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Checklist #1: Emotional Preparation
Living in a tiny room with a stranger or two probably isn’t something you’ve experienced before. But here’s a secret: It’s new for everyone else, too.
Here’s how to get yourself emotionally ready for college:
Identify your goals (academic, social, personal).
List your personal beliefs and morals so you ensure that the choices you make in college align with who you are.
Know what activities recharge you and make plans to continue those at school by looking into groups and activities on or near campus. Check out student life pages on the college website and meetup groups in the local area.
Build your confidence by making a list of all your accomplishments. Get your friends and family to tell you something that think is exceptional about you.
Spend one-on-one time with family members.
Spend one-on-one time with good friends.
Decide on how you’ll communicate with friends and family while you’re at school.
Take a spontaneous trip and experience what it’s like to do something unexpected.
Plan how you’ll continue to practice your religion/faith/spirituality away from home.
Know that you’ll change because of your new experiences. Remember, sometimes change can feel uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad.
Checklist #2: Financial Preparation
If you’ve had a summer job or a part-time gig while in high school, you probably have some handle on financial planning. But moving away to college may be the first time in your life that you’re making financial decisions on a daily basis on your own.
Living on a budget isn’t impossible, but it’s easier if you’ve done some planning before you head off on your own. Here’s how to prep while you still have some support at home:
First off: figure out where your tuition money is coming from (scholarships, grants, work study, job, parents, savings, private student loans, etc.).
Create your budget so necessary expenses are covered (books, car payments, insurance, etc.) and you know how much money is left over after expenses.
Decide on how much you’ll spend on other necessities, like food and college costs (events, fees, etc.).
Use a banking or budgeting app to keep track of your spending.
Stick to your budget in the months leading up to college—remember, practice makes perfect!
Don’t add to your budget every month if you have money left over. Put that money into savings and pretend it’s not available.
Look at your bank statements each month.
If possible, see if your budget will allow you to start paying back loans while still in school.
Checklist #3: Logistical Preparation
With your mind and your wallet set right, it’s time to get your brain in college preparation mode. The actual process of leaving your family home, moving into your dorm, gathering all your supplies, meeting new people, attending welcome events, and getting to classes on time can be stressful.
Here are some tips to making move-in feel less like a juggling act and more like an event to remember:
Tour the dorms before move in.
Contact your roommate WAY ahead of time and decide who’s bringing what.
Look into stores that ship to dorms so you don’t have to pack items like bedding and refrigerators.
Know where the local stores are near the dorm for last minute forgotten items and don’t forget to ask for a college student discount!
Plan for weather during moving. Bring lots of water bottles for places that get hot and tarps for places where it rains.
Get to the dorms as soon as you can on Arrival Day. Parking for unloading can get messy.
Bring snacks to help you power through the move.
Accept your family’s help to move in and arrange the room. This will give you more time to say goodbyes and to attend Welcome Week events.
Pack as light as possible, but know your situation. If you’re at a rural school without a car, you’ll want to bring all the small items you can think of. If you’re at a school in the city or have a car, you can pick things up as needed.
Checklist #4: The Stuff
Forgetting things is inevitable. This is where checklists can save the day.
The list below includes the day-to-day basics and then some. Going to school in Florida? Maybe you don’t need snow boots. Wisconsin? Count on it.
Dorm Room Items
Lamps (desk, bed)
Storage options (under bed, cubes, in closet, etc.)
Pictures/art for walls
Calendar/dry erase/message board
Floor cushions with covers
Battery powered clock
Bed risers to lift you bed higher so you can use the space underneath for storage
Air mattress (for when someone crashes)
Essential oil diffuser/air freshener
Towels (shower, beach)
Pillows (sleeping, throw, reading)
Blankets/comforters/duvet (don’t forget one that you can bring to outdoor events)
Stain remover pen
Iron/ironing board (if you’re into wrinkle-free clothes)
USB drives/external storage
Printer and paper
Blank Greeting Cards
Chargers for every device
Shared with Roommate
Shampoo/condition/hair styling products
Hair styling equipment (flat iron, curling iron, etc.)
Feminine hygiene products
Cold and flu meds
Shower shoes (flip flips)
Slippers/house shoes/flip flops
Cold weather gear (hats, mittens, scarves)
Dress clothes/going out clothes
Formal dress clothes
Rain gear (poncho/boots)
Baseball or sun hat
Robe or spa wrap
All-purpose cleaner/cleaning wipes
Plastic sandwich bags
Kitchen gear and utensils (bowl, plate, cup, mug, fork, knife, spoon)
Kitchen utensils shared (stirring spoons, tongs, peeler, spatula, strainer)
Mini broom with dustpan
Food (check with roommate about allergies before buying)
Peanut butter/ nut butters
Microwaveable mac and cheese
Books to read for fun
Luggage for weekend travel/travel home
Car registration/insurance info
Health insurance card
Copy of birth certificate
Copy of social security card
Emergency contact list
Financial aid information
On-campus account information (meal plans, etc.)
