For most incoming freshmen, the summer before college is a dead zone. Unless you’re playing a sport for your university, it’s unlikely that you would have any school-related obligations. It’s a time to sit back, celebrate the end of high school and dream about your first day on campus.
But starting college is like starting anything new – it’s better to go in prepared. Lots of college freshmen struggle during their first semester, largely because they get overwhelmed with the sheer volume of new experiences and challenging coursework.
You can still relax, but a little prep work will go a long way toward helping you feel calm and confident before classes start. Here are a few things you can do to get ready.
Create a Budget
Like many students, you’re probably paying for college with a combination of student loans, help from your parents and your own savings. If you want to stretch that money farther, you need to create a budget.
A budget will give you a better idea of what kind of college lifestyle you can afford. Can you grab take-out every week or should you stick to the dining halls? Can you buy new clothes or is thrifting a better option?
Talk to other college students about how much they spent freshman year. They may offer suggestions on how to save money, like the best place to buy groceries or where to find the cheapest textbooks.
Ask your parents what they plan to pay for and what they expect you to cover. If you run out of money on your meal plan, are you responsible for buying food until next semester? Will they pay for books and supplies?
When creating a budget, it’s a good idea to give yourself some wiggle room. It’s always better to have more money left over at the end of the month than to find yourself in a deficit.
Wait to Buy Things
I loved shopping as a student – OK, I still love shopping – but I especially loved shopping for school supplies. I looked forward to getting catalogs from Target and Bed Bath & Beyond, spending hours every week daydreaming of what I wanted to buy next.
Once I got to college, I realized the disconnect between what I actually needed and what I bought. I didn’t need most of the items I’d purchased, but it was too late to return them.
Buying supplies beforehand seems like a smart move, but you won’t know what you need until you get to campus. Chances are you’ll have to do some shopping during the first week of classes anyways, so you might as well wait to buy the bulk of your school supplies.
This is also true for college textbooks. Some experts say you should buy textbooks as soon as possible to score used copies instead of expensive new editions, but often the class book lists are inaccurate. Every semester I was in college, I had at least one book listed on the syllabus that was never actually discussed in class.
If you still want to buy your books early, email the professor directly and ask if all the books on the reading list are required. Mention that you’re on a budget so they understand why you’re asking.
Find a Work Shadow
Understanding the importance of networking was one of the most important lessons I learned in college. Meeting people who can help you find an internship or land a job is crucial to your future success, especially in a competitive field.
While many companies don’t offer internships to high school students, they may let you shadow someone for a day or two. Shadowing lets you see what a job is really like, and allows you to establish the first branch of your networking tree.
I had several shadow opportunities in high school, and each one let me test drive a career before taking classes or signing up for a semester-long internship.
When you’re done shadowing, send a handwritten thank-you note and include a small gift card. Stay in touch once you get to school if you’re still interested in that particular career. If they live near you, try to meet up for coffee or lunch every few months.
Talk to Your Professors
If there are any classes you’re particularly worried about, use the summer to get ahead. Email your professors, explain your concerns and ask what you can do to prepare. They may recommend some supplementary reading or suggest appropriate starting resources for beginners.
Many professors have more time in the summer to answer questions and will appreciate an inquisitive student. This can serve you well once the semester starts since class participation often makes up a large percentage of the final grade.
You’ll also get a head start on another important aspect of networking during your college years – forming and maintaining relationships with your professors. These are the people who will write you recommendation letters, serve as references and make introductions when the time comes to apply for internship programs.
Research Fun Classes and Clubs
Before I started college, I sent an email to the sports editor of the college newspaper. I was interested in writing for the paper and asked if he had any tips on how to join the staff.
Impressed with my initiative, he asked if I wanted to cover the women’s tennis beat for the paper. While most reporters had to fill out an application before getting real assignments, I started the semester with my own beat.
Planning ahead made me more excited for my first semester, because I felt invested in my career path before setting foot on campus. I was able to make a lot of new friends in the first month of classes because I was already part of a community.
If there are any classes or clubs you’re interested in, try to get involved before you arrive on campus. Starting college is a stressful whirlwind, and it can be easy to forget about a group you wanted to join or a class you wanted to take.
Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Conscious Coins.