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10 Tips for Your First Weeks in College, Part I (Tips #1-5)

August is here and many students across the nation are preparing for their first weeks in college. As you prepare for your first weeks in college, or if you are helping a college student prepare for their first weeks, I want to share a few tips that may help. This piece explains the first five tips (#1-5) in a set of 10 tips. A follow-up piece will be released soon to elaborate on the last five tips (#6-10). Let's get started.

1. Set a Monthly Budget: Whether you are leaving the home of your parent(s)/guardian(s), moving to a new state, or adding college tuition to your list of duties, your expenses are likely changing as you prepare to enter college. For this reason, it is wise to take the time to write out a list of monthly expenses, including your needs and wants. A simple Word Excel document can be used to accomplish this task. First, determine what your income will be and how often you will be paid. Will you work and receive a monthly paycheck, or have you chosen to concentrate on school completely and use a minor financial aid refund to cover expenses?

Second, once your income is set, consider expenses such as rent and utilities, toiletries, beauty maintenance (i.e. nails and hair), activities, cell phone, gym, course supplies (i.e. laptop, notebooks, pencils), transportation, groceries/meals, and emergency funds. Third, once you have listed your expenses, mark which expenses are needs versus wants. While listing expenses, consider items that you might get for free or for a reduced cost based on your college student status. One of the great things about college is that there are several free resources and you should take advantage of those resources. For example, instead of paying for a monthly gym membership, head to your campus athletic center. Or, instead of paying for public transportation, check to see if your campus ID can be used to ride local transportation free of charge (the ID Card center is a great place to start for this inquiry). You can also use your student ID for discounts at various restaurants in the college town.

Fourth, now with an idea of your income, your expenses, and potential free items, you can now set-up your budget spreadsheet or document. For ideas on how to set-up your budget sheet, see the link below. As you set-up your budget sheet, ensure that you have enough funds to cover necessities, then move to budgeting the items that you want or the items that are a bit more flexible.

Need additional assistance? Visit your campus Money Management Center or checkout this resource from the Federal Student Aid Website:

2. Take a Campus Tour and City Tour: Taking a campus tour is important during your first weeks in college so that you are familiar with the campus and resources on the campus. You can explore campus on your own using a campus map or contact your enrollment/admissions office to conduct a formal tour with you. Sometimes other peers conduct these tours and you might find a new friend during this process. Additionally, it might help to take a tour of the city so that you are aware of off-campus local activities and attractions. Try visiting the office of tourism in your college city to hear about local attractions. Knowing more about the campus and the city will assist with feeling more at-home in the city where you are attending college.

3. Attend a Welcome Event: Welcome week events are intended to welcome you to campus, to introduce you to various resources, and to assist you in networking with other students. Attending these events could change your college experience as many new students meet lifetime friends as such events. If you are bashful about attending welcome events alone, there are some campus groups that typically plan to attend these events together. Such groups include your residence hall association and other campus clubs. It will also be ok to attend this event alone because what you might not realize is that there are several other new students who feel the same as you. Think of these students who also want to meet a new friend during their first weeks in college. If you are still not convinced to attend a welcome event, review clubs and organizations at your institution and attend a club meeting during your first few weeks in college. This is a great way to get involved and another way to meet new people.

4. Get to Know Your Instructors: I have seen many college students who do not get to know their instructors until it is crunch time. Do not be that student who only goes to your instructor's office when your grade is on the line at the end of the semester. On your first day of class, review your syllabus and take note of the office hours of your instructors. Then review your schedule (see tip #5) or calendar and set strategic times that you can visit your instructor to ask pointed questions about lesson plans and class projects. If you find it hard to set time to visit your instructor during office hours, try staying after class, arriving early to class, or emailing your instructor to ask questions. Such contact and interaction greatly helps when you might be in a crunch or need additional assistance at the end of the semester.

5. Set a Schedule: Setting a schedule is important, especially for those transitioning from high school to college because your level of flexibility is going to be different. To set your schedule, look for a planner or calendar that meets your style. For example, will you use an online calendar or paper planner? If you plan to use a paper planner, some institutions offer them as a give-away at your New Student Orientation or other welcome events. Either way, once you have your planner, begin to input your items for a typical weekly schedule. Include your class schedule, work schedule, study schedule, any extracurricular activities (i.e. church, gym time, campus clubs), and do not forget to allow yourself time for adequate sleep. I once worked with a student who had so much on his schedule that he was not allowing himself time to sleep. So do not over-schedule yourself. Overall, planning your schedule will help with visualizing your week, understanding what you can reasonably accomplish within 24-hours, and preventing over-scheduling.

I hope tips #1-5 have been helpful for your college transition. If you enjoyed these tips, Tips #6-10 are coming soon, so stay tuned!


If you are interested in setting an individualized college success plan for yourself or your student, contact us at

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