Bike/bike helmet/bike lock
Explore careers and their earning potential with the Occupational Outlook Handbook search tool. Or, for a fun interactive tool, try this career search.
Learn about choosing a college and find a link to our free college search tool.
Go to college fairs and college-preparation presentations hosted by college representatives.
Take the PSAT/NMSQT. You must take the test in 11th grade to qualify for scholarships and programs associated with the National Merit Scholarship Program.
Register for and take exams for college admission. The standardized tests that many colleges require are the SAT, the SAT Subject Tests, and the ACT. Check with the colleges you are interested in to see what tests they require.
Use a free scholarship search to find scholarships for which you might want to apply. Some deadlines fall as early as the summer between 11th and 12th grades, so prepare now to submit applications soon.
Summer Before 12th Grade
Create a username and password called an FSA ID that you’ll use to confirm your identity when accessing your government financial aid information and electronically signing your federal student aid documents. Learn about the FSA ID, and create yours. Note: You must create your own FSA ID; if your parent creates it for you, that’ll cause confusion later and will slow down the financial aid application process. (By the way, you can watch a video about creating an FSA ID below.)
Narrow down the list of colleges you are considering attending. If you can, visit the schools that interest you.
Contact colleges to request information and applications for admission. Ask about financial aid, admission requirements, and deadlines.
Decide whether you are going to apply for admission under a particular college’s early decision, early action, or regular decision program. Be sure to learn about the program deadlines and requirements.
Use the FAFSA4caster financial aid estimator (found in the “Thinking About College?” section on the home page of fafsa.gov), and compare the results to the actual costs at the colleges to which you will apply. To supplement any aid FAFSA4caster estimates you might receive, be sure to apply for scholarships. Your goal is to minimize the amount of loan funds you borrow so you have less to pay back later.
Find out what government financial aid you can apply for, and how, in Federal Student Aid at a Glance.
Learn how to avoid scholarship scams and identity theft as you look for financial aid and then attend college.
Work hard all the way to graduation—second-semester grades can affect scholarship eligibility.
Stay involved in after-school activities, and seek leadership roles if possible.
As soon as possible after its Oct. 1 release, complete and submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®), at fafsa.gov, along with any other financial aid applications your chosen school(s) may require. You should submit your FAFSA® by the earliest financial aid deadline of the schools to which you are applying, usually by early February. Refer to the FAFSA: Applying for Aid section of this site as you go through the application process.
After you submit the FAFSA, you should receive your Student Aid Report (SAR) within three days to three weeks. This document lists your answers to the questions on your FAFSA and gives you some basic information about your aid eligibility. Quickly make any necessary corrections and submit them to the FAFSA processor.
If you haven’t done so already, register for and take the standardized tests required for college admission. Check with the colleges you are interested in to see what tests they require.
Apply to the colleges you have chosen. Prepare your applications carefully. Follow the instructions, and PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO DEADLINES!
Well before your college application deadlines, ask your counselor and teachers to submit the required documents (e.g., transcript, letters of recommendation) to the colleges to which you’re applying.
Complete any last scholarship applications.
Visit colleges that have invited you to enroll.
Review your college acceptances and compare the colleges’ financial aid offers.
Contact a school’s financial aid office if you have questions about the aid that school has offered you. In fact, getting to know your financial aid staff early is a good idea no matter what—they can tell you about deadlines, other aid for which you might wish to apply, and important paperwork you might need to submit.
When you decide which school you want to attend, notify that school of your commitment and submit any required financial deposit. Many schools require this notification and deposit by May 1.
Understand the FAFSA better by watching the videos in the “FAFSA: Apply for Aid” playlist at www.YouTube.com/FederalStudentAid.
Follow or like the office of Federal Student Aid at www.Twitter.com/FAFSA and www.Facebook.com/FederalStudentAid to get regular financial aid tips.
Make informed decisions about student loans; the following resources are important at this point:
Federal Versus Private Loans
Federal Student Loans: Basics for Students
REMEMBER: Register for all tests in advance and be sure to give yourself time to prepare appropriately! If you have difficulty paying a registration fee, ask your school counselor about getting the fee waived.
Work with your child on filling out the FAFSA.