What to Do the Summer before College
Yay! You graduated high school! Congratulations! Time to take it easy the last summer before college, right?
Sorry, but no. You should absolutely have lots of fun over the summer! But you should also be preparing yourself for a major life transition in three months.
You may think after a hectic senior year, it’s time to coast until college starts in the fall. But the months between high school and college can be incredibly busy. With SAT tests, college and scholarship applications and graduation now happily in the past, you may be wondering what to do the summer before college.
Well, wonder no more. I’ve put together a list of 35+ prudent things students and families should do to prepare for college over the summer. I’ve divided the list into categories, like how to prepare for college academically, financially and emotionally. There’s also a list of some important life skills to learn before college, and a list of things to do to before you move to college.
I know this post might seem overwhelmingly long. I don’t want you to be overwhelmed, but I do want you to be prepared. I see lots of freshmen struggle every fall simply because they didn’t set themselves up for college success. To help you out, I’ve condensed the information here into a handy summer before college checklist. You can sign up for the checklist several places throughout the post.
Academic Things to Do the Summer Before College
Decline offers. If you didn’t notify them in the spring, one item on your summer to-do list is to tell other schools to which you were accepted that you won’t be attending (that is, decline their offers). This is the right and polite thing to do, so the school can give the financial aid and housing it had reserved for you to another student.
Register for orientation. You should’ve received information about your college’s freshmen orientation sometime in the spring. If you haven’t registered for this, be sure to do so ASAP.
Register for fall classes. A lot of colleges don’t allow freshmen to register for classes until they arrive on campus, which is another reason you should attend your college’s new student orientation. If you’re one of the lucky ones who can enroll early, that should be on your list of priorities the summer before college. Be aware, though, that even if you register during the summer, you’re still enrolling long after most other students, so don’t expect to have a lot of choices when it comes to your class schedule.
Learn online class basics. Even if you don’t have online classes your first semester of college, you’ll probably have several over the course of your college career. Each semester I’m amazed by the number of my supposedly tech savvy, digital native students who don’t know how to do basic tasks like download a .pdf or add an email attachment. Spend some time the summer before college familiarizing yourself with these tasks, so you can focus on actually learning in your online classes.
Double-check transfer credits. These days lots of freshmen arrive on campus having already earned some college credits. If you took classes at a community college, perhaps as part of a dual enrollment program in high school, make sure those credits have transferred to your college. The same goes for credit you might have earned through CLEP or AP exams.
Learn some college vocab. If you don’t know the registrar from the bursar or the difference between a prerequisite and a co-requisite, you should spend time the summer between high school and college learning some basic vocab. (FYI: the registrar the official keeper of your academic record, including your grades. The bursar, sometimes called the accounts receivables office, collects money for the school, including tuition and fees.)
Learn about college GPAs. Most students don’t realize they have multiple college GPAs. All students have an institutional GPA, based on grades earned at a particular school. All students have a cumulative or overall GPA, based on all the class they’ve taken for college credit. Students also often have a major GPA, a transfer GPA and a retention GPA. Make sure you understand the different GPAs that are used in college, and how they each could impact your financial aid and scholarships.
Buy and learn to use a planner. Your time management skills will get a serious workout during your first year of college. The sooner you get a planning system in place, the better.
Financial Things to Do the Summer before College
Learn about financial aid. If, like most students, you’re using student loans to help pay for college, you must learn some student loan basics. At minimum, you should know the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized student loans and how your financial aid is disbursed.
Related post: Federal Grants for College: 3 Sources of Free Money for Students
Related post: The Informed Parent's Guide to Federal Parent PLUS Loans
Ask for more financial aid. More financial aid money may become available over the summer, as students turn down offers from schools. If you want more money to pay for college, ask a financial aid adviser if more aid is available to you.
Follow up on scholarships. If you received scholarships from organizations not associated with your college, follow up to make sure they know which school you’ll be attending in the fall. Some scholarships may give the money directly to you, but others may submit funds to the university on your behalf. Make sure they know where to send the money.
Note financial deadlines. Hopefully you bought that new planner for college because now it’s time to write some stuff in there. You have to file a FAFSA every year you want financial aid for college. The FAFSA opens October 1 each year, which you should note in your planner. If you’re going to work during college, note that income taxes are due April 15 each year.
