best option. But you can also do this solo and discover a lot of things.

Things to look for during your tour

  • Workout facilities – to help avoid the freshman 15
  • Other recreational buildings
  • Mental health services
  • Academic support services
  • Library
  • Honors building
  • Memorial Union (this may be called something else)
  • Student Activities Council
  • Student Government
  • Entertainment facilities
  • Printing services
  • And on and on and on…

Final Thoughts

As a former student and a college advisor with 13+ years of experience, I know students may not always discover everything their campus has to offer. Many students were unaware of our TRIO SSS program. That was not because we didn’t market the program; students are bombarded with information when arriving on campus and can’t memorize it all.

There are so many things to be done before classes begin – it’s bound to be overwhelming! Just take it one item at a time (meeting advisor & checking with the financial aid office would be my top priorities). You’ll get it all done! I promise. 🙂

Another thing that needs to be accomplished is finding your support system. I’ll write about support systems in another blog post.

Good luck with your first semester in college!

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