Preparing For College in 14 Key Steps

  • Preparing for college can’t be done overnight, but should be done over a set series of months.
  • Utilizing a checklist can help new college students keep track of everything they need to complete before their first day of classes.
  • Students heading to college should embrace healthy habits, attend orientation, and pack strategically to have a successful start to their college career.

You’ve finished high school, and now you’re getting ready for that next big adventure—college. Of course, college is going to have its challenges. At times, it will be stressful, but it will also be rewarding and fun. The key is to be prepared, both in and out of the classroom. These 14 steps will help you in preparing for college and set you up for success over the next 4 years.

1. Schedule a Campus Tour

Now, you may think to yourself, “But, I’ve already taken a tour of campus when I was looking at colleges.” This may very well be true, but you probably visited several colleges and universities and what you remember about one college may be blurred with the memories of another.

If you have the opportunity to visit your future college again—GO! You will now have a better idea of what you are looking for and where you need to be in relation to classes, housing, and campus activities. It may also help you get excited for the start of your first year!

college tips for incoming freshmen

Flickr user CSU Monterey Bay

2. Get Organized

Organization is going to be important in all aspects of your college life. Whether it’s your classes, your room, or your life in general—you need to have a plan. Organizational tools on your phone or your computer (and traditional ones for your desk) can pay off big time – just be sure to know how to use them before classes start. Taking these steps now will help you prepare for college while also completing everything else on this list!

3. Establish Housing

Whether you are living on-campus in a dormitory or off-campus in an apartment or house, make sure you have your housing lined up. If staying on campus, see if you can request housing that is close to your classes so you can save time each day. Most schools, though, have it well planned so you’re never too far from anything, but there will be some dorms that are better than others.

If you are looking for off-campus housing, you will want to check out several locations that meet your budget and needs. Also, be sure to read your lease in its entirety, so you know what your landlord expects.

4. Pack Strategically

No matter if you are heading for a dorm or some other form of housing, there probably won’t be room for everything you’d like to bring. Talk with your roommate(s) and see what he/she is bringing so you don’t have duplicates.

Additionally, if you’re going to need help moving, make sure you line up commercial movers well in advance. Don’t forget—there will be lots of people heading off to college, and movers will be busy, too.

And did you know that many first year students accidentally bring too much? Dorm rooms are cramped as is and taking this step to prepare for your freshman year will definitely be noticed halfway through your fall semester.

5. Select Your First Semester Classes

You might not have to declare a major just yet, but you definitely do have to pick your first semester of classes to prepare for college! Your school will likely dictate some courses you’re required to take this year, like College English 101, but you generally do have some wiggle room when it comes to your other General Education classes.

Think about your courses carefully, but don’t wait too long! If you delay, you’ll find the best classes and time slots are snapped up quickly. If you’re struggling with course selection, think about your passions, choose classes close or related to your potential major, and talk with your advisor.

6. Attend First Year Orientation

Most colleges will have you attend a first-year orientation the summer before your first semester. These are almost always mandatory, but even if it’s not, don’t skip it! These are necessary if you want to properly prepare for college as a freshman.

Orientations will sometimes help you with course selection, class placement, campus tours, housing selection, and more. You might even meet your future best friends during this experience. If you’re not sure what will be covered in your college orientation, reach out to your admissions department ahead of time. Note that some will be done in a day, while others may take place over the course of a long weekend.

7. Create a Budget

There’s nothing worse than getting to the end of your first semester and having no money left. Take the time to sit down with your parents and discuss a budget. Use an online worksheet so you can include as much as possible in your budget. Books, food, cell phone, transportation, personal care items, and extracurricular activities all cost money, and you need to be aware of all the financial obligations you will have.

Even if you have loans, savings, and scholarships covering your education and you don’t technically need to think about paying for school right now, don’t skip the budgeting. Your future self will thank you if you take this extra step in preparing for college.

College BUDGET Free Download

8. Practice Life Skills

Most likely your mom and dad are not heading off to college with you. This means you are responsible for your banking, your cooking, your cleaning, and your laundry—and these life skills to know all require practice. Take the opportunity to cook some quick and simple meals. Wash your own clothes so you can avoid turning your favorite white sweater into a pretty shade of pink. You (and your roommate) will appreciate this extra step of preparation for freshman year.

Make sure you have established a checking and savings account that you can access to pay bills and withdraw cash as needed. These essential skills will keep your life outside the classroom on track.

9. Read, Read, and Read Some More

One of the skills college students need is the ability to read—and read a lot and read fast! If you have 5-6 classes per semester, you are going to be doing a ton of reading. Take the opportunity to read whatever you can get your hands on as you prepare for college classes.

If you have classes already selected, you might even be able to get a headstart on the reading. Some professors will upload the book requirements quickly while others will wait until classes have already started. If you have a professor who listed the textbook already, you can grab it and start your studying ahead of time.

10. Network

You may not think you need to network until you’re searching for a job, but every person you meet could be that connection you need down the road. Be friendly and personable with all the people you encounter in your daily life, especially during your college orientation. Take the time to learn people’s names and be interested in their lives. Being able to network is an invaluable skill and can be an excellent way to prepare for college AND life after.

11. Be Involved

Related to networking is involvement. Find clubs, organizations, or part-time jobs that show you are part of something bigger than yourself. Additionally, these types of activities are great for resumes down the road, which is never a bad thing. You might not think you have to “be involved” until classes actually start, but this is necessary if you want to prepare for college.

12. Practice Time Management

One thing that many college first years say they struggle with is time management. Numerous classes, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, plus the social aspects of college mean you have a busy life. You don’t want commitments to get away from you. Practice prioritizing and scheduling so you can rest assured the things you need to get done are being accomplished in a timely fashion and you’re prepared for college.

13.Stay Healthy

The last thing you need during your first year is to be sick or lose all your good eating habits. Always, even when things get busy, eat healthily, exercise, and schedule regular doctor appointments. Become familiar with your campus health clinic. Make sure you practice keeping strong habits as you prepare for college!

14. Make a Preparing for College Checklist

You have a lot to tackle between May 1st and the start of your classes, including some of the things we listed above! To properly prepare for college, make sure you utilize a checklist of everything you need to get done. This can include selecting housing, choosing classes, packing (and the packing list), scholarship applications, orientation date selection, orientation, vacations, move-in dates, and other important days and deadlines.

Don’t underestimate the importance of preparing for college, or you could just find yourself overwhelmed. Instead, follow the 14 steps above to this year and the following 3 amazing. You will set yourself up for success both in the classroom and out.

Preparing for college can be a lot. One thing you need to think about is budgeting – in and out of school, finances are stressful! Scholarships, however, can help you prepare for college AND prepare for life after graduation. Use our Scholarship Search Tool to find awards you qualify for!

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Join thousands of students and parents learning about finding the right college, admissions secrets, scholarships, financial aid, and more.