Congratulations! You have just made one of the biggest and best decisions of your life by choosing to go to college. Your decision involved all the hard work of choosing the right schools to apply to, getting through the admissions and financial aid processes, understanding the schools’ award letters and funding options, and, finally, actually choosing the one best school for you to attend. Now, you can safely say that a lot of the hardest work is behind you! However, there may still be a few things to figure out before officially beginning college in the fall.
Okay, you’ve completed all your admissions requirements and completed your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Your college of choice received all this information, accepted you, and used your FAFSA (and maybe a few other financial forms as well) to determine what your total financial aid package for one year of school would be.
Because you completed your FAFSA, you were initially offered a Direct/Stafford loans from the federal government and it’s possible you were later offered a federal Perkins loan as well. However, before your federal loans can be dispersed to your school to pay for part of your tuition, fees, room, and board, you will need to do what’s called entrance counseling and then sign a Master Promissory Note (MPN). Your school will typically notify you by email or by way of a message on your student account on the college website to complete these final two tasks. You will be prompted to go to studentloans.gov and there on the left side menu you will see links for completing both of these tasks. Have your FSA ID handy because you will use this ID to sign into the site for entrance counseling and you will use it to sign your MPN.
Entrance counseling is a bit like a short quiz designed to make you understand your rights and responsibilities as a loan borrower (don’t worry, it’s not a difficult “quiz” by any means; it is very self-explanatory). Basically, you will be asked to read a little on various loan topics including:
And you will answer questions about these topics in order to gauge your own competency with them.
To complete entrance counseling as an undergraduate student or graduate/professional student, you will need:
Useful Information to Have
Useful information to have on hand would be any details on your income, financial aid, and living expenses. Some of this information can be found in:
The MPN needs to be signed before your loans can be dispersed to your school. You will put in some personal info, provide some references, and sign with your FSA ID. You may only need to sign the MPN once to cover all your federal loans for all four years of your undergraduate career, unless you change schools.
Students who need to complete a Master Promissory Note (MPN) will need:
If you have previously completed either a Direct Loan MPN or a Direct PLUS Loan Request, some of this information may be populated for you. You should review all populated information carefully for accuracy.
Helpful Link: Master Promissory Note FAQ
“Student orientation,” “new student orientation,” “summer orientation,” and “freshman orientation” – these are different names for an important multi-day event/experience typically occurring at the beginning of the academic year at colleges and universities around the world. The event varies in length from college to college, but in the US orientation generally lasts between a few days and a week. The purpose of the experience is to welcome and, of course, orient new students to their respective college campuses. This is accomplished by way of myriad different educational, social, and practical activities – the specifics of which will vary somewhat depending on your school.
When you and your fellow freshmen arrive, you will probably be put into orientation groups which will be led by an Orientation Leader (usually an upperclassman specifically trained to lead such events). During the week, you will be enjoined to participate in a diverse range of learning opportunities, and practical, logistical college-readiness activities. For example, there will typically be a campus tour, several discussion sessions and/or lectures (e.g., on college life, financial aid, choosing classes, different majors, etc.), and an opportunity to officially register for your fall classes. There will also be any number of social activities including various types of live performance (e.g., live music), athletic challenges, sports competitions, games, stunts and open-air markets. These sorts of activities are intended to help freshmen make friends and establish bonds with each other and their upperclassmen. By the end of your orientation week, it is hoped that you will feel more broadly aware of your campus and more comfortable being there among your college peers.
You may have already taken a campus tour back when you were looking at different colleges and trying to narrow down your choices. The tour may have been one of the biggest reasons you chose the school you ultimately did. Tours give a prospective student invaluable first-hand experience about the school and it is on that experience that many students base their final decision on whether to attend the school.
The campus tour you will take at orientation will be similar to the one you took before, only it will probably be a good deal more in-depth. You will likely visit such places as the financial aid office, student union, athletic facilities, libraries, labs, dormitories, and administration buildings. This will be your opportunity to really get a feel for how your college and your living quarters are laid out.
When on tour, don’t feel like you have to just passively follow your Orientation Leader around. Ask questions! A good question to ask, for example, might be “Where can I find out about work-study jobs?” Another question might be “What types of insurance does the student health center accept?” This will be a great chance to get answers to your questions – questions that, perhaps, your college’s website does not address.