Related post: 4 Financial Aid Rules You Absolute Must Follow
Related post: 5 Tips to Soothe FAFSA Frustration
Make a budget. College is often students’ first real experience with money management. The foundation of good money management system, especially when you don’t have a lot of cash, is a budget. If you’re bored and wondering what to do the summer before college, grab some personal finance books and read up on budgeting. Then create a realistic college student budget for yourself.
Write a resume. If your college financial aid award includes work-study, you’ll likely have to find and apply for work-study jobs on your own. Even if you don’t have work-study, you’ll still need a resume when applying for some on and off campus jobs. When you’re getting those personal finance books, head over to the careers section and get some resume books as well.
Look for a job. If you plan to work during college, start your job hunt over the summer. On campus jobs should be posted on the school’s website (look on the human resources page). It will be harder to find off campus jobs if you’re not already in your college town, but large chain restaurants and retail businesses have online applications you can fill out before you move.
Learn how your health insurance works. If you’re under 26 and plan to stay on your parents’ health insurance during college, you need a crash course in health insurance 101. The first thing you need to do is call your college’s student health center and see if they accept your insurance plan. If not, you’ll need to figure out another insurance option. In any case, you’ll need to carry your own health insurance card, understand your coverage, including prescription coverage, and know your copay and deductible amounts.
Check into renter’s insurance. These days most students bring a lot of expensive tech with them to college, including smartphones, gaming stations and laptops. To financially protect your possessions, you should check into getting renter’s insurance, especially if you’re going to live off campus. Many companies won’t extend renter’s policies to dorms, but some do. A fairly small policy with low premiums should cover you, since bigger possessions like your car are covered under separate insurance.
Social/Emotional Things to Do the Summer before College
Work. Obviously working will help you earn money for college, but a job also gives structure to your days. Without structure, you may spend your last summer before college mostly sleeping and socializing. That will make the adjustment to a college schedule even more of a shock to your system. Even if you don’t plan to work, do plan to spend your time the summer between high school and college productively.
Set expectations. If your family hasn’t talked expectations, now’s the time. You definitely need to have the money talk, who will pay for which expenses. These conversations can be uncomfortable, especially if you delay having them, which is one of the reasons I’m a big advocate of budgeting for college as a family.
You’ll also need to discuss requests for money. Are parents able to help out in an emergency? And what qualifies as an emergency? You should set expectations early about the circumstances under which students can ask for money.
You should also discuss things like how often students will visit home. I’ve known students who go home every weekend. Those students often have the most trouble adjusting to college. So, every weekend may be too much, once a year too little. You need to decide what’s right for you and your family.
Finally, you’ll need to discuss grade expectations. A 4.0 GPA every semester may not be possible, but what about Cs, Ds, and Fs? If parents are paying for or helping to pay for college, you need to set academic expectations upfront.
Spend quality time with loved ones. Now that the potentially uncomfortable conversations are out of the way, you can focus on spending quality time with friends and family the summer before college. Yes, I know I wrote earlier not to spend your whole summer socializing, but one of the important things to do before college is spend meaningful time with your loved ones.
Read about college life. High school students typically share some common fears about college. If you’re nervous about starting college, reading good advice about what to expect on the first day of college and what college classes are like may ease your mind.
Related post: 5 College Myths Freshmen Must Stop Believing Immediately
Research campus clubs. Even if they won’t admit it, lots of students worry about being lonely and not making friends in college. To help relieve this fear, research organizations and clubs at your college. Is there a Greek system? If so, would you consider joining? Are there student clubs and organizations you’d be excited to join? College is full of opportunities to get involved and meet people. Between those and students you meet in your dorm and in your classes, you’ll make friends in no time.
Learn to cope. Even if you make friends quickly, the transition to college is still stressful. It’s important that you have some positive coping techniques before you arrive on campus. For some students that’s exercising or journaling or a hobby that they find relaxing. If you don’t have healthy ways to help you manage stress, you need to work on this before you go to college, even if it means working with a counselor.
Skills to Learn Before College
Basic life maintenance skills. Every what to do the summer before college list includes learning how to do laundry, how to clean and how to cook. So yeah, learn how to do those things, if you haven’t already.
