10 Things You Should Know Before You Start College

Advice for Getting Your First Semester of College Off to a Good Start

Setting off for your first semester of college can be scary, and even the most eager aspiring first-year will have questions. Although colleges do their best to make new students feel welcome, there are some issues that won’t be addressed in the orientation package. Here’s a little guide to some of the more practical matters of getting your college career started right.

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Every College Has Different Rules on What You Can Bring

Move-In Day at Nazareth College
Move-In Day at Nazareth College. Nazareth College / Flickr

It is essential that you check the list of approved and prohibited items from your college before you move in. Rules vary from school to school, and you may want to hold off on buying that mini-fridge/microwave combo until you make sure you can have them in your dorm. Incense, candles, and your pet hamster are most likely forbidden. Even things you might not think about, such as power strips or halogen lamps, might be prohibited by your university. This guide on What to Pack When Heading to College has some helpful lists, but make sure you check your college's specific requirements, too.

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You Probably Shouldn’t Take Your Whole Closet

Dorm storage space is one thing that many incoming freshmen overestimate. Depending on the size of your wardrobe, it might be a good idea to consider leaving everything but the necessities at home. Besides, you might find you don't need as many clothes as you think—most college laundry facilities are easy, inexpensive, and located right in the residence hall. You may even find that your college offers free use of washers and dryers. It's a good idea to do some research before you start school to see whether or not you need to stock up on quarters. Some colleges even have high-tech laundry services that will text you once your clothes are ready. Be sure to do a little research into your college's laundry facilities before you pack for college.

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You Might Not Like Your First Roommate (And That’s Not the End of the World)

For your first semester of college, odds are you'll have either a randomly picked roommate or a roommate who was selected based on your responses to a brief questionnaire. And while it's completely possible that you will be the best of friends, it's also possible that you might not get along. This can be uncomfortable, but remember that with classes, clubs, and other campus events, you probably won't be in your room very much anyway. By the time the semester is over, you'll most likely have found a friend to room with for the next term. However, if your roommate is a bit more than you can handle, Residential Advisors and Residential Directors can often help. Here's a guide for what to do if you don't like your roommate.

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First Semester Classes Might Not Be That Great (But They’ll Get Better)

For your first semester, you're probably taking a first-year seminar, some gen-ed classes, and perhaps a big 100-level lecture class. Some of the big, mostly first-year classes aren't the most engaging, and first-year students at big universities are frequently taught by graduate students rather than professors. If your classes aren't what you had hoped for, keep in mind that you will soon be in smaller, more specialized classes. Once you pick your major, you can start with the major-specific classes as well. Even if you're undecided, you'll have a wide range of classes to choose from, with everything from upper-level science courses to creative fine art studios. Just remember to register as soon as you can before the classes fill up!

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Know Where You Can Get Good Food

Food is an important part of the campus experience. Most colleges have multiple dining options, and it's a good idea to try them all your first semester. If you want to know the best place to eat, or if you need vegan, vegetarian, or gluten-free options, you can always check the college's website, or just ask your fellow students. Don't forget to try outside the college, too—college towns almost always have good, cheap food, and some office-campus establishments may even have arrangements with your college meal plan.

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You Might Not Be Able To Bring a Car (And You Probably Won’t Need One)

Whether or not you can have a car on campus your first semester depends entirely on the college. Some colleges allow them freshman year, some won't allow them until sophomore year, and some won't allow them at all. You'll want to check with your school before you end up with a parking ticket. The good news is that if you're not allowed to bring a car, you probably don't need one. Many schools offer public transportation, such as a shuttle or taxi, or a bicycle rental service. If all else fails, most campuses are designed to provide everything a student needs within walking distance. A car can also have it's downside when you have work to do but friends are pestering you for a ride somewhere.

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The IT Help Desk Is a Wonderful Place

Some of the most helpful people on a college campus can be found behind the IT Help Desk. Whether you need help connecting to the internet, getting set up with a professor's assignment drop box, figuring out how to find and connect to a printer, or recovering a lost document, the IT Help Desk is an excellent resource. It is also a good place to go if your roommate accidentally spills coffee on your laptop. There's no guarantee the IT folks can fix everything, but it's a great place to start. In an emergency, they may even have equipment they can loan you.

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There Are Tons of Things to Do (And It’s Pretty Easy to Find Them)

The last thing anyone should be worried about is being bored on campus. Almost every college has a host of student clubs and organizations, frequent campus events, and other activities. They're not hard to find, either. Colleges usually have a list of registered student organizations, and there are often fliers and posters all around campus for things to do and clubs to join. Some clubs even have their own social media sites, which could help you not only learn about the clubs, but also contact current members.

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Plan Out Your Academic Career Early (But Don’t Be Afraid to Change It)

In order to make sure you have all the credits you need to graduate on time, it's a good idea to plan out your courses early. Don't forget to plan for general education requirements and classes you need for your major. But keep in mind that your plan won't be written in stone. Most students change their majors at least once during their time in college, and this is a good thing. College is supposed to be a time of discovery. So, while it's a good idea to have a plan for your academic career, remain flexible since there's a good chance you'll end up changing it.

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You Can Get Good Grades and Have Fun

A common fear when starting college is that there will be time for either studying or having fun, but not both. The truth is that with good time management it is possible to get good grades in all your classes and still have time to be in clubs and go have fun. If you manage your schedule well, you may even get a decent amount of sleep, too.

Want to learn more? Check out these articles that can help guide you as you begin college:

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Your Citation
Miller, McKenna. "10 Things You Should Know Before You Start College." ThoughtCo, May. 11, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-you-need-to-know-before-starting-college-787027. Miller, McKenna. (2021, May 11). 10 Things You Should Know Before You Start College. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-you-need-to-know-before-starting-college-787027 Miller, McKenna. "10 Things You Should Know Before You Start College." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-you-need-to-know-before-starting-college-787027 (accessed February 3, 2023).