Finally, when touring residence halls and dormitories, this would be a good time to take photos and measurements of your dorm room. You will then be able to take this information home with you and it should help you plan for what to bring to the college with you in the fall.
Student life discussions will be conducted by different people representing various departments at your school. They will meet with you and cover numerous aspects of student life both on and off-campus, for example, athletics, student government, clubs, Greek organizations, and more. During these discussions you should get both a broad view and some good detail about how you can immerse yourself in your college environment beyond your studies.
Breakout sessions are generally opportunities to meet and talk with your academic advisors and financial aid officials. You can learn a lot during these sessions about college resources and the nitty-gritty aspects of your planned college career. Do you want to know more about study abroad opportunities? This would be a good time to pose questions about study abroad to your advisors. Maybe you could ask about accessing research journals through the college’s online library portal; college libraries are often quite different from your high school’s library so you will want to know how to use them well before you actually need to use them.
The campus fair is a common feature of most colleges’ orientation events. The fair is generally an informational fair where incoming students can visit numerous tables hosted by campus clubs, academic societies, and Greek organizations, for example. This is an opportunity to browse around and meet similarly-minded people as you gather information about various features of your college.
Meet & Greet events are usually informal opportunities to mingle and chat with your college faculty, alumni, upperclassmen, and various administrators. At some colleges these will be very casual, easy-going affairs, while at other schools there may be dances or mixers in the evenings in addition to more informal events. Not only is this a good time to rub shoulders with important college personnel who will all be a part of your life soon, it’s also a great opportunity to make new friends in a low-pressure environment.
If the college you will be going to in the fall is like many colleges, you will probably be required to have a student identification card or badge. In fact, most colleges require each student to have a student ID on them at all times while on campus. Generally, your college will issue you your ID during orientation or registration; from then on it’s your responsibility to keep your ID on you when on campus. Your card is free, but, if you damage it beyond usability or lose it, you may have to pay for a replacement card.
Typically, the card will have a photo of you and an ID number specific to you, but, aside from being a simple ID, your card functions in a variety of different capacities. It can function as your dorm room key and as your entry into most of the campus buildings such as libraries, test centers, laboratories, health centers, athletic facilities, and various classrooms. Your ID card can also function as your debit card for on-campus meals or book purchases at the campus bookstore. A lot of ID cards have a barcode on them which allows you to use your card to register for classes, add or drop different classes, view your financial aid, and view your grades.
As an added perk, many local businesses in your college town will often offer discounts on products and services when you display your student ID card, so, when you are out and about keep your student ID handy!
There are some general, practical things you should keep in mind when planning for orientation. Most important among them, you should plan on registering for your classes at some point during orientation. You will want to review your school’s course catalog and/or website before going so that you have a good list of courses to choose (have some second and third-best choices also in case your favorite courses fill up too quickly). Another consideration is that some colleges encourage parents to accompany students to the first day of orientation (to, for example, help the students get situated in to the dormitories and fill out paperwork).
Also, you will want to purchase your parking pass (if needed), bring your vaccination records with you to submit to the college medical unit (if necessary), and plan on picking up your student identification card (prepare to look your best for the photo!). There may also be occasion during your orientation week for you to take various placement tests in math, English, and foreign languages, so you may want to prepare for these well ahead of your orientation start date.
Comfortable but not sloppy clothes
You want to wear comfortable clothes because you will probably be moving around the campus a lot on foot. But, you want to look good too, of course, because you will probably be talking with a lot of professional school faculty and administration representatives and you may be getting your student ID photo taken. Generally, try to prepare for the summer weather of the geographic region that contains your school (including bringing sunscreen, bug-spray, and lip balm), as well as for the possibility of finding yourself in a chilly lecture hall or out on the town at night when the temperature is down (bring layers).
Many schools provide various meals for students throughout the day, but it’s always a good idea to bring a backpack or messenger bag packed with some of your favorite non-refrigerated snacks or alternative food choices. Trail-mix, granola bars, nuts, and bottled water, for example, can be a part of your “survival bag” for getting through some long lectures. Try to be mindful, however, that other students probably won’t be appreciative listening to someone eat noisy foods – so maybe leave the bags of chips at home.
Student ID cards, parking passes, some meals, a few nights out on the college town, and collegiate apparel from the college bookstore will all cost money.
Your college might provide all essential linens, towels, and sundries for the visiting freshmen rooms but you will want to call your school and make sure. Otherwise, you will want to plan to bring your own towels, bed-sheets, covers, pillowcases, etc.
