12 Ways to Prepare for Your Freshman Year of College

Be ready before classes start.

Transitioning from high school to college can be a big change for students as they embark on their own, with many moving away from family and friends for the first time. For those stressing over this new life chapter and today’s uncertainties, there are ways to prepare before starting those first classes. From researching academic support to developing strong interpersonal skills, the following tips can help incoming freshmen get organized and build a foundation for college success.

Find out the latest COVID-19 protocols.

The coronavirus pandemic shaped the 2020-2021 school year into an experience that was almost unrecognizable as colleges widely pivoted to remote instruction, enforced social distancing policies, required those on campus to wear masks and implemented other rules to keep their respective communities safe. The advent of COVID-19 vaccines means that many of the rules previously in place have been rolled back, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a return to the pre-pandemic world. Many colleges are requiring coronavirus vaccines for students. Those who don’t get the jab will likely have to follow social distancing and face-covering requirements, and some colleges are charging unvaccinated students for COVID-19 testing. Students headed to campus this fall should check for guidance from their college to know what to expect.

Read as much as possible.

College coursework consists of substantially more reading than is required in high school. Students should start getting used to the increased workload by reading books during high school and the summer before college. While many students read for leisure over the summer, some colleges assign the same book to incoming classes to read prior to the start of the semester, which may then be discussed in introductory courses and other forums. Students looking for a good read should check out some selections from common reading programs at colleges across the nation, which feature multiple New York Times bestsellers and books grappling with current societal and political issues.

Research possible college majors.

At most colleges, freshmen don’t need to know with certainty right away which college major they will pursue. But students should start thinking about it in preparation for selecting courses. Those interested in prelaw and premed, for example, should learn more about those tracks if their college offers them. Experts encourage students to explore academic advising programs at their respective schools to understand what classes are needed to complete requirements for majors or minors and ultimately their path to graduation day.

Polish social, people and soft skills.

College pushes students to develop strong communication skills. From group projects to communicating with professors, an ability to convey ideas clearly and work collaboratively will serve students well. That includes dealing with social issues. Many students will find themselves working closely with people from different backgrounds and life experiences, so they should consider taking advantage of diversity and inclusion classes or books. In addition, leadership and problem-solving skills are important qualities when it’s time to apply for jobs and internships during school and after graduation. Once school begins, students should consider enrolling in courses that teach soft skills.

Embrace time-management tools.

College often offers a sense of newfound independence that many students didn’t have in their high school years, with teachers and parents keeping them on task to get to graduation day. Additionally, balancing the academic and social demands of college can be a challenge for even the most diligent student. But there are plenty of digital tools designed for students, and a little organization can go a long way in making sure time is used wisely. Smartphone apps and tools can help students limit time on entertainment and social media and keep study schedules on track.

Weigh getting a job freshman year.

College is expensive, and costs go beyond tuition and fees. Day-to-day expenses make up a significant chunk of a student’s college budget. A part-time job can alleviate budget strains, but also take time away from classes. Some students may be eligible to participate in the federal work-study program, and college financial aid offices can help answer questions before the semester begins. Before making the decision to work as college freshmen, students should talk to their families about financial expectations.

Keep in touch with the financial aid office.

If a family’s financial situation changes in the months before freshman year, there are options to get more help to pay for college. The website of the Federal Student Aid office notes that students or families that have had their income affected by a loss of employment, a reduction of work hours or various other factors may be eligible for additional funds to pay for college by writing an appeal letter. There may also be funds available from COVID-19 emergency grants, depending on how a school disburses these funds. Stay in touch with the financial aid office and ask for more financial support if it’s needed.

Know how to stay safe on campus.

Some students may find themselves taking courses both online and in person this fall as the U.S. emerges from the pandemic, and it’s important for students to feel safe navigating campus. Students should practice common sense by being aware of their surroundings and learning about how their college handles safety issues, including sexual assault. Both parents and students should take time before the semester begins to become familiar with campus safety resources and procedures. Families unsure of how to gauge campus safety can use these 12 questions as a starting point to understand what to look for and expect when their student heads off to college in the fall.

Contact professors before classes start.

Cultivating a strong relationship with professors can go a long way in helping students succeed. Once students have selected their classes, they should consider emailing several instructors or seeing if they can talk via videoconferencing or a phone call this summer. Be sure to be respectful and mature in all communications with professors and other academic staff.

Make the most of orientation activities.

Orientation typically begins in the weeks and sometimes months before classes start, though the pandemic forced such events to be postponed or held entirely online last year. With the pandemic in mind, some schools are sticking with online orientation again this year. Additionally, some colleges are offering hybrid orientations to provide incoming students the best of both worlds. Regardless of format, orientation is a great way for students to get acclimated and ask plenty of questions. Realize that everyone is trying to make friends and adjust to a new environment, so don’t be shy. After orientation, many schools offer unique first-year experiences that help students further connect with their classmates and college community.

Research ways to get involved.

College provides a number of opportunities for students to explore existing interests or embark on new hobbies. Whether it’s joining a musical ensemble or getting involved in social issues, many schools make it easy to get involved. Having a plan of action before arriving will help students select meaningful activities and ensure they don’t miss important sign-up dates or meetings once school starts.

Know where to go for academic help.

Incoming freshmen should be aware that many colleges have offices dedicated to helping students brainstorm and write essays. Students having difficulty in a class or who just want to speak with a professor one on one should take advantage of open office hours. School libraries can also offer knowledgeable staff and study resources to help students. These options can be especially valuable for international students who might be struggling with English language skills.

Find more resources for college success.

The college journey doesn’t end after freshman year, and U.S. News has a wealth of information on everything from finding scholarships to how to write a resume for opportunities like internships. You can also get the latest news by following U.S. News Education on social media, including Facebook and Twitter.

Tips for a successful freshman year

— Find out the latest COVID-19 protocols.

— Read as much as possible.

— Research possible college majors.

— Polish social, people and soft skills.

— Embrace time-management tools.

— Weigh getting a job freshman year.

— Keep in touch with the financial aid office.

— Know how to stay safe on campus.

— Contact professors before classes start.

— Make the most of orientation activities.

— Research ways to get involved.

— Know where to go for academic help.

More from U.S. News

What You Should Know as a First-Generation College Student

Living on Campus: A Guide to College Housing

Diversity Questions for Colleges: What to Ask

12 Ways to Prepare for Your Freshman Year of College originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 07/13/21: This slideshow has been updated with new information.

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