Prepare for College — The Summer Before College Begins, Part 1

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Search Colleges
TheBestSchools.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured programs and school search results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other information published on this site.

One family’s story of getting their child into college

If you read the previous entry in our Prepare for College series, you know Ethan Edelen, son of our very own Dan Edelen, found lots to do while checking the mailbox daily for college acceptance letters. When all had been received and the dust had settled, Ethan had chosen a college:

So, that’s why I’ve decided to attend Shawnee State University and pursue a BS in video game design and programming. Wish me luck!

Now comes the real preparation frenzy, as the Edelen family ticks off myriad checkboxes on their gargantuan to-do list. There’s a lot to get done over the summer before Ethan heads off to college. And there are still a lot of unanswered questions:

Will Ethan find a summer job?

Will Dan recover from the bill?

And will wife/mom Danei ever find a lush island resort far enough away from all the preparation madness?

Staff member Dan Edelen and his son, Ethan, a recent Class of 2019 high school graduate, return to discuss their personal journey as they prepare Ethan for college. Dan shares his view from the parent side, while Ethan gives insights into the student experience. For a look at where we’ve been on our journey, check out the previous entries in our series:

Before we get back into the Edelens’ story, be sure to check out admission expert Patrick O’Connor’s take on getting ready for college: 9 Crucial Things to Do Before College. The Quad also helps with preparation with 10 Things to Do in the Summer Before College.

DAN: So, just days after Ethan chose his college, we had a couple unexpected hospitalizations, graduation plans to finalize, family coming in, the general craziness of the end of a high school career, graduation itself (woohoo, Ethan, Western Brown High School Class of 2019 Salutatorian!), a graduation party, and the sheer exhaustion that comes at the end of all that rushing around. Whew!

And in the midst of everything came a crucial step in the admissions process: orientation.

College Orientation

ETHAN: Visiting a school during the scouting process and putting your best foot forward with admissions personnel is one thing, but freshman orientation takes it further. The school provides a glimpse into what your future will be like and what next steps you’ll take. Orientation also allows you to meet some of the people who run your new school. This may be the first time you hear about clubs, programs, or organizations you might join later. You also don’t want to miss important information—the difference between being fully prepared and totally clueless on your first day may be decided by how well you navigate college orientation.

When Shawnee State University held a freshman orientation a couple weeks after I committed to attend there, my father and I went. I had visited before, but this would be his first time setting foot on the campus, which meant he would be building his first impressions of Shawnee in addition to experiencing the orientation. When we arrived, he mentioned that he liked the look of the campus, and he noted that it was compact. It didn’t take us long to get to the administration building where the orientation was being held, and we only stopped so that I could sign a rock covered with the names of incoming freshmen.

Signing the incoming-student rock at Shawnee State University, image

DAN: Sooner or later, you must step foot on campus (or connect online), whether you’ve already visited or not. For this purpose, colleges, even those in cyberspace, have orientation. I know of no cases when attending orientation of some kind is NOT mandatory. The school needs to get you ready for success, and orientation is how it does it.

Just some of what college orientation offers:

  • Class registration,
  • Opportunities to clarify college credit transfers and transcript issues,
  • Financial aid information and bill payment clarifications,
  • Introduction to apps recommmended by the school to manage college life,
  • Walk-through of a typical day for students,
  • Campus tours, often with a focus on housing,
  • Interaction with college leaders,
  • Introductions to student advisors and counselors,
  • Meet-ups with fellow students and their families,
  • Promotion of campus clubs and organizations,
  • Discounts at the bookstore and bags of swag,
  • Familiarization with the cafeteria and food access around campus,
  • Fun activities, and
  • A chance to breathe easier about this whole college thing.

Every college and university, whether on-campus or online, will provide some set of the opportunities above. Going through the university orientation process will do much to ease fears and acquaint you with opportunities. You meet the people who will walk alongside you during your college experience. You also get a big picture look at what college will be like. That’s invaluable. Doing it now makes it easier later.