Clearly, summer orientation is a massive undertaking, with so many things to take in and learn that the chances are good you will find yourself feeling, at times, a bit overwhelmed. Don’t worry about absorbing absolutely everything the Orientation Leader and school officials tell you – focus on absorbing a few things that are most important to you. Also, don’t worry about meeting everyone – instead, think about simply trying to make a few good connections, for example, with one or two students who maybe share your major or will be living in your dorm, with a professor in your field of study, and maybe a Residence Assistant (RA) for your dorm. It could all feel overwhelming, but it could be a lot of fun as well; try to be prepared and manage your expectations and you will more than likely gain a lot of valuable information while also having a great time at your orientation!
“It's only awkward if you choose to make it awkward. You are in an unfamiliar place surrounded by unfamiliar people – we are all hardwired to feel uncomfortable in this kind of situation. Make an active decision to be comfortable by realizing that everyone is in the same position as you and be open to meeting interesting people. Getting to know your classmates and your college will be a fun experience – embrace that.”
– User “CarlosEthos” at CollegeConfidential.com.
Many colleges have obligatory health insurance policies so that the student will be charged for health insurance along with all other billable costs (i.e., tuition, fees, and room and board). However, if you are covered under your parents’ health insurance, this may reduce your college bill by allowing you to forego your college’s health insurance. Talk to your parents and ask them if you are covered under their health insurance. If you are, you can then notify your college and this may in fact reduce your bill.
Primarily, the college will list your loan totals for the year on your official award letter and will provide you with more information about these loans if you have accepted them (you will be prompted to accept your loans either in writing or on your school’s web account). This information will cover your federal Direct (a/k/a “Stafford”) loans and any federal Perkins loans you receive. Typically, your school will also prompt you to go to studentloans.gov and complete two final tasks before your federal loans can be dispersed to the school:
Further information on your loans should be available directly from your loan servicer rather than from the college itself. Usually, you will receive an email notification about who your loan servicer will be. Otherwise, you can call your school’s financial aid office or visit The National Student Loan Data System to keep track of who is servicing your loans.
You are required to notify your college about any outside scholarships or grants you receive. But, different schools will have different policies on exactly how these outside funds will affect the student’s bill. You should contact your school’s financial aid office and ask a financial aid officer, for example, “What is your policy on the treatment of outside scholarships?” Quite often, outside scholarships and/or grants will be sent directly to the college and consequently reduce the total amount you will need to borrow in a loan or earn through work-study. However, outside scholarships and grants may also reduce the amount of institutional aid (grants and scholarships given by your school) that you may be eligible to receive. Click here for more information.
As delightful as it would undoubtedly be to simply kick back, frolic, and languish in all of summer’s lazy hazy splendor, you really would be better off working at least a part-time job to earn some pre-college money. When you consider the things you are going to need before school starts in the fall – things that won’t be on your official school bill, for example, textbooks – you will better understand the need for some extra money this summer. Preferably, get a full-time job and actually save a large sum of money; this way, you will be able to pay for more of your school’s costs out-of-pocket and this may significantly reduce the amount of loans you would otherwise have to borrow.
Attending summer orientation is usually mandatory for all new students, so you may not have much choice in the matter; but, it is one of the most important things you can do prior to beginning school in the fall. Orientation isn’t merely an informal introduction to the school you will be attending for the next four years – it is the true beginning of your personal college experience. It will be the first time you spend a lot of time on campus, with other students, faculty, and college officials partaking in fun and significant college readiness events and activities.
Orientation typically includes opportunities to meet campus staff, attend presentations on college life, discuss financial aid, and take placement exams for different subject areas. Moreover, orientation gives you the opportunity to meet classmates and potential roommates, pick up your student ID, and learn where important buildings and rooms are (like the dining commons, for example). All this activity can make orientation somewhat overwhelming; but, generally, the idea is for you to get comfortable with the academic and social setting you will be calling home for the next four years.
