Prepare for College — The Summer Before College Begins, Part 2

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One family’s story of getting their child into college

Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future. College starts soon, and last minute plans must come together. So much to do!

In the first part of this article, we gave you a glimpse at our early summer preparation for college in the fall. We covered orientation, scheduling, housing & roommate considerations, college apps & portals, college services, and much more.

In this continuation, we will explore everything from preparing a money-management strategy and buying computer equipment to medical considerations and making the mental, spiritual, and relational move.

Staff member Dan Edelen and his son, Ethan, a recent Class of 2019 high school graduate, return to offer a glimpse into their personal journey as they prepare Ethan for university. Dan shares his view as a parent, while Ethan relates the student experience. To explore where we’ve been on the journey, check out prior entries in this series:

Before diving deeper into the Edelens’ story, check out admission expert Patrick O’Connor’s advice on getting ready for college: 9 Crucial Things to Do Before College. The Quad also adds some to-do’s to your list with 10 Things to Do in the Summer Before College.

ETHAN: My life is in a pretty calm place right now. I’ve got a good summer job, my college choice is settled, and there doesn’t seem to be anything unusual coming up on my radar. Well, there are still things to manage.

DAN: Best to kick off this second part with a management topic of keen interest…literally.

Money Management

ETHAN: First up is money management. You’re going to need a place to put your money, and the average mattress can only hold so much. If you don’t have a bank account yet under your name only, create one before you go to college. I’m sure that most parents wouldn’t cause any trouble managing your bank account, but you’re going to have to do it by yourself someday. Get started now.

DAN: Adulting: the act of doing what adults do, including handling all the minutia of daily life. If news stories are true, college grads today run smack into adulting and — if you’ve seen Avengers: Infinity War — it’s like, I don’t feel so good, Mr. Stark. The washing machine might as well be a 64-channel audio mixing board. Cooking a hardboiled egg? Scaling Everest. And banking? Good grief, you could find yourself in the ICU.

Every college student needs to manage money. Like Ethan said, you’ve got to adult sometime. Now’s as good a time as any to learn about banking. But first, the bill for college.

Pay the College Bill

Some time in the two months or so before classes start, the bill for school will come due.

I can’t speak for everyone who must pay for college, but I do want to share what we considered. What you decide to do in paying the college bill is up to you.

If you have a 529 plan set up, now is the time to hit it. Check with both your plan and your college to see how best to handle the money transfer. Because 529 plans are tax-linked, you need to transfer the money properly or you may incur a tax penalty. State-based 529’s may have an arrangement with in-state colleges to take direct payments. Again, connect with your 529 plan and school to ensure the easiest movement of money.

If you don’t have a 529 plan, but you have a credit card that pays you back — and it has a high enough credit limit — go for it. Might as well charge the college bill and get cashback, airline miles, or whatever perks the card offers. Then pay it off from whichever bank account contains your college funds.

Open a Student Bank Account

More and more, people bank online, so having a local bank is less of an issue. At the same time, having an account in a local bank near campus (or, at minimum, a bank ATM) is a boon should an emergency arise. If the online bank and local are the same provider, all the better.

If you’re moving to campus, check out the local banks nearby. Find something within walking distance of your residence if possible. Most online maps will show banks. If that local bank (or your online bank) has an ATM on campus, even better. No sense having fees eat up your precious savings.

If having a large stash of money percolating in an account is a temptation, consider separating the account set aside for paying the college tab from an account used to manage day-to-day transactions. This lowers the temptation to hit saved tuition and room & board money to pay for incidentals. I mean, it’s funny how you can afford to buy pizza every night when you’ve got $25,000 sitting in your college fund. Instead, set aside a smaller account that will handle most of your day-to-day transactions such as income from a job, office expenses, or credit card payments.

If opening a bank account, check with the bank to see whether it has student accounts that have special features, such as no-charge checking, overdraft protection, or a smaller minimum balance.

Looking for banks to consider? Check out The Balance’s The Seven Best Banks for Students in 2019 and NerdWallet’s 7 Best Banks for College Students of 2019.

Get a Credit Card

DAN: Yikes. College student with a credit card. Visions of Dickensian debtor prisons, right?