Remember, this time is for you. Take advantage of everything you can. Knowledge is good. That campus group you chat with during orientation may be a lifesaver a year from now. Facetime with advisors now can start building a relationship even before you arrive in the fall. You may never get another perfect chance to talk with the college president or deans. Or that talk now may make future talks more likely. Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, you can use the relaxed environment of an orientation to make connections with the most helpful people on campus. Just do it.

Class Registration

DAN: An aside on scheduling your classes: the school may offer the chance to register for classes during freshman orientation, since it’s easier to hammer out problems. Sure enough, we had some sticking points…

ETHAN: Scheduling classes took place in one of the computer labs within the Gaming department, and the department staff was on hand to assist. Students received a folder which contained information on available classes and those classes recommended for first-time students. With help from an advisor, we created a schedule for ourselves using an online tool. The tool would give us a number of slightly different schedules, and then we would choose the one with the best timeframes. Because I hadn’t yet graduated from high school at the time of the orentation, and therefore hadn’t received my final transcripts (which would include some of my College Credit Plus credits), my schedule included redundant classes. In the end, the schedule I chose was tentative at best.

It didn’t stay that way for long. After I reunited with my father—who attended a parent welcome and housing overview—and we had some lunch, we met one of the admissions staff and sat down to fix my schedule. Everything worked out! Even though I hadn’t gotten my final transcripts yet and Shawnee State still needed some of my dual-credit information, we were able to register for classes and create a schedule that would work once everything transferred. My dad even remarked that he would have liked a schedule like mine when he was in college.

DAN: Sticking points are common, so get them resolved now, because solving them when you’re trying to manage classes in the fall is both a bureaucratic pain and may be too late to fix. Make sure transfer credits are credited and your classes are set so that you can take advantage of them. If you have a life experience you think may count as credit, talking face-to-face with someone who can rubber-stamp it now can be the difference between credit or no credit. If you didn’t get a chance to tour every dorm on a previous visit, now you can. Taking that more extensive look during orientation may reveal that the dorm you thought was best then may not be now. Another building you spent a couple minutes touring then may prove to be a better choice. This may be your final housing analysis before you must make a final selection.

ETHAN: After the schedule had been fixed, we heard about a free ice cream social for scholarship winners held in the café within the administration building. I never turn down free ice cream, so of course we went. While there, we stopped to chat with a man who turned out to be the dean of one of Shawnee’s three colleges, the College of Professional Studies, which covered my intended major. My father mentioned that he had never seen the inside of the Gaming department, and the dean decided to give us a personal tour of the building. He showed my father everything that I had seen on my previous tour, as well as some of Shawnee’s plastic manufacturing and testing labs. It was awfully nice of him, and it was a great, personal way to end college orientation day.

DAN: Orientation is foundational to building your best future at your chosen college. Make a list beforehand of what you want to accomplish and, while there, tick every box on the list. You’ll be happy that you did. And if you missed something and need to discuss it afterward, when you send an email or make a call, the person you speak with may likely remember you from orientation. That can only work in your favor.

Student Portal, College App, and LMS

DAN: A smartphone has become a life manager. Even in high school, Ethan’s teachers connected with him and discussed assignments by text and through apps. Now, schools offer student portals, smartphone apps, and learning management systems (LMS) to manage the college experience. At the college Ethan will attend, everything he needs is accessible through the school’s MySSU app.

A student portal or college app might provide:

  • Course grade status and test/assignment outcomes,
  • Professor contact info,
  • Internal school bulletin board, schedule, and email,
  • Campus maps,
  • Housing management, including requests for service and repairs,
  • Food service info, including daily specials, hours, and food credit status,
  • Billing, banking, and financial aid,
  • Instant connection to campus emergency services,
  • Campus weather and emergency alerts, and
  • Health center appointment scheduling.

Every college app or student portal will be different. Orientation is a great time to ensure an app is installed, student accounts are accessible, and the app is working. An app and a website portal often duplicate each other’s functions, but make sure that if both are available, you install the app on your phone and bookmark the portal on your computer.

Schools want you on the college app or student portal ASAP, so once you are accepted, get them working for you. It’s good to step through every page or tab in both because something may be hiding in a page or tab that you need to know about. This may be one of the primary means by which you interact with the college, so familiarize yourself with it over the summer, while you have time to get to know it. Once classes hit, your mind will be on other things.

