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Checklist for First-time College Freshmen

written by: Sylvia Cochran•edited by: Noreen Gunnell•updated: 6/7/2011

There are 10 things all college students need; they are as crucial as the microwave for the dorm room and the notebook computer for the school work. If you are still caught up in a college supply shopping mode, take a breather and consider some of the ‘needs’ that inevitably outshine the ‘wants.’

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    Separating the ‘Needs’ from the ‘Wants’

    Making a list of the supplies college students need is much like separating the wheat from the chaff. Plenty of items are considered absolute must-haves today, even though they really are little more than gadgets that make life and studying simpler while nevertheless not being essential. Dig down deeper and ensure that you fulfill the ‘needs’ before heading off to college with just the ‘wants’ in your luggage.

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    1. Perspective through Community Service Opportunities

    First among things college students need: new and even seasoned college students need perspective, especially if they experience personal failure in a class or relationship. While away from home and cutting the apron strings that have thus far allowed mom or dad to provide perspective, Washington University in St. Louis explains that community service opportunities dampen me-focus and help a student to keep a bad grade, a breakup or any other disappointment in perspective.

    Tip: Find ongoing community service opportunities in your college town; one example might be regularly scheduled beach clean-up days.

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    2. New Friends via Volunteer Organizations

    Finding new friends is difficult for some students who are moving to a new city. Expand a social circle organically by signing up with volunteer organizations. This helps even with the times when plenty of student peers are out of town, such as during the holidays.

    Tip: Get involved with a hometown volunteer organization that has a program in your future college town. You’ll already know the ropes and at least one thing will feel familiar after moving.

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    3. Workable Time Management Stratagem

    Whether you opt for the very simple Pomodoro Technique for time management or subscribe to something a bit more complicated, find a strategy and stick with it. Doing so cuts down on procrastination, cramming before exams, turning in last-minute papers that are not up to par and also protects against the Siren song of ‘pills’ that help you stay awake or fall asleep.

    Tip: Play around with time management techniques during vacation. Once you find one that works, adapt it to fit your college lifestyle.

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    4. A College Mindset

    Recent high school graduates in particular are highly susceptible to the mindset that effort should be rewarded. While this is true in the high school setting, it is not part of the college environment. The University of California at Santa Barbara urges incoming freshmen to remember that two students who turn in similar work – although one worked on it for one day and the other for one week – receive similar grades. Effort is no longer rewarded; only results count. The latter is true especially in highly competitive majors or programs.

    Tip: Set up a weekly calendar that allocates ample time for each study subject. Tweak it once you know how much time you have to invest for each class. Eradicate “good enough" from your thought processes.

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    5. Prepaid Phone Cards

    Maintain a connection with parents, friends and family members. This is especially true when moving to a new city or state for college. Prepaid phone cards help stretch the student budget and prevent excessive cell phone use that leaves you without service if you cannot pay the bill.

    Tip: Ask for prepaid phone cards for the holidays and special occasions prior to (and after) heading off for college.

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    6. Prepaid Credit Cards

    A credit card is a must for quick access to emergency cash. Even so, plenty of students have run up huge balances by spending unwisely. Open a dedicated savings account to which you may tie a debit card or buy a prepaid credit card. It still affords you the ease of commerce with a plastic Visa or MC logo, but it protects against overdraft fees, high interest rates and exorbitant debts.

    Tip: Shop around for the best rates. Even prepaid credit cards carry fees that vary greatly.

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    7. An Academic Advisor

    Even if your college does not assign advisors, build a relationship with someone in your major department who can act as a guide. An academic advisor helps ensure that you sign up for the classes you need in sequence. She or he also acts as a sounding board if you are considering changing your major after enrollment.

    Tip: Locate an advisor early on in your academic career. Do not wait until you are halfway through.

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    8. School Supplies

    Aside from pens and paper, a computer and applicable software, be sure to invest also in a backup hard drive and surge protector. It is easy to lose the midterm research paper due to a power failure.

    Tip: Save money by asking the school office or major department for a list of required supplies and buying second-hand whenever possible.

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    9. Transportation

    If funds permit for a car, be sure to keep it properly serviced and insured. If a car is too costly, become familiar with the public transportation system in your college town.

    Tip: Download bus and train schedules during the break and chart your routes from home to school, from the dorm to the nearest mall and other areas you would like to visit.

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    10. Student ID

    Rely on this little piece of plastic to translate into substantial savings when buying a public transportation pass, movie tickets or admission to other locales.

    Tip: Find out prior to arrival what you need to apply for a student ID. Speed up the process as much as possible.

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    Although this is a list of only 10 items, they do represent things all college students need. Make sure that you do not leave home unprepared!

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    Sources

      • Washington University. "Community Service Office" at http://www.communityservice.wustl.edu/quotes/ (accessed May 29, 2011)
      • University of California, Santa Barbara. "Advice for Freshmen" at http://www.physics.ucsb.edu/~airboy/freshmen.html (accessed May 29, 2011)