Well, guess what? Building good credit really should start at 18. Adulting, remember? And really, a bank is going to give you a debit card anyway, so the temptation is there to use a card. You might as well use a credit card instead and set it up to autopay so you don’t forget your monthly payment while juggling an end-of-semester project, three exams, and a dozen papers.

For someone just starting out who has no credit rating at all, the easiest source for a credit card is from the bank that has your college funds or student account (see above). If you have some source of regular income (mandatory) and you open an account, then apply for a card at that time.

A credit card isn’t the only way to build credit. Taking out a student loan in your name will also establish a credit rating. But a credit card doesn’t just build credit. It’s also handy in case of emergencies.

If you (or someone who loves you) has concerns about your using a credit card, consider a secured card, which limits spending to reserve cash set aside in a special account. It works well for people with a nonexistent or poor credit rating. Or consider a card with a manageable spending cap.

ETHAN: When I first got my new credit card, I expected to go overboard with it, but I haven’t. Being frugal with my purchases out of necessity has evolved into an actual habit. I also know that credit card misuse can cost you in the end. If you remember just one thing about credit cards, remember this: always pay your credit card bill in full when it arrives or it will slowly grow out of control. Credit card interest is a much different beast compared to savings interest.

DAN: For more on students and credit cards, check out Credit Cards for College Students—9 Things You Should Know.

While bank credit cards are usually sufficient for a new card user, CreditCards.com offers alternative credit cards for students.

Computers & Phones

ETHAN: Our phones and computers have become an essential part of everyday life. Most likely, you already own a cell phone and know how to use it. If you don’t have a phone, then put it down on the list of things you need to survive adulthood. We use our phones for so much now that living without one practically makes you an honorary Mennonite. Computers are another necessity, especially for someone about to begin college, but I haven’t decided what computer I’m going to buy for college yet.

DAN: No sense in recreating the tech advice wheel here, since we have several advice-laden articles on our site covering what you need to know to buy the right computer and apps:

The crucial point: always find out the computer system requirements specified by your intended major’s department. Talk to faculty and staff in the department, not only to verify that information but to get their feedback on suitable laptop makes and models. It’s also worth talking to the college’s bookstore staff and its IT helpdesk for recommendations on makes and models that meet the department’s criteria. You will waste time and money if you buy a computer that doesn’t meet the particular needs of your major. Even if you haven’t decided on a major, talk to the departments that you might possibly consider just to make sure they don’t require some spec you would otherwise overlook.

As for cell phones, the most important issue is coverage. If you will be an on-campus resident at a school far from home, during a pre-move visit, check signal strength around campus. Also, if your college is situated in the hinterlands, better check if your bucolic location incurs those dreaded roaming charges on your plan. When talking with college staff, it also pays to ask what carrier they use and if any particular cell phone carriers are known to be troublesome. You may have to switch carriers and even phones. Better to discover this ahead of time!

Lastly, you will need some flash drives for data storage and a multi-outlet surge suppressor or two. And make them surge suppressors, not just power strips. Colleges can have some dicey, old electrical systems, and every tiny power fluctuation can add up to equipment damage in time. A small, plug-in suppressor with some USB charger ports is nice to carry in a backpack too. Having some spare chargers for computers and phones is wise as well.

Transportation, from Parking to Planes

ETHAN: Cars are one of those responsibilities that everyone has, and for a good reason. Cars require servicing, money for gas, and costly insurance, though. I used to think that I wouldn’t need a car when I went off to college, for Shawnee State University has a compact campus and I could simply get a bike to get me everywhere else, but I was mistaken. You don’t really appreciate how far apart things are until you start driving somewhere on a daily basis, and my morning job commute taught me that. Whether it’s a hand-me-down, used, or new, a car is an investment that may pay off if your school doesn’t have great access to other means of transportation.

DAN: Rules for student vehicles on campus are as varied as there are colleges. Some schools don’t allow first-year resident students to bring a car to campus, others may have incomprehesible restrictions on who may have a car, while some may allow no student cars at all.

Parking permits can be costly, with students attending colleges in congested or large urban locations paying the most. It’s not unusual to pay $400 or more a semester just to let your vehicle sit in a parking space on campus. How worth it is it to you to have that car and expense?

If you’re attending college online and will never set foot on the physical campus of your school, then what you do with your car is your business. However, even as an online student, if your school is not prohibitively far to drive to, you may have reasons to visit campus. Consulting an advisor, attending a sporting event, using the exercise facilities, or even participating in an extracurricular such as a college play or choir — the college may require you to register your vehicle.

