You've probably heard it, but it's impossible to overstate: starting your first year of college off on the right foot can go a long way toward setting the tone for success throughout the rest of your time in school. Conversely, falling behind in your first year might cause you so much stress that you lose the chance to enjoy college life.
We asked some university advisors and college prep experts for their advice on ways you can get set for college during the summer before your first full semester, and they did not disappoint. Check out these five tips that can prepare you to hit the ground running in the fall.
Expert tip #1: Practice time management
Between new social environments, coursework responsibilities and domestic tasks like grocery shopping and laundry, the transition to college comes with a whole portfolio of reasons not to lose track of time. If you don't have much experience managing a moderately complicated schedule, you may end up playing from behind as you get accustomed to managing your new responsibilities.
Ensure that you are able to priortize your schoolwork vs. your personal life.
"Starting college is a new journey filled with challenges and increased expectations," says Dr. Kevyn To, college prep author and founder of admissions counseling firm APE Advisor Prep. "Ensuring that you are able to prioritize your school vs. personal life is key to starting college off successfully."
This tip is especially important if you're thinking about taking any online bachelor's degree courses. The virtual classroom can be a great option for students who are confident in their time management skills, but if you're unaccustomed to setting priorities and self-supervising you might be in for a rude awakening. Setting appointments for routine things, giving yourself deadlines and discussing priority management with older friends or family members can help you practice up.
Expert tip #2: Learn the lay of the land
How far is it from your dorm to the dining hall? Where are the elevators in the library? Which route across campus is the most direct? You may not be especially restless about finding the answers to these questions now, but once you're spending every day of your week on campus you'll probably want to know all about the best ways to get around.
AJ Saleem, founder of college prep startup Suprex Learning, suggests that you move in to your new digs earlier than necessary, if possible. "Many colleges will allow you to stay in the dorms ahead of time since a lot of them are occupied," Saleem says. "It is the perfect time to make new friends as everyone there early really wants to go. You will be able to make friends before you even start and even know the blueprints of the school ahead of time!"
Moving in early can also help ease the separation anxiety that some students (and parents!) feel during that first year away from home, since you'll have fewer responsibilities in the pre-fall months and be able to visit more often. If your school doesn't explicitly offer an early residency program, it can't hurt to check with the admissions or student services department to see if anything unofficial might be available.
Expert tip #3: Read, write, and keep your study habits strong
There are some pretty well known perks of summer school in college, and doing some basic credit work before your first semester even officially starts can be sturdy launching pad for your college experience. Keeping your writing skills sharp is particularly important, according to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary's director of enrollment Rev. Derek R. Davenport:
"If you haven't written much your senior year of high school, and then don't write anything beyond texts or emails over the summer, that skill will start to wither," says Rev. Davenport. "Students who spend time intentionally reading great books, expressing themselves in writing and getting a head start through summer programs will find that they enter their first year prepared for the work, with a head start on credits."
Even if you're planning to pursue a STEM degree, your first few semesters of college coursework are likely to include plenty of essays, research papers and other assignments that focus on writing. In the event that you'll be moving a long distance for college and don't have direct access to the campus for summer school courses, your school may be one of the growing number of online colleges that offer summer courses through distance education.
Expert tip #4: Score a short internship
Studies have shown that between 60 and 80 percent of students change their major at least once while in school, and one of the main reasons why students make the switch is disillusionment — that is, the realization that the reality of the major they initially declared isn't quite what they imagined it would be.
Taking on a short summer internship can give you a better picture of the professional side of your major, but the steps you need to take to get one may not be common knowledge.
Taking on a short summer internship can give you a better picture of the professional side of your major, but the steps you need to take to get one may not be common knowledge. Hans Hanson, national college advisor and co-founder of CollegeLogic, has some detailed advice for anyone who wants to try an internship on for size before their first full semester begins:
"Create a student-profile sheet, a brief introductory video, and a personal statement," Hanson says. "This is a personal marketing package and it reflects serious intent. Do a Google search on companies related to the field of study, call the company direct and email them the personal marketing package."
There are also other ways to explore your chosen major in the summer before college: talking to advisors in your department, reading blogs published by professionals in the field, and requesting to sit in on summer sections of upper-division classes in your major are three more that come straight to mind. Explore different types of degree programs for an idea of courses you might expect, and check out career options for an even better idea of what could be in store for you.
Expert tip #5: Get a job
A 2015 report by Georgetown University, the latest available on the subject, indicates that between 70 and 80 percent of undergraduates work at least part time while earning their degrees, with around 40 percent working 30 hours or more per week. Balancing work and school can be a challenge for anyone, but those whose job experience is limited tend to have the hardest time of all.
"Even entry-level jobs can be a great learning experience," says Renee Rashid, founder and CEO of college-focused information resource Blayz. "Make it a point to learn all about managing your finances — opening a bank account, balancing your checkbook, building your credit score. If you can find something related to your field, that's even better."
What's more, choosing a job that's somewhat related to your major can make this tip do double duty. Not only will you be able to practice personal finance and stack up a little pocket money, but you'll have the chance to gain valuable perspective on the segment of working world you'll be graduating into.
Expert tip #6: Get some ... zzz's?
Effective preparation can truly set you up for success, but using every moment of your summer working tirelessly toward improving your college experience could potentially do you more harm than good. In fact, many of the experts we talked to had one piece of advice in common that's important to reprint here, even if it isn't the easiest thing on which to take quantifiable action.
What's that consensus tip, you ask? It's simpler than you might imagine.
Get some rest.
College life can be pretty strenuous for a first-year student, and if you constantly stress yourself out yourself preparing for it you might end up starting the semester already exhausted.
College life can be pretty strenuous for a first-year student, and if you constantly stress yourself out yourself preparing for it you might end up starting the semester already exhausted. You've got friends and family to spend time with and, chances are, plenty of self-reflection to do. While you're preparing to become the best person you can be, it's important to remember to take some time to care for the person you already are.
1. Interviews:, AJ Saleem, conducted April 17, 2016, Kevyn To, conducted April 15, 2016, Derek Davenport, conducted April 15, 2016, Hans Hanson, conducted April 16, 2016, Renee Rashid, conducted April 16, 2016
2. "70 percent of students change major after enrollment, study finds," The Daily Princetonian, Corinne Lowe, September 18, 2014, accessed April 22, 2016, http://dailyprincetonian.com/news/2014/09/70-percent-of-students-change-major-after-enrollment-study-finds/
3. Working Learners Report, Georgetown University, accessed April 22, 2019, https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/Working-Learners-Report.pdf