Heading Off for College? 10 Must-Do's

In 2010, 20 million students will go to college – more than 3 million of them for the first time.  Perhaps you.  Professors Lynn F. Jacobs and Jeremy S. Hyman, authors of the new book The Secrets of College Success, offer their top ten tips for the month before college:

1.  Web-surf the college.  Go to the website of the school you'll be attending and explore the academic side of things.  The more you know about college requirements, available majors and minors, and individual course offerings, the easier it’ll be for you to navigate the college once there.

2. Invest in some hardware.  Every college student needs a portable computer for essential tasks such as note taking, online research, writing papers, and e-mailing.  Pick a notebook, netbook, or tablet that weighs no more than 3 ½ lbs, has a battery life of at least six hours, and offers wireless capability and a webcam.  And don’t forget word processing software:  Microsoft offers Office Professional Academic 2010 cheaply to college students, and Oracle's OpenOffice is free.

5-Star Tip.  If you're buying more specialized software, say a CAD application for a design class, hold off 'til the first class meeting.  Different professors require different programs, and returning software is a bitch.

3.  Buy the tomes.  You might save yourself a pile of money if you buy the required textbooks in advance of the semester.  The college bookstore will have the lists (at the store and often online), but you’ll get your best deal if you consider all the alternatives:  brick and mortar campus bookstores, online retailers (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, eFollett, half.com), and even book rentals (www.chegg.com, www.campusbookrentals.com, and www.bookrenter.com).  Be sure to consider e-books, as well as print books, when both are available. 

Extra Pointer.  Check out meta-sites www.bigwords.com, www.bestbookbuys.com, and www.cheapesttextbooks.com  to compare online retailer prices. 

Bonus Tip.  Wherever you buy, make sure they offer a money-back gauarantee.  You wouldn't want to find out at the first class meeting that the prof has changed his or her mind about the reading – and you're stuck with the $108 textbook. 

4.  Splurge on some furnishings.   You will have a more pleasant college experience – and might study harder, too – if you get some nice dorm accessories.   Start with a plush chair and shag rug (avoid green), then move up to a microwave and mini-fridge (assuming your room doesn't come with them – check it out), then graduate to a TV/DVD player and a dock for your iPod.  Also good is a mattress pad (keep in mind that, for some reason, dorm beds are longer than standard), and a nightstand – you'll need your ZZZZ's at college.   

5.  Set the (e-) rules.   Determine how often you want your parents to call (some students welcome five calls a day, while others think once a week is more than enough).  And decide on Facebook rules:  Are you going to allow the folks to post to your wall?  Can they tag you in family photos?  Are you going to  “friend” them at all?

6.  Make a financial plan.  If you haven’t done so already, now would be an excellent time to talk with your parents about college expenses:  who’s going to pay for tuition, room and board, and books – not to mention pizzas, beer, clothes, and trips?   An open discussion now can forestall great unpleasantness later.   And if you don’t need to take on a job, don’t let your parents "encourage" you to do so for some vague moralistic reason.  It’d be much better for you to study a little more than to flip a few more burgers. 

7.  Get yourself in tip-tip shape.   College is a long haul , often in new surroundings, so if you need to see the doctor, dentist, or pharmacist, now would be a good time.  You also might begin to think about some of the "realities" of college:  you should have some idea about safe sex, substance abuse, and drinking and driving before embarking for the big U (practicing the first, and avoiding the other two). 

8.  Take over as manager.  Many students, even good ones, are used to having their parents "help" them study for tests, "remind" them of upcoming deadlines, and "go over" their homework nightly.  But one of the most important skills in college is learning to do all this on your own.    Break free of your helicopter parents , no matter how much they try to keep hovering. 

9.  Let the professor help.  Though most beginning students don’t know it, college professors are happy to offer academic assistance to all students (not just ones in trouble) during their twice-weekly office hours.   And they’re often available in other “modalities” – email, Skype, and even informal after-class chats.   Plan to make use of this most underused college resource.  You’ve (pre-) paid for it. 

10.  Get there early.  If you haven’t yet been to an orientation session, get there ASAP.   You'll learn a tremendous amount about the college and, more important, pick first-semester courses.  With places in classes in short supply at many over-enrolled universities, it’s “first come, first served.”   

Learn more secrets of college success:

[img id:209804 width:69 height:104] [img id:209805 width:84 height:104] Lynn and Jeremy are co-authors of the just-released book, The Secrets of College Success.  We blog weekly at US News online and from time to time at Reader's Digest, Huffington Post, and Fastweb.com.   

Our website is www.professorsguide.com and we'd love to hear from you at  professors@professorsguide.com.  Really.

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