My College:

Summer Action Items for Incoming Freshmen and Parents

Suzanne Shaffer

Between the fanfare of high school graduation and the momentous start of college is a very busy summer for students — and their families.

Planning is key to avoiding stress (and emotional outbursts) in your household. If you each do your part, the transition to the next chapter in your lives will go smoothly. Here are suggested to-do lists.


Students should take the lead in preparing for their upcoming college experience.

1. Check the campus website for incoming freshman checklist.

Colleges typically provide checklists for incoming students and their parents (I've linked to an example of a first-year student checklist from a public university in my home state).

This is a good place to start when making your summer to-do-list. Follow instructions and complete every item on the list before the required deadline.

2. Set up a calendar and get organized.

College is the first time students are responsible for managing and scheduling all aspects of their lives. They quickly find that juggling classes, homework, activities, a social life, volunteering and everything in between can be overwhelming.

Google Calendar is one easy way to keep it all under control. Here’s a helpful resource created by a college student: Using Google Calendar to Organize Your Entire Life."

3. Get to work.

College is expensive and there will costs beyond tuition, room and board. The summer months provide plenty of time for a part-time job (or two).

Your student should have a goal of saving money to help pay for books, transportation, entertainment and other essentials during the school year.

4. Register for online or in-person new student orientation.

Orientation offers an in-depth introduction to the place and people that will play a defining role in your student’s life for the next four years, and for that reason, it should be just as important to you as to them.

Whether offered in person or online, orientation programming is 100% valuable. At orientation, your student will learn about campus departments and procedures, the student code of conduct, academic and health resources, and more. They'll meet faculty, administrators, staff and student leaders.

Becoming familiar with the campus and school culture ahead of time will make it easier to adjust in the fall. When orientations are held on campus, it's also a chance for your student to meet new classmates and start making friends.

5. Connect with the college on social media.

Social media is a useful tool for meeting people and getting involved with their incoming freshman class. Search for the class group on Facebook and follow the college on Instagram and Twitter — connect with other students by using appropriate hashtags.

6. Connect with future roommate(s).

If the college has assigned a roommate, your student should break the ice and contact them. If your student is responsible for finding their own roommate, social media can be used to foster online friendships that lead to a match.

Roommate matching sites like RoomSurf and RoomSync can also be helpful in matching students based on compatibility percentages. Learn all about first-year housing here.

7. Research professors.

If possible, do a little research before registering for classes to see which professors students prefer. Rate My Professors lets you ask questions of students who have taken classes with the professors, and also collects information on things like whether the textbook is needed, what the workload is like, and the professor’s teaching style.

8. Communicate with an advisor and register for classes.

At some schools, this will happen during orientation or at move-in; in other cases online registration may be offered. Either way, your student should register for classes at the earliest opportunity. Desirable introductory classes fill fast — if they wait, they’ll be left with fewer options and undesirable class times.

9. Apply for scholarships.

Encourage your student to spend some time this summer searching and applying for scholarships. Free money is free money and the more your student wins, the less they will have to borrow or you will have to pay. They can apply for scholarships throughout their college years.

10. Take care of health.

Your student should make appointments to see their family physician, dentist, gynecologist if applicable, and optometrist. If they aren’t used to making their own appointments, walk them through the process of scheduling these by phone or online.

Make sure all prescriptions are filled and ready for refills if necessary. They should understand how their health insurance works, how to access health services on campus, and what to do if and when they get sick away from home.

11. Contact the financial aid office.

Early summer is a good time to check with the financial aid office to verify all paperwork is complete to avoid any financial aid delays. This is especially important if the college is providing grants or scholarships or if your student has applied for student loans.

12. Research campus jobs and apply for work-study positions.

If your student is awarded federal work-study or plans to work during college, they should start searching for jobs now. Not all students who are awarded work-study will be guaranteed a job. It is up to your student to find the job and secure it before school starts. “On- and Off-Campus Jobs for College Students” should help.

