Things I Wish I Knew Before Getting Into College
Updated August 16, 2022
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It’s easy to think your work is done once you’ve submitted your financial aid information and you’re admitted to college, but the truth is, there are a few other things you need to pay attention to between the time your college admits you and the time you start classes.
Each of these steps doesn’t seem like all that big of a deal—and none of them is all that hard to do—but skipping any one of them can put your college plans on hold. This is why as many as one-third of the students who are admitted to college don’t attend the following fall because they forget to do something easy.
We don’t want that to happen to you, so here’s a list of key things to focus on once you’re admitted.
Your Deposit to Your College
In order to make sure they have enough room for all the students who plan on coming to campus, many colleges ask students to make a small financial deposit to the school once they've been admitted. In most cases, students have until May 1st of their senior year to send this deposit in, and students who have limited financial resources can request a waiver of the deposit--but you have to ask for that waiver by May 1.
This may seem like a small thing, but I hope you can see what could happen if a lot of students showed up in the fall who didn't put in a deposit. Suddenly, there wouldn't be enough beds for students living on campus, or enough classes for students to take, or enough instructors to teach them. That's why they need to know you're coming.
What about sending deposits to more than one school?It's also important to deposit at only one school. Some students who can't make up their minds about what college to attend will put in a deposit at more than one school on May 1, then simply show up that fall at the one college they finally choose. That's a problem, too, but for a different reason. If 100 students deposit at a college, then don't show up in the fall, that means the college has too many beds, and too many classes--and not nearly enough money. Double depositing can literally cost a college millions of dollars in lost tuition, and that's not a good idea. So don't forget to deposit, and only do it once.
It probably goes without saying, but you still have to graduate from high school in order to go to college. When a college offers you admission, it's on the condition you earn your high school diploma, and that you continue to do strong work in your classes. That means you can't expect the college will still want you to attend if your grades drop to all Ds. You need to finish strong.
This also applies to your conduct record at school. Some students make the mistake of thinking that getting into a college allows them to skip classes, engage in pranks, or do things at school that take away from everyone's learning experience.
You really want to think twice about doing anything like that. When your high school sent in your transcript, they probably also had to send in verification that you hadn't been suspended or disciplined for anything extreme while you were in high school. If that changes at the end of senior year, the high school has to report that to the college--and the college can then revoke their offer of admission. The stakes are too high here, so take the high road.
Since most colleges require students to graduate from high school, you have to give the college proof you've earned your diploma. Most of the time, this is a pretty easy process--you tell your counselor what college you're going to, and they send a final transcript with the date of your graduation on it. This is the simplest part of finishing up your college plans, but don't forget to do it.
Financial Aid, Part II
Most students are done with their financial aid forms when they return a required part of the Student Aid Report (SAR) to the college, indicating the student accepts the financial aid offer the college has proposed. In other cases, the college will ask for additional materials to verify that you qualify for financial aid, including tax forms, letters from your employer or your parents' employers, copies of bank statements, copies of mortgage payments, and more.
There's no doubt that finding many of these forms can be time-consuming, and if one of your parents lives out-of-state, getting some of this information can be just plain hard. But the longer you wait to get started, the less time you will have to actually submit the forms--and colleges just won't give you aid until all the right forms are submitted. If a college asks for verification materials, ask your parents for help in tracking down what you need--and if you need more time, call the financial aid office right away.
This is the number one reason most students end up not going to college, so don't overlook these requests.
Orientation and Registration
Some colleges don't consider your application complete until you attend an orientation to the college, and register for classes. Most of these orientations are held in the summer, and you have to go online to register for them. Others are held for all students just a couple of days before school starts. Either way, you need to attend.
A few colleges don't offer an orientation program, but offer students the chance to register for classes online. If that's the case, they may require you to sign up for classes before you get to campus, with the condition that failure to sign up for classes by a certain date can mean you aren't coming to campus after all. Every college has its own unique requirement about orientation and registration, so read that information carefully. It's usually included with your letter of admission, but sometimes it comes in a separate email.
Email and Colleges
Speaking of email, you're going to want to continue to check your email account until the day you leave for college. There certainly are faster ways to communicate with students, but texting isn't really the best way to send a long message, and hardly anyone reads snail mail anymore. Colleges email all kinds of requests to students, including requests for health records, additional financial aid verification, transcripts, orientation information, and more. Check your email daily the summer after senior year, and pay close attention to your spam filter. Colleges love to send emails in large batches, and that means the important message they sent you could be interpreted by your computer to be junk mail.
Not every student lives on campus during college, and no college is known to require roommates to communicate before college starts. At the same time, it's a good idea to get to know a little about your future roommate ahead of time, if only to coordinate who's going to bring what to furnish the room, and what color sheets and towels you're both going to bring. Early communication is also a good way to build strong communication skills early, something that will come in handy when you're both running around like crazy, trying to get to class, and not having enough time to have a meal together. Colleges offer all kinds of ways to connect over the summer. Take full advantage of them.
The summer before college is also the time to talk with your parents about how to handle your college finances. Most colleges create a separate account for paying tuition, room, and board, and parents generally have access to that account. Some colleges will also offer students a debit card that doubles as their student ID, allowing students to make deposits and withdrawals on this account at college-based ATMs.
