The Pre-College Action Plan: Everything You'll Need Before Your First Class

Now that I’ve completed college, I often wish I could go back and redo a few things. For instance, I wouldn’t have bought that $300 biology book that I only used twice, or maybe I would have dropped that class that required three 10-page papers a week. I want to save you the trouble of making certain mistakes that most first-year college students make. I get it, you’re finishing high school and you’re ready to begin one of the most exciting journeys of your life. You may not be thinking about the small things that are going to make your transition into college a breeze, so let me give you a few tips.

First things first, before you go running to Twitter and searching your college class’s hashtags to see who else will be at orientation, look into your college’s scholarship offers. Your school could be offering grants or scholarships that you qualify for. The earlier you apply the better your chances will be to get funds to cover your courses. Most schools will have a web page that lists all grants and scholarships as well as instructions for applying for each one. There are a ton of websites you can use to search for money. I personally have used Scholarships.com, which is one of the oldest scholarship databases available. UPchieve coaches can also help you look for scholarships on our app.

While you’re thinking about ways to cover the cost of college, you should also check up on your college’s financial aid requirements. I’ve seen students attend classes for weeks, only to find out later that they have no financial aid and they then have to drop all of their courses. If you are a student in need of financial aid and you have already submitted your application, be sure to double-check that all of your requirements have been filled and you’re ready to start on your first day of classes. You can do this by calling your college’s financial aid office or by logging into your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) account at . The deadline to submit an application for financial aid is in the summer before the upcoming school year, and UPchieve can help you with filling that out too! Keep in mind that many students who qualify for financial aid also qualify for work-study and positions usually fill up quickly. If you’re interested in campus employment, then be sure to ask about on-campus job offerings if you do speak to a financial aid representative.

So we’ve gotten your funds for college, now let’s make sure you have your classes ready to go. Prior to attending orientation, think about a well-rounded list of general education classes that would interest you as a first-year college student. It’s good to research specific programs and majors early, but I recommend against specializing until you’re completely sure what you want to major in. You’ll be surprised at how many students get two years into their desired program then wake up one day with a sudden passion for something else like theatre or law. After compiling a diverse list of classes you love, held during times that work for you, create an account with Rate My Professors. This site will help you research professors and hopefully find the best match for your learning style and personality. Once you’ve registered for classes, get into the habit of checking your college email so that you’re always on the lookout for summer updates from your professors.

An important tip I've learned throughout my college career is to hold off on buying books until after syllabus week. You may feel anxious to buy every book listed on your required text list as soon as possible, but trust me on this one. Professors will often tell you on the first day of class whether the book is truly needed or if it's optional for extra studying. There may even be some instances where the text is needed but can be found in the campus or local library for rent. A great website to rent textbooks for cheap is Chegg. Chegg even has e-books, so if you need your book before the end of syllabus week, most orders come with a free electronic copy until your order arrives to your dorm or home.

The last thing you should do is set aside a day before classes start to walk the campus a few times. If you’re a student who commutes for school, set aside a day to drive to campus and take a look around. Locate the buildings where your classes will be held so that you don't become the kid on campus wandering around for an hour or asking everyone in sight where the chemistry building is. Get a good night's rest, and you’ll be fully prepared to start your new journey!
Have more college planning questions? Use the UPchieve app to talk to a coach 24/7!

Niyja Bouie