The 2011 Harvard Graduate School of Education study Pathways to Prosperity: Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Young Americans for the 21st Century reports that just over half of college students earn a four-year degree within six years. Some students drop out for financial reasons and others are simply unprepared for college.
Even though you’re celebrating the fact that your high school years are over and you’re busy spending time with friends who you won’t see on a regular basis come September, here are 10 things that all incoming freshmen should do before their first year of college:
The final semester of high school might seem like a boring waste of time, especially if you’ve been accepted to college and have future plans in place. Senior year can be a lot of fun, but failing tests and skipping school isn’t a good idea. College admissions officers can and will examine your academic performance even though you’ve already received an acceptance letter. Final exams and term papers are just as important now as they were a year ago.
The teens and early twenties are a period of transition from adolescence to adulthood. School is certainly important and some parents can afford to give their children plenty of money for non-necessities, but some responsibilities can only be learned from working. Even if it’s just a few hours per week, a part-time job is an excellent way to learn about time management and improve your people skills while saving money that will come in handy while you’re at college.
If Mom has washed your clothes, towels and sheets your entire life, it’s probably a good idea to ask her for some laundry lessons before move out on your own. College freshmen often learn how to separate whites from colors the hard way. Don’t be a laundry victim! Learn how to separate your whites from your darks and know which items should be hand washed. Make sure you only use bleach for whites and avoid overfilling the washing machine—your clothes won’t get as clean as they should and you might even break the washer! Read clothing labels and make sure pockets are empty before putting pants or shorts in the wash. Washing a pair of jeans with a pen or tube of lipstick in the pocket can be a disaster.
You might doubt it now, but there will be days that you don’t make it to the dining hall and days that you’re so sick of eating there you would rather make yourself something. Learn how to make simple meals from foods that don’t require refrigeration. You never know when a cup of microwavable macaroni and cheese mixed with a can of tuna fish might come in handy.
The number of incoming college freshmen who need remedial classes is on the rise. Even if you’re a straight-A student, college classes are going to be quite different than high school classes. Decide that you’ll take a few minutes every day to boost your reading, writing and listening skills. How? Read a book that’s not required for school, write a blog post or—gasp!—send someone a letter, and take the time to actually pay attention to people. It’s really easy to miss important details when you’re too busy texting or tweeting to listen with both ears.
The amount of student loan debt in the United States is at an all-time high. It might be tempting to simply sign your name on the dotted line and worry about things later when you accept financial aid for college, but understand what you’re doing. If you borrow a lot of money now, you’ll be responsible for making huge loan payments every month once you’re out of school. Parents can be confused too, especially if you’re the first member of your family to go to college.
Living with a total stranger can be rough, especially if you’ve never shared a bedroom before. Get in touch with your future roommate by phone, email, Facebook or Skype. Be upfront and honest—let them know whether you plan on being a party animal or you’re a dedicated bookworm. Figure out which large items, such as a mini-fridge or a coffee maker, you can share and determine who is going to bring what.
Many people are held back in life because they’re afraid of what other people will think. College will be full of new experiences, so get a head start by venturing outside of your comfort zone. Do something you wouldn’t normally do. Try ethnic foods that you’ve never imagined eating, sing karaoke in front of a crowded room, or conquer a fear of heights by going on a roller coaster.
It’s easy to forget things when you pack for a vacation and it can happen when you go away to college, too. You’ll obviously have access to stores when you get there, but start writing a list of things you use on a daily basis to help figure out what you’ll need.
Sure, you know where you’re going to school and you’ve most likely visited the campus at least once, but spend some time learning the names of buildings and look into some clubs and groups that you might want to join. Most colleges have active Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, so it should be fairly easy to find answers to your questions.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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