13. Investigate textbook options.

After your student registers for classes, it’s time to search for textbooks. The textbook list should be posted by the professor on the campus website. There are many options available for securing textbooks: buying new, buying used and renting. Use and to compare prices.

14. Read!

There will be mounds of material to read and absorb during college so it’s a good idea to start or strengthen a reading habit over the summer. Some schools have a list of books they’d like incoming students to read before fall term; other schools suggest a single title for all freshmen to read that will provide a basis for common discussion during move-in week or in freshman seminars. These reading lists — like the one posted by UC Berkeley prepare students for college-level reading.


Parents also have tasks to complete during the summer to prepare for fall! Here is your very own to-do list.

1. Participate in parent and family orientation, if it's offered.

Orientation is not just for students! Many colleges offer a parent and family orientation alongside new student orientation. Some, like UC San Diego, even have a separate orientation program for International families.

At parent and family orientation, you will learn about school policies, hear from school faculty and administrators (including the very important and helpful people who work in the parent and family program office), and have a chance to ask questions.

It’s also common to have a discussion about “letting go” — a topic most parents find helpful. The more you know about how things work at your student’s new school, the more comfortable you’ll be stepping back.

2. Make plans for Family Weekend.

Many colleges and universities host a fall Family Weekend when parents can visit their student and participate in scheduled events.

Most 2020 Family Weekends were cancelled, but we're all hoping for in-person experiences this year. Check the dates and make your hotel reservation ASAP — hotels near campus may fill up quickly.

3. Have some important conversations.

How can you help your student transition into college life? Do you need to chat about the importance of good nutrition and regular sleep to their overall health? Are they aware of important safety concerns and risks involved with alcohol and drugs? Perhaps they’re considering Greek life — discuss pros and cons and find out a bit about the chapters that are active on their campus.

In general, you can encourage your student to be intentional about their personal and academic goals for the year to come. Every parent will have their own approach, but here’s a short list of 10 snippets of advice I wish I’d given my daughter before she left for college.

4. Schedule family time.

Naturally you want to pack in some family time with your soon-to-be college student. Just remember they have friends, activities and many things to do before they leave in the fall. Put a few things on the calendar, though, so you don’t miss out on opportunities to bond.

5. Teach life skills.

If you haven’t already, it’s time to teach your student how to do laundry, shop for groceries and cleaning supplies, create a budget, use public transportation, change a tire (or call AAA), etc.

You may still be surprised by a late-night call (“What do I take if I’m sick?” “Help — I locked my keys in the car!”) but at least they’ll know some basics.

6. Discuss money issues.

Be clear about what you will pay for and what you expect your student to cover. This will help you come up with the amount your student will contribute toward college expenses. Read more about budgets and spending money here.

7. Arrange to pay the fall tuition bill according to the school’s timetable.

You may need to make the first housing and/or tuition payments over the summer. Make note of deadlines and pay any bills on time before your student enters in the fall. Information about payment plans will be available on the website (look for the Bursar’s office).

8. Go shopping.

Less is more when it comes to shopping for the dorm room. There are any number of lists out there to help you and your student decide what to take (the college/university residence life webpage should have one, too).

Just remember they’re not moving there permanently and it’s a small space. Buy the necessities and wait until move-in day to see what else is needed. Here’s some help: CollegiateParent's Essential College Packing List

9. Consider communication.

Going from seeing your teen every day to not at all can be a shock. Be sure to talk about how and when you’ll communicate after they move to campus. You both want to feel comfortable with the frequency, especially during the first month or so.

10. Look into Parent and Family programs.

Schools offer parent and family programming to keep you in the loop with important campus updates, news, events and more. Sign up for the parent newsletter if there is one, and get in the habit of browsing the website.

11. Discuss move-in day.

Talk to your student ahead of time about expectations. The move-in schedule may include a set time/place for families and students to say goodbye. If your student wants you to help them unpack, be ready to fill drawers and move furniture and then to leave — so they can turn their attention to their new classmates and all the things they need to learn about their new community.

Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been featured in print and online on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News College, TeenLife, Smart College Visit, Road2College and more.
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