15 Things to Know Before Going to College

The transition from high school to college is a big jump that comes with a lot of new and exciting experiences. Not to mention, a lot more responsibility. Going off to college is often the first glimpse of what being an adult looks like, especially if you’re relocating. The advice you can get from college graduates, parents, and other people in your life may seem endless. But, here are some helpful things to know before going to college.

College Advice

15 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going To College

1. Don’t spend more than you have

When you get to college, you’ll see how differently each person lives. Some people are living off ramen and TV dinners while others are DoorDashing every night. But the truth is, going out every night will take its toll on your bank account. It’s important to be mindful of your spending. Create a budget for yourself (and allow for some wiggle room). Make sure you aren’t scraping pennies together at the end of each month to eat or pay your rent. Living within your means will also prevent you from taking out too many student loans. Why set yourself up with hefty bills right after graduation?

2. Don’t buy the textbooks

Do you have money set aside for textbooks? Unless you do, buying them brand new can put you back hundreds, even thousands of dollars each year. Each semester, at a fraction of the cost, you can rent used textbooks from sites like:

  • Amazon Prime
  • Knetbooks
  • Chegg
  • Ecampus

Just to name a few! (There are several websites you can search through – you just have to take the time to look.) Once you’ve completed the class, you can simply send them back! Renting textbooks or downloading the PDF version will save you some big bucks.

“Textbooks were not covered by my scholarship. I was responsible for paying for them all throughout my college career. I had no idea about book rentals my freshman year and it cost me over $1,000. I wish someone would have told me about used textbooks and rental services before I started college. It could have saved me so much stress and money. My sophomore year book costs were less than $500 since I decided to rent. I’m here to tell you what no one told me before applying to college – do not buy the textbooks!

– Sam C.

3. Take advantage of school events

The thought of attending a school event may make you feel nervous. We suggest going at least once a semester. They’re a great way to meet new people at school and they often have free food and drinks. These events are usually accompanied by fun activities. So, it shouldn’t feel like your awkward 8th-grade Sadie Hawkins dance. You may or may not just so happen to meet your next best friend there. But most importantly, you could be building a network that could potentially help you land a job or internship down the line.

4. Use all your school’s free resources

It’s amazing how many free resources your school has available. You can get free printing from the school library. Get your resume professionally written and edited. You can get job interview advice, and even get free counseling. Before you start college, make sure you take a look at all the free resources your school offers. You’re spending a lot of money to attend there — might as well get all the education and free help you can get!

5. Live with random roommates

Yes, we know you want to live with your best friend of 8 years when you move away to college. But, living with a random roommate can change your life for the better. There’s always the risk of not getting along with a stranger. There is also risk of damaging a relationship with a close friend. Especially if you’ve never lived together before. With a random roommate, you can establish clear boundaries. It might even be easier to stay civil even if you decide to not become close friends.

“I decided to try living with random roommates my freshman year of college. If it didn’t work out, I knew I could live with friends the following year but it actually turned out amazing. We lived together for 3 years before we all graduated and became more like sisters than friends. It was a great way to put myself out there. I’m so happy I chose to do randomly-assigned roommates because I now have lifelong friends. Even though we all live in different places, we still talk and see each other a lot.”

– Anna T.

6. Meet with an advisor semi-regularly

Don’t be a stranger to your college advisor. Chances are, they’ve seen students in similar situations as yours. They know how to lead you in the right direction. They can help keep you on track for graduation and help you change or declare your major when you need to. Meeting with a college advisor regularly gets them familiar with your path. They can even suggest scholarships and grants to you. Are you considering waiting until the end of your college career to meet with your advisor? You could miss out on amazing opportunities. Not to mention accidentally putting yourself behind.

7. Keep your family in the loop

If you’re moving away for college, the transition can leave you feeling homesick sometimes. Keep your family updated with your college career. Give them a few calls and texts when you miss them — odds are they’re missing you too. College students don’t talk enough about how much they miss home. It’s something I wish I knew before going to college. I would’ve cherished the time I had left with my loved ones while at home.