If you will be moving on to campus this coming fall, you should definitely take some time this summer to organize everything you will need for your new, much more independent life at college. You should not wait until the last minute to figure out what stuff you will be bringing with you. Different colleges will have different restrictions on what you can bring, so you don’t want to simply “wing it” and find out that you brought a lot of stuff that has to be shipped back home because your school doesn’t allow it. Visit your college’s web site to look for a “What to Bring” checklist, or call your college’s Residence Life office to find out about what you can and cannot bring with you. (You might also want to keep in mind how your dorm room will be laid out so you can best plan how you might organize your possessions within that space. Tip: when you go to summer orientation take photos and measurements of your dorm room so you will better know what stuff you can fit in your room.)
Once you know what your school allows you to bring you can then get busy gathering those items most essential to your upcoming college life experience. Again, don’t procrastinate! Buying a bed-set, a mini-fridge, a clothes’ hamper, cleaning supplies, and assorted other items can take time and become overwhelming if you wait to do everything at the last minute.
As a new college student, you will experience a degree of independence that you may be unprepared for financially. That is, your meals, transportation, entertainment, and various other things will no longer be subject to the controls of your parent(s) and so, these things will largely be up to you to budget for by yourself. You would be smart to learn how to budget your money each month and keep track of your spending so that you maintain enough money to adequately pay for these things with your job earnings, work-study earnings, or parental contributions to your welfare. You can start the summer before your first semester by sitting down and figuring out a basic monthly tally for food, parking passes, movies, bus fares, etc., and then conceiving of how much money you think you will be able to dedicate to some of these things. Whether you can actually afford these things will probably be another matter – one that might take some learning as you go (by trial and error, as they say) – but, you can at least get started thinking about your daily or monthly expenditures in a responsible, mature fashion.
Once your school alerts you to who your roommate or roommates will be, you could use their contact information and get in touch with them. It might be a good idea to look them up on Facebook to arrange a meet-up. If a mutually agreed upon day and place can be selected, you and your roommate(s) could get lunch, or even shop for dorm room supplies together (that way, you can all avoid buying unnecessary amounts of the same things). Also, this might be the time to make a plan with your roommate(s) about who is going to bring what “big ticket” item with them to the dorm, for example, the television, the gaming system, the mini-fridge, etc.
You can really help yourself academically by preparing for your course work as much as possible in advance of the fall semester. You especially want to find out all the books you will need by reviewing your courses’ syllabi. Then you can shop around and find the best prices on books.
Beyond simply acquiring course materials, you should feel free to read a bit into the subject matter of your courses. Instead of binge-watching Netflix, maybe crack open The Brothers Karamazov so you will be a bit more attuned to who Alyosha, Ivan, Dmitri, and Smerdyakov are, and thus a bit more prepared for that Introduction to Literature class you have on the horizon. Moreover, some classes will require pre-existing knowledge and skills – for example, in computer applications, mathematics, or the sciences – so take advantage of the free time you will have during the summer to gain or sharpen competency in some of these fields.
Hopefully, you visited your campus at least once prior to choosing to attend the school. Your summer orientation provides another great opportunity to get the “lay of the land.” Still, it doesn’t hurt to learn as much as possible about your soon-to-be new home. The last thing you want on your first day of classes is to be running around campus desperately trying to find your designated classrooms. During the summer, get a map of your college campus, study it assiduously (there’s a big SAT word for you!), and pinpoint where all of your classes are scheduled to take place. This way, you won’t be showing up to class late, frazzled, and out of breath.
Aside from locating all of your classrooms, careful inspection of your campus map coupled with a little exploration on-foot will help you determine what other features of the campus might be most helpful to you. For example, you may find that there are banking services on or around the campus with lesser fees than your hometown bank, so you may consider switching to your college town’s bank for convenience and savings.
Another way to learn about your campus is to follow various campus offices on social media – so, for instance, follow the Residential Life Office or the Financial Aid Office.
The more you know about all the details and features of your college campus, the more at-home you will feel.
Dormitory Life: What to Expect When you Live on Campus
You have decided to (or been compelled to) live on campus and you are probably curious (or nervous/anxious) about exactly what dormitory life will entail. Campus housing can be dramatically different across a wide range of different colleges, but here are a few general ideas about what you can expect from your dormitory life.
Living with Roommates
As a freshman, you will probably be assigned a roommate. If you have chosen or been assigned a triple or a suite, it’s likely you will have several roommates. Ideally, you will forge strong friendships with these other students (even if not becoming BFFs); after all, you will be sharing the same living space for quite some time. This can be a great opportunity to make multiple friends fairly fast and you should look at it that way so that you enter into this new living situation with a positive, open-minded attitude. Roommates will, in some way, share in your personal journey through your college years – potentially exulting in your triumphs and commiserating with you in less glorious moments – and, if nothing else, they make for good company on the way to class, the gym, or the dining hall. Sometimes, truly remarkable friendships are forged and college roommates will keep in touch for many years after college.