Whatever the case, almost every college or university has a department that handles on-campus parking. Most will have a website. Check the web page or call to get the info you need to ensure that both you and any vistors you might have get the proper parking permits. Then, if you can have a car on campus, get everything squared away for parking as soon after your housing choice is confirmed as possible.

Not doing the car thing? Then call the local public transportation system in the area of the college and see if it offers discounted student passes. And hey, if it comes down to it, there’s always Über and Lyft.

As for travel to and from campus, consider school breaks, whether you will travel during them, and to where. If college is far from home and you don’t already have a frequent flyer program in place with an airline or two, set it up now. If you’re going to fly often between school and home, then that credit card you considered above might best be a card that offers mileage points with your airline of choice. Since most air travel for college students clusters around the busiest times of the year, you may want to book your holiday and spring break travel now. For the most hassle-free air travel, consider applying for both a passport and for a TSA Global Entry exemption. Should you study overseas or spring break in the Caribbean, it’s totally worth it to have everything ready to go before the demands of college makes it harder to manage.

Physical Wellness

ETHAN: The last thing I want to cover is keeping yourself healthy, in more ways than one. Going to college will be a new, stressful, and draining experience, so even if you do enjoy it, you will be taxed. Try to find time to exercise before college starts, so that you’re in good shape when it begins. My father has warned me repeatedly about the existence of the Freshman 15, which happens when college freshmen gain 15 pounds after switching to a diet of college food. Luckily, my summer job requires all-day physical activity, so I’m getting plenty of exercise by simply working. Even if you don’t believe that you’ll fall prey to the Freshman 15, you’ll want to exercise anyway; being in good shape will simply make you feel your best overall.

DAN: If you have a medical condition for which you receive regular care, make sure to do the following:

Connect with your school’s health center staff and provide them the details of your medical needs. Ask if transferring your health records from your current medical provider will help. If you require a specialist’s care, connect with your current physician and the school’s health center staff to get recommendations for a specialist near where you will be residing.

Arrange for medicine prescription transfers, if necessary. It’s worth asking the college health center staff how they would prefer to work with you in managing your meds and prescriptions. Also, it’s smart to get at least a month’s worth of meds before taking off for school. Talk to your doctor to see if you can get a longer prescription written right before you go.

Do all of the above AND talk to the college’s security staff if you have a mental health condition. Let them know who you are, your dorm and room, and any other information about you and your condition that you can share. Increasingly, college security staff and local police departments are trained to differentiate a mental health crisis from other difficult situations. In a worst case scenario, your proactive contact may save your life.

Other medical tasks:

Contact any health insurers you might have and get clarification about your coverage. Some colleges may have a special plan available while you're on campus. Any plan a parent or guardian has that currently covers you may need to be revised. It’s also worthwhile to find out if any hospitals or physicians near the campus are excluded from coverage.

Schedule a dental appointment several weeks before you leave. This allows time for treatment of any undiagnosed conditions before you go. Unless you have special dental needs, you can probably limit other dental health checkups to when you are back home. Otherwise, get a recommendation from your current dentist for a dentist in the school’s locale.

Schedule a vision appointment several weeks before you leave. Same general advice as for dental. If you wear glasses or contacts, it’s better to adjust a prescription now rather than later. Nothing worse than not being able to see well in your classes.

Make sure your vaccinations are up to date. Don’t put it off. Some colleges may require your vaccinations be current before you set foot on campus.

Lastly, The Quad features a whole category of articles on student health that are worth checking out.

Relational, Spiritual & Mental Wellness

ETHAN: Keeping yourself healthy means more than just staying in shape. Your mind is as important as your body, if not more. Because this is the last summer I have before I begin college, I’m trying to connect with my friends and family as much as possible before I leave. Normally, as an introvert, I prefer to have long breaks between social events, but this summer I’m not letting that stop me. I know that college is going to turn my life upside down, so I’m making sure to enjoy what I have while I can.

DAN: At some point during the summer, it will hit you that this college thing is actually happening — all the more if you will be moving away. It’s stressful. Seriously. Exciting and hopeful, sure, but this may be your first time on your own, everyone at your school is a stranger, and the environs lack all the familiarity of home. Those uncertainties create stress.