8. Apply for scholarships and grants

Scholarships and grants can be life-changing. Most students think you apply for scholarships before you go to college. But, you’re missing out on free money if you’re not applying until you graduate. Scholarships aren’t only merit-based. They are available to students of all backgrounds. You don’t have to pay them back as you do with student loans so be sure to apply to as many as you can for the free money.

“During my junior year of college, I was trying to budget more. I was so close to graduating and didn’t want to take out more student loans. I applied for a scholarship that required a short essay and ended up winning $2,500! That was enough to cover my tuition and books for my summer semester. It helped me out a lot. During my senior year of college, my advisor told me about a grant available for seniors. It ended up paying for my tuition, rent, and books for that semester. I had no idea I could apply for scholarships and grants as much as I wanted. I wish I knew about the importance of scholarships before going to college. It could have saved me even more money.”

–  Selena S.

9. Take a fun/random class

Your college classes are the foundation for your career but you deserve to take a few fun ones. Take a look at your school’s course catalog to see which electives stand out to you. From sailing to yoga, you can expand your horizons while still getting an education. Who knows, one of these random classes could change the course of your college career! If not, at least you got some fun experiences out of it.

10. Get Rejected

Rejection is a huge fear for some people, especially college students. But when you decide to put yourself out there and get rejected, you learn how to deal with the disappointment that most people will eventually and inevitably see along the road in other areas of your life:

  • jobs
  • friends
  • significant others

11. learn How Financial Aid Works

Many parents and their students look at the sticker price of a college and instantly think, “We can’t afford that! Look elsewhere!” They don’t realize that the sticker price isn’t what most students pay.

And if your parents don’t understand how the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) works and no one else explains it to you, it can be extremely confusing. They could expect grant opportunities in the mail from the government, but only see loans. This leaves students and parents more frustrated with just how much college seems to cost!

I wish I knew just how financial aid works in the past, and today, it’s important to educate yourself on it. There are so many resources out there for grants, scholarships, loans, and more, including tools to help you complete your FAFSA. Comparing your financial aid packages is also a must, as they aren’t always as straightforward as they first seem!

12. attend (and Make the Most of) Orientation

Most colleges have a mandatory orientation for their incoming first-year students. It could be a one-day or three-day weekend event! No matter how long yours is, it’s important to attend and make the most of it. Many students meet their lifelong friends during this event! It can also set you up for success with your housing, class schedule, and placement in your courses.

13. The Study Habit Essentials

Did you breeze through high school with minimal to no studying? You could be in for a rude awakening when you get to college like I was. College demands you study for your classes, not just your exams. You can’t skip the reading; reading a synopsis likely won’t cut it either. Learning those study habits early will help you succeed not only in high school, but college, too.

14. Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

Are you thinking about heading to a local college because your friends are going? Or you’re afraid of living too far away from your family? You might still end up attending a nearby school, but you should at least entertain the idea of going elsewhere. Think about what excites you and makes you happy in a city or town – you could find the perfect school just a little further away that a weekend trip is always possible to see your friends and loved ones!

You should also try getting outside your comfort zone while you’re in college. We’re not talking about unnecessary risks, but try picking up a new class that interests you but you have little experience in, visit a new restaurant with food you’ve never tasted before, and similar ideas. College is all about new experiences.

15. Be Honest with Yourself

It’s okay to be nervous about college. Or not be a morning person and struggle with 8 am classes. It’s okay to have a hard time in a class. The important part is that you’re honest with yourself about all of these things, and anything else you’re dealing with. They likely can be solved.

If you’re nervous about college, try talking to a friend who has already gone through university or is currently attending. You might also want to talk to your family about your anxieties or take advantage of your school’s mental health program. If you’re not a morning person, many schools have multiple options regarding class times, so try to work your schedule in a way where you don’t have classes until 10 or 11 (trust me, if you’re not a morning person, trying to get up for those 8 am classes is going to be tough). And if you’re having a hard time in class, talk to your professor, meet with a tutor, or set up some extra study time with a buddy after class. There are solutions to many of the problems students face in college – they only have to be honest with themselves!

College is a time to embrace who you are in a new place with new people. Before you know it, you’ll be giving the same advice on things to know before going to college because you’ll have lived it out! Make the most out of your experience and enjoy the ride.

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