Attending college online? Then understanding your school’s Learning Management System (LMS) is critical. Most everything you do will likely go through it, so comfort in using it will make a difference in how you feel about your online experience. The number one complaint I hear from online students is unfamiliarity with the LMS they must use every day. Once you have access, take the time to sit down and learn the LMS. Blackboard Learn, D2L Brightspace, and Instructure Canvas are just a few of the more common LMSs you may encounter. Find out which one your college uses and start learning its ins and outs now.

Here’s the thing about an LMS: even if you aren’t an online college student, you still may be using an LMS. It may be the web portal. It may interface with the app. Whether you’re online or on-campus, the advice above may well apply to you. Find out now.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA)

DAN: All schools, save for a very few, receive federal funds. If they do, they must conform to student education records privacy laws as stated in The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. Basically, FERPA is similar to the medical HIPAA privacy laws insurance companies and doctor’s offices have pushed on us for years now.

The gist: Parents have a right to view student education records until that student is 18 years of age, at which time the rights revert fully to the student.

In short, if you are an adult student, you must sign paperwork with your college allowing your parents access to your education records or else they have none. Obviously, parents and students will need to work this out and make sure the FERPA paperwork is as everyone agrees. To be frank, if the parentals are paying, they should be able to see what they are getting. If not, then the choice is the student’s.

Sit down, talk it out if need be, and get everyone on the same page with regard to FERPA.

College Housing Selection

DAN: I’m not sure I need to stress it, but I will. Not all university housing is created equal. Not between colleges, and not even within colleges. To drive this home, the freshman men’s dorm at a college I once attended was nicknamed The Prison. ’Nuff said.

Don’t want to wind up in the higher ed equivalent of the hoosegow? Then know when housing sign-up begins. Every school has a starting date and time for college dorm and housing selection. Mark it down and schedule it in your calendaring/scheduling software. It’s one of the most important dates and times you will face in this process of preparing for college.

If you are the kind of person who’s never even seen the proverbial worm, this is your one time to be the early bird who gets it. The minute housing opens up, be prepared to make your selections. Whether it’s through the college’s student portal or through the college app, be armed and ready to wade into the fray. Apart from actually getting accepted by the college, campus housing priority is your next biggest hurdle.

If you have a chance beforehand to review the university housing selection questionnaire, do. Write down answers to its questions. Know what you want and don’t want in a roommate. Have first, second, and third dorm room choices prepared. In short, be ready to do a fast data dump into that housing request. At a big school, a few minutes may make the difference between dream dorm and dreaded dive.

Other college housing considerations:

  • Proximity to buildings on campus where your scheduled classes will meet,
  • Proximity to library, food options, shopping, grocers, greenspace, and recreation,
  • Mandatory housing (e.g. first-year students are often required to live on-campus or in college-specified housing),
  • Themed housing (dorms designated for international students, specific majors, LGBTQ+ students, etc.),
  • Restricted housing (dorms restricted to women only, married students, specific class levels, grad students, etc.),
  • Security features,
  • Accessibility features for individuals with disabilities, hearing or vision impairment, etc.,
  • Cost variations, as housing prices may differ between dorms,
  • Number of roommates desired,
  • Floor choice (avoiding stairs, keeping peepers from looking in your windows, noise, heating/cooling issues, etc.),
  • Bed configurations (bunks, no bunks),
  • Bathroom proximity, configurations, and gender-inclusivity,
  • Appliances included in the room,
  • Number of electrical outlets in the room (beware: older housing may not have plugs for your two-dozen chargers),
  • Proximity to laundry room, and number of available washers/dryers,
  • Number of public study, recreation, and meeting spaces in the housing,
  • Number of elevators and exits (a key consideration on moving days),
  • Access to Internet, both in-room and in public housing spaces, plus speeds, limits, and costs,
  • Access to cable, satellite, or streaming TV service, both in-room and in public housing spaces,
  • Access to campus shuttles, public transportation, and to important thoroughfares,
  • Access to parking, especially if you will have a car on campus,
  • Cell phone coverage and other provider considerations,
  • Landline phone service availability and costs, and
  • Maid service (really, some colleges offer it).