Here’s what you need to do for yourself during that summer before college:

Connect with the family you will leave behind, including extended family. Get it scheduled on a calendar or else it will never happen. If you haven’t broached the topic of reminiscing about past college experiences with older family members, do. Get them to talk about their wins and losses in higher ed. College is now your new shared experience. Whatever stories or advice they give, find some meaningful way to show your gratitude.

Connect with friends you will leave behind. Again, get those get-togethers on a calendar. Let your friends know how much they have meant to you. And realize that life is both marvelous and melancholy, and college may change your relationship with those friends. Some pre-college friendships will fade even as your new college friendships will grow. Recognize that this is a reality of life and do what you can now to make this summer together a memorable one.

Stay on schedule. College is structured. Now is not the time to get all undisciplined. Keep structure in your summer. Sleeping until noon is not going to help. If you have a summer job, be thankful for it, do it well, and ask your manager to be a job reference in the future (and get contact info). If you don’t have to get up early because you work later in the day, get up early anyway. Stay disciplined. If you haven’t worked on personal discipline before, get it together before you start college and it can serve you well all your life.

Manage your own life. If you’re heading to college right out of high school, well … adulting. If you’re not sure what you should be doing to prepare, ask. Own as much of the college preparation process this summer as you can. Show your family — and yourself — that you are ready to be on your own.

Make plans to stay strong spiritually. Whatever your faith tradition might be, schedule an appointment with a clergyperson to talk about this next step in your life, especially as you step out from under that comforting spiritual blanket you may have enjoyed since you were little. Get recommendations on churches, synagogues, mosques, or other houses of worship to attend in your new location. Use online maps to find places to worship near campus. Contact any chaplains your school might have. Find out what campus groups might share your religious tradition, and connect with their available leaders. College is tough on people. Your spiritual life matters. A vital, active faith may be the difference between a fantastic college experience and a bittersweet one.

Packing for College

DAN: Ethan’s not really into stuff, so insight on packing that stuff is on me.

Most of what we have to add on packing for college has been covered with greater depth in other articles:

If you’re renting a larger vehicle to haul everything, book it way in advance, because it’s crunch-time for such rentals. Make sure you get the campus move-in dates added to your schedule, then get there as early as you can to ensure decent parking and access to the dorm room. If you have a strong, young, extended-family member who would be up for a trip and some moving duties, bring that person along. The extra help may be a lifesaver when you feel exhausted. If something is large/bulky and can be bought locally, you may want to plan on hitting local shops instead of packing that item. Remember, some colleges use nonstandard mattress sizes, so make sure you have the correct bedding. The less you pack, the better, but do take some nostalgic touchpoint items; they can be a positive connection to home.

Closing Thoughts

DAN: Yeah, between the material in part one of this article and part two, that’s a lot of preparation to consider. It may even feel like a burden. Don’t let it. Inevitably, something will get overlooked during your preparation to go to college. Do what you can manage, and give yourself grace if you can’t make it all happen perfectly within the limits of a summer. What matters most is that you show up to that first day of classes with no regrets, feeling good about starting your college experience.

If you are not leaving your current area of residence to attend college, it’s still a good a idea to create a sense of transition. If you are going straight from high school to college, these tips can still help you succeed in the adulting thing. Entering college makes for a perfect time to adjust your mindset and take ownership of who you are going to become from this day forward, while also embracing the reality that your support newtork can’t manage your life for you. But know this: you are up to the challenge, and we’re rooting for you.

If you’re a college veteran who is finally returning to finish what you started, then good for you! Whatever it was that got in the way of getting that diploma, now is a second (or third) chance to do things differently and walk off that campus with sheepskin in hand. We hope this prepartion advice will help you manage what might have been unmanageable previously.

ETHAN: This summer has given me many new experiences. Out of nine colleges, I found one that accepts me with open arms and opportunities. After some intensive job searching, I found a summer job which suits me very well. I’ve managed credit cards, driving, writing, applications, and much more. So far, I’ve been handling everything life’s thrown at me very well, and I feel like I’ve become a better person for overcoming it. When the summer ends, my life will change again, but now I feel ready for it.

Check out these helpful articles as you make the leap back into college:

We close out this series in our next installment, in which we’ll talk about goodbyes, empty nests, and the little things we may have overlooked in the process of preparing for college (but which we’ll help you remember).

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