Of course, you don’t have to become friends. You may be assigned a roommate who is very different from you and some of the differences between you and your roommate may seem insurmountable. Try to remember, however, that you want to live harmoniously with this other person. You don’t have to be best friends but it’s difficult to see how the living arrangement will work if you and your roommate aren’t at least friendly. It is therefore in your and your roommate’s best interest to figure out ways around your differences.
There are a few, almost guaranteed ways of establishing a harmonious living space with your roommate(s). For example, you should always be respectful of your roommate’s space and possessions; this will set the tone that you expect to be treated with the same respect. Also, you should always maintain a neat living space – again, setting the tone. You should ask your roommate’s permission before bringing other people into the space. You should be mindful of your roommate’s study, work, and sleep schedules. And you should always be communicative without being overbearing with your roommate. The politics of cohabitating can become complicated and even bothersome if you and your roommate don’t share in the maintenance and harmony of the dorm room equally.
If, even after doing your best to foster a mutually respectful and beneficial environment in the dorm, you find that there are still problems with your living situation, you may have to have a more serious conversation with your roommate. Maybe it will be about annoying personal habits and routines or something even more negative. Whatever the problem, you should talk respectfully with your roommate so that you can both try to work through the situation. If the problem persists, however, you may have to seek the guidance of your resident assistant (RA). Most colleges will have an RA stationed on each floor. The RA is an upperclassman who is responsible for mediating any conflicts between roommates and making sure everyone in the dorm is getting what they need from their living situation. If you have talked with your roommate about a conflict and things just aren’t getting better, contact your RA for help. But, for many of you, getting to know your roommate will be one of the best parts of college life!
Dormitories and residence halls vary widely from college to college in shape, size, style, and function. Some colleges have same-sex/unisex residence halls only (i.e., girls live in one building and boys live in a different building). Other colleges have residence buildings that are technically co-ed (i.e., boys and girls in the same building) but the genders will be separated by different wings or floors. In other colleges boys and girls will live together on the same floor but the individual rooms will be gender-specific. Some colleges are more apartment style or house-like – being used by a small number of students – while other dormitories can be huge and house hundreds or even thousands of students. There may also be specific conditions for living in certain dorms other than gender; for example, there is substance-free housing (i.e., no alcohol allowed) available at many schools.
Life in the dorm can be quite exciting, eclectic, strange, interesting, and challenging (there are many more adjectives one could use, but you get the idea). When you move into your dorm you will likely be entering a very diverse population. You will live with students from different towns, states, and countries. Many of your dorm-mates will have backgrounds vastly different from yours. So, this is a great opportunity for you to learn about different cultures – to become more versed in different languages, musical styles, foods, philosophies, and other interests – in short, to become worldlier. You can start on move-in day by simply introducing yourself!
Given the good chances of meeting a wide range of interesting new people, you may have the most fun in your dormitory just hanging out in public areas. Most dorms and residence halls have a study lounge and a common area where students can socialize. Again, introduce yourself! Even if you are the shy type, say hello to your fellow dorm-mates when you get the chance, greet people in the hallways, and talk freely with those who are amenable to it. By being present in these public areas, you will naturally get to know other students. Just be open to meeting new people and you will be surprised, perhaps, at how quickly you succeed!
While you will have opportunities everyday to meet new people and participate in a new, dynamic social environment, your dorm or residence hall may also have specially organized social events. These events are typically organized by the RA and can take the form of any number of different activities, for example, dances, foreign food festivals, bowling trips, music concerts, inner-tube water-polo tournaments, and paintball competitions. These events can be great ways to meet new friends so ask your RA about them! You will get so much more out of your college experience by joining in with these activities so, even if you are extremely shy, you should try to attend your dorm’s special events when they happen.
Finally, a few practical things: most dormitories and residence halls will have a spot for you to do laundry, and many will have their own dining hall or kitchen. Some dormitories have computer labs with printers or libraries. Ask your RA or the residence life office what features your dormitory/hall has before you move in so that you are fully prepared to live in your new place!
Helpful Link: What to Ask Your Future Roommate