Yeah, the considerations can be overwhelming. But because it makes a difference every single day you are on campus, it’s important to make wise housing choices as far ahead of time as is possible. That’s the best way to secure that desired dorm.

ETHAN: For me, choosing housing was easier. We knew I would stay on campus the first year, housing with the rest of the gaming majors. The major’s benefits narrowed it down to one themed building and a couple of options.

Roommate(s)

DAN: Preparing a housing choice may also mean making a roommate preference selection. At the very least, you’ll need to decide how many roommates you want. Some schools may allow you to choose specific people for roommates. Some may offer a meetup online where you can connect with other students to discover who might make a good roomie, and then you can request each other through the student portal or app.

Some considerations for choosing a college roommate:

  • Sleep patterns (e.g., night owl vs. early bird),
  • Class schedules,
  • Interests & hobbies,
  • Life experiences (e.g., you are both pastor’s kids or both military kids who lived overseas),
  • Religious background,
  • Introvert/extrovert,
  • Cleanliness and hygiene,
  • Aptitudes (e.g., speaks Chinese, which you are majoring in or want to learn), and
  • College major.

You may even consider someone from your high school who will be attending the same college. Regardless of choosing fellow graduates for a roomie or not, it’s always a good idea to see which of them may be attending your college with you. Makes for scheduling car trips home easier and cheaper. You may even want to connect with locals beforehand to share info, compare notes, and prepare more efficiently.

Early in the roommate process, share and agree upon expectations of each other. Also, once you’ve got your roommies chosen, coordinate who brings what to the room. You don’t want to overspend. Some items can be shared. Some things you’ll need only in small numbers.

ETHAN: Once again, my major limited my choices. All I wanted for a college roomie was someone who didn’t act like a buffoon. The university website allowed me to submit some roommate preferences and paired me with someone within two weeks. Since my housing was mostly predetermined, I didn’t restrict my roommate options too much. I figured we had a love of gaming and our major in common.

College clubs, student services & activities

ETHAN: On the side of the orientation hall were about a dozen tables, each representing some department or organization within the university. The staff and students at each were excited to chat with me about how their services could contribute to my life as a Shawnee student, and I talked to most of them. These included student government, academic departments, accessibilitiy services, tutoring and library services, honors programs, and campus safety.

While there was a table for campus clubs in general, no club representatives staffed it. Instead, I could look for groups to join online at the school website or on Shawnee’s associated social media sites. Knowing what was offered allowed me to consider what I might want to explore in the fall.

Of course, I had to ask about a video game club first. Joining an eSports team may be another option.

DAN: If your college doesn’t tell you a lot about clubs, check out this article from The Quad and check to see if your campus has a chapter of any of the clubs or groups mentioned: College Clubs to Join.

Deadlines Redux

DAN: Just because you prepared properly and hit all those application deadlines like a pro, guess what? You also have preparation deadlines. Orientation dates, payment deadlines, move-in times and dates, class starting dates—argh! Once again, keep that calendar, whether digital or hard copy, loaded and consulted daily.

Part Two Coming!

DAN: Look for the second half of this post in which Ethan and I will cover the following topics:

  • Overseeing money, both college and personal
  • Credit cards
  • Computer equipment
  • Cars & transportation
  • Packing considerations
  • Mental, spiritual, and relational preparation
  • And much more!

That departure date is arriving soon. As we help ourselves, we’ll also help you to be as prepared as you can be. We’ll make the mistakes first and report back to you so you can avoid them.

ETHAN: About a month or so has passed since the orientation, and I have been keeping busy, following up on tasks left over from orientation, and even searching for a job. I managed to land a good one too! It’s taken some hard work and concentration, but now everything seems to be going just fine. In a few days, I’ll start working, and come fall, I’ll have a dorm and a roommate as well. I’m excited to see how everything turns out!

Take the next step towards your future with online learning.

Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.

Woman working at desk