Most students start college with a good understanding of how to manage a debit account, but fewer students have a firm grip on how to use a credit card. Some parents will decide to add a college student to their credit card account, with the understanding that the credit card is only to be used for emergencies. Other parents are more comfortable with having students call them when a big money purchase is necessary, and with making arrangements for such needs on a case-by-case basis.
The decision to have a credit card is very much an individual one, since students under 25 need an adult to co-sign on most credit accounts. Sources like CreditCard.com and BankRate.com can help you sort out the best choice for you.
Staying in College: The Big Three
If you're surprised by the number of students who never make it from high school graduation to college, you'll likely be just as amazed by the number of students who drop out of college in the first year. While the number of students who fail to return for year two varies greatly from college to college, it's not unusual for it to be as high as one-third of those who started as freshmen. If you're thinking a lot of this has to do with money, you're right--and one of the big reasons students run out of money is because they forget they have to file a new FAFSA every year they're in college.
Beyond money, there are three big reasons students don't come back to a college. All three of them relate to the same important goal--students have to feel comfortable with college. It's important to take challenging classes, and there has to be enough to do to make college interesting outside the classroom, but the following three factors are the biggest reasons students give up on their college plans; practice these disciplines ASAP:
1. Time Management
The single biggest adjustment students have to make to college is learning what to do with their free time. Since college classes only meet two or three times a week, and since most students are only taking four or five classes at a time, there will be lots of blocks of free time during a student's college days.
It's easy to see why this would confuse most students. Even at high schools that offer block schedules, most classes are run back-to-back, with the only free time coming for a brief period at lunch. Having your first class end at 10:00 am, and having the next one start at 2:00 pm? No high school prepares you for that.
The back-to-back format of high school has taught you how to make the most of your study time at night. Now it's time to learn how to make the most of your study time during the day. These study tips can get you started in the right direction. Give them a try, and be patient with yourself. It may take a semester before you find your groove.
2. Office Hours
If free time during the day is a mystery to most students, office hours must seem like something from another planet. Designed to make sure students have every opportunity to ask questions from their instructors, office hours are held by every college professor so students can come in and talk about anything related to class in a private setting.
Office hours can be a real benefit to students in large classes who want to be something more than a faceless voice who asks a question in the middle of a large room. It can also be a big plus for students who are studying for upcoming assignments, and who don't quite understand something they've read when reviewing on their own. Doing this in the privacy of a professor's office is a real plus.
The challenge is getting past the newness of the experience--how many times did you talk to a teacher after class anywhere other than the classroom? This video will give you some introductory dos and don'ts. Try them out, and soon, you'll be an office hours pro.
3. Balance Your Schedule
High school is a pretty intense experience. Six hours of nothing but studying, followed by an hour of time off (if you're lucky), followed by dinner, followed by three more hours of studying, followed by sleep--and then repeat. You try and squeeze in time for friends and hobbies, but most of that happens on the weekends, between--you guessed it--more studying.
It may seem hard to believe, but college gives you a way to break out of the cycle of imbalance. Sure, you still have to study. Since your classes meet less often, you can create blocks of free time during the day to study, and blocks of time during the day for other things, like exercise, lunch with friends, hiking, or even camping on weekends.
Once you're done with college, your work schedule may require you to push your free time back to the edges of your life, having only the weekends to recharge and revitalize. But this is college, and you get a chance to balance your life in a way everyone wishes they could. This video can give you some real-life hints on how to make it work.
Preparing and applying for college is a lifelong goal for many students, and reaching that goal is a great reason to celebrate and feel a huge sense of accomplishment. At the same time, the goal of college is like winning the big game—you have to keep your eye on the big goal until the game is officially over. For college, that means keeping your grades up and watching out for communications from the college throughout the summer. It can really be the difference between realizing your dream of college, and having to wait a year to work on your next goal.
Once you’re on campus, make sure you’re ready to make the most of the experience. College has a different schedule and a different approach to learning, and that requires flexibility on your part. Learn to make the most of your day and the most of the resource of the college, and develop a schedule where you won’t be burned out by the end of the week, or the end of the first semester. There are a lot of new things at college. Take them in a little at a time, give yourself room to grow, and it will be an incredible experience.
Questions & Activities
Find three neighbors who are close to your age, and ask them about their college experience. What surprised them? What did they like to do? What would they have done differently in their first year of college?
When you visit a college campus, see if you can find a college professor holding office hours. Ask for their advice on how to make the most out of a good relationship with a professor.
When the time comes, make sure you and your parents have all the paperwork you might need to verify your financial aid application. Developing the habit of keeping the necessary forms now will save you a lot of time later.
College admissions expert, Patrick J. O’Connor, PhD, is associate dean of college counseling at Cranbrook Kingswood School in metropolitan Detroit. A past president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and the Michigan ACAC, Patrick also teaches “Counseling in the College Selection Process” as both a graduate class and a professional development program. In 2017–18, he served as the inaugural School Counselor Ambassador Fellow with the US Department of Education, keeping the Department informed of current trends and issues of interest to school counselors.
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