How to introduce yourself. You’ll be introducing yourself a lot the first few days and weeks of college. You’ll introduce yourself at freshman orientation, in your dorm, in classes and to your professors. If you are shy or anxious about public speaking, this can be nerve wracking. It helps if you’ve prepared one or two self-introductions and practiced them ahead of time.
How to write professional emails. Professors consider email a form of professional communication and expect you to do the same. Learn how to write a proper email before you head off to college.
How to sanitize social media. If you’re looking up your future roommates and new dorm mates on social media, they (and their parents) and doing the same. Think about the image your social media projects and learn how to delete any content you find questionable or embarrassing.
How to practice self-care. Self-care includes a lot of things, but here I’m referring specifically to your physical health. Call and make appointments with your hometown doctors to make sure you’re in good shape for college.
Get any shots you may need. Be sure to get a copy of your vaccination record, too, as this may be required if you plan to live in the dorms. (If you haven’t been vaccinated, call your college and ask about exemptions from this requirement.) Get enough of your prescription medication to last until you can get settled and find a doctor in your college town.
Visit the dentist for a check up and cleaning and go to the optometrist to get your contact lenses or glasses (and maybe a pair of backup glasses, because life happens, especially at college).
Put together a sick kit for your dorm room. There’s about a 100% chance you’ll get sick freshman year and you don’t want to make a 2AM trip to the pharmacy for cough drops. Your kit should include basic first aid supplies like bandages and antiseptic wipes, but also over-the-counter medicines like aspirin, anti-diarrhea meds and throat lozenges.
How to file an insurance claim. If you’re taking a car to campus, you need to understand your auto insurance. This includes knowing your coverages, deductibles, what to do if you’re in an accident and how to file a claim.
Many insurance companies offer some type of good student discount on auto premiums. These are usually based on a student’s grades and accident history. If you take a car to college, be sure to ask if this discount could help you save money on car insurance.
Preparing to Move to College
Finalize housing arrangements. If you haven’t received notice of your on campus housing assignment by summer, you definitely need to put this on your to-do list. If you plan to live off campus, you’ll probably need to visit your college town to locate housing.
Related post: 6 Unusual College Dorm Living Tips
Visit campus. If you didn’t do a formal campus visit during your college search, try to visit the campus during the summer. There will be fewer people on around during summer, so you can take your time learning your way around campus. You’ll get a campus tour during freshmen orientation, but it will be rushed and you probably won’t remember much of it. Try to visit campus on your own, if possible.
Locate important campus resources. On your campus visit, locate important resources. Find the student health center (now would be a good time to ask whether they accept your insurance). Find other important resources like the bookstore, counseling center, tutoring center and advising center, if there is one. If you can’t go to campus to find these resources in person, look them up on the school website.
Make contact with roommates. If you don’t already know who you’ll be living with, make contact with your future roommate(s) well before you get to campus. In the days of social media, this shouldn’t be too hard. Discuss things like shared dorm room items (e.g. appliances), who will bring them and who will pay for them.
Get move in day info. Once you know your housing assignment and roommates, you need to find out move in day procedures. The university will have procedures for checking into your dorm and getting keys to your room. There will likely also be designated places to park and unload your belongings. You should get move in day information well in advance; if you haven’t, call the school and let them know.
Decide what to pack. Your college will likely provide a packing list for students moving into the dorms. If not, a quick search on Pinterest will yield hundreds of results. Just be sure to check your college’s website for a list of forbidden dorm room items and regulations about putting nails/screws in the walls. It would be a waste of time and money to show up to campus with items you can’t use.
Decide what to buy. Unsurprisingly, I suggest you use what you already have and thus buy as little as possible (I have my prudent reputation to live up to, after all). That said, there are things you will need to buy, like those extra-long twin sheets they seem to require on every college campus. You’ll probably also need to buy some school supplies for college and maybe some items for your dorm room.
Decide how to move. There are several ways to get your stuff to campus. Most students and families go the traditional route, moving themselves. That may not be an option if you’re going to an out-of-state college, so you can look into shipping some of your things. Other options include ordering your stuff from a big retailer and picking it up once you get to campus, if they have a store nearby. You can also have stuff delivered to your dorm from an online retailer like Amazon.
So, there they are: 35+ things to do the summer before college. I'm sure I'll think of more to add later, and will let you know when the post is updated. In the meantime, how are you planning to spend the summer before college? What's on your summer to-do list? Think I forget to include something here? Let me know if the comments.