The carefree part of summer was fun while it lasted, but it’s time for colleges and universities to open their doors for a new school year. Here are big tasks college students — from freshmen to seniors — can complete to start the new semester on the right track.
Consider tackling these tasks before you get to campus or during your first week of classes.
- Enroll for online access to your school’s website or confirm your access still works from last year.
- Review your class schedule. Check your class times to make sure they don’t overlap with work or other responsibilities. Make any necessary changes. Look into any last-minute openings in classes you might have gotten locked out of during initial registration.
- Know when to expect your financial aid disbursements. It varies by the type of financial assistance you're receiving, but, generally, colleges pay out aid at least twice during the academic year. Usually, the aid gets applied to tuition and fees and any leftover money is disbursed via check, bank credit or other means. The Education Department has a good explainer for anyone confused about when they'll get their financial aid.
- Get the appropriate textbooks and software for classes on your schedule, whether you purchase or borrow these items.
- Check in with your roommate(s) to see what they may be bringing to your dorm or apartment so you don't wind up with multiples.
- Discover school-based clubs in your areas of interest and look for volunteer or mentorship opportunities.
- Fill out your personal planner with your daily course work, study time, exercise and/or personal development, work hours (if applicable) and weekly/monthly goals.
Going to college far from home? There are a few ways to throw an affordable back-to-school bash.
What to pack
Step One: Find a lot of boxes, because this is one long list.
- Bedding including a comforter, sheets, pillowcases, light blanket, pillows, throw blanket and sleeping bag.
- Food preparation tools including dishes, a microwave, utensils, paper plates and bowls, toaster, coffee maker, blender, coffee mugs, bottle opener and a dorm-size mini-fridge.
- A basic assortment of food such as peanut butter, ramen noodles, canned fruits and vegetables, crackers, instant oatmeal, granola bars and soup.
- Room décor and furniture that fits your space including (but not limited to) a small table and chairs, sofa, dresser chair, lamps, alarm clock, armoire, futon, end tables and a coffee table.
- Laundry and clothing storage including totes, a laundry basket, hangers, detergent, bleach, hamper, laundry bag and liquid fabric softener or dryer sheets.
- School supplies such as notebooks, loose paper, computer paper, pens, pencils, notepads, stapler and staples, calculator, desktop calendar, paper clips, backpack, envelopes, sticky notes, erasers, markers, highlighters, three-hole punch, personal planner, binders, white out, a ruler and glue. Don't forget to take advantage of these back-to-school freebies.
- Cleaning supplies such as a broom and dustpan, mop, dish soap, paper towels, all-purpose cleaner, Windex, hand soap, disinfecting wipes, a handheld vacuum and trash bags.
- Tech like your laptop, chargers, portable chargers, flash drives, camera, tablet, HDMI cable, surge protector, headphones, speakers, extension cords, a printer and toner.
- Bathroom supplies such as a shower curtain, toilet bowl cleaner, shower organizer, shower caddy, bath towels, washrags, hand towels, shower shoes or flip flops, bathroom robe, bathrobe, scale and bathroom cleaning supplies.
- Medical supplies such as prescription drugs, Aspirin or Tylenol, a first aid kit, bandages, pain reliever, throat spray, cough drops, eye drops and a thermometer.
- Toiletries you use at home, which can include makeup, lotion, shampoo, conditioner, comb and brush, soap or body wash, toothpaste and toothbrush, floss, razors, tissues, toilet paper, tampons or pads (if applicable), nail file, fingernail polish, shaving cream, sunscreen, deodorant, mouthwash, blow dryer, hairspray, hair gel and a hair straightener or curling iron.
- Clothing for this season and the next, including pants, shirts, sweaters, underwear, bras, socks, shoes, shorts, skirts, scarfs, gloves, winter coats, a jacket and other seasonal apparel.
- Important personal documents such as your passport, driver’s license, medical insurance information, credit or debit cards, checks and banking information, financial aid documents, lease information and emergency contact list.
By the way, while you might want to pack plenty of entertainment, there is one big item you no longer need to shell money out on.
Preparing for adult life
Sure, you're going to college to learn how [insert your major here], but it's also a time to start building solid financial habits. To set yourself up for future success, here are some money moves to tackle.
Ensure you have renters insurance to protect your belongings in the event of fire or theft. Your parents' homeowners or renters insurance might provide coverage if you’re under 26 and living in a dorm, but, if their limits are low, consider standalone dorm insurance. If you're living off-campus, you'll need your own renters policy. (We can help you compare and buy renters insurance.)
Create a weekly or monthly budget so you know what you can afford to spend on food and fun. This simple spreadsheet can help.
Find a place to park your car if you’re bringing one to school. Make sure your auto insurance policy is up-to-date or shop for coverage. Look into student car insurance discounts.
Consider getting a part-time job on or off campus. Or find a fitting side hustle. Here are 11 side hustles for full-time college students.