How to Transition to College

by Bethany Goldszer | Last Updated: May 9, 2022
Transition to College

Seniors – it’s been a long journey, but you’ve made it to College Decision Day. Congratulations! You may be dreaming about what fall will be like and what the future holds for you. But before you start making Pinterest boards to decorate your dorm, let’s discuss some important topics to ensure a smooth transition to college.

There are many steps to take between May and August to prepare for your transition to college. As a disclaimer, always consult with the enrollment letter and documents provided by your school. Also, keep in close contact with the college for important updates about your enrollment status.

This guide will walk  you through the enrollment and transition to college process, from sending your deposit to matriculating onto campus. You’ll find tips that ensure you don’t make costly mistakes or risk not being qualified to start with your class by fall.

Your most important ally in your transition to college is your college advisor. The college advisor is the person who will meet with, at least once every semester, to assist with planning your degree program curriculum and registering for classes. Like with your high school counselor, the college advisor’s time is in high demand. Once an appointment is made, do your absolute best to keep it. Not doing so could mean you risk not being able to register for the classes you want to take.

Learn to access the Blackboard or the online portal that your college uses that allows you to interact with professors and students, download assignments and course materials, upload assignments and receive important announcements. Like your email, this site will be an easy way to stay on top of everything that’s happening with your courses.

A major milestone in the transition to college, this is the fee you mailed into admissions to secure your spot for the upcoming semester. It’ll be deducted from the first semester tuition bill. Also, you should only commit to one school. But some strange things have happened this year, and more and more parents have double-deposited without being able to see campus. No judgement coming from me. Just as soon as you know where you’re going, please let the other school know so that waitlist spots open for other students.

Once you get instructions to set up your .edu email address, you can begin communicating as a college student. Make sure the credentials you set are highly secure, yet easy to remember as these will be used to access different technologies on campus such as library book reserves, WiFi and computer lab stations. If you’re anything like me, you’d want to maintain your personal email address for everything non-school related. 

Get a copy of your financial award letter and keep a copy in a safe place to refer to in future years. Also know that it’s never too late to ask for additional resources if the first offer is not enough. While negotiating before May 1 can give you more leverage, if you have a special circumstance, then you should appeal at the moment it’s impacting your family’s ability to pay. Be prepared to submit documentation supporting your changed circumstances. 

Read this article about how to appeal a financial aid award, which includes a downloadable sample financial aid appeal letter.

Also, you can check with departments you may be considering majoring in to see if there are scholarships available that you can still apply for. You never know as a student who won a scholarship may have committed to another school. Every year funding opens up when a student arrives to campus or in the second semester.

Learn about transportation options for getting around campus. Many colleges have shuttles with various routes around school and town. Once you obtain your class schedule, practice commuting from your home or dorm to classes to ensure you arrive on time the first day.

One of the most exciting parts of the transition to college is selecting your dorm and housing situation. As soon as your housing application arrives, complete and return it to the housing office. The best dorms fill up fast, and housing for first-year students, while guaranteed, is reduced down to the less favorable dorm facilities. You can expect to pay a separate housing deposit fee to reserve your room, ranging from $250 to $500. This deposit amount will be deducted from the first-year room and board costs.

In a normal year, you are required to get a physical and submit your updated immunization and health record forms to the campus health services office. During the COVID-19 pandemic, your school may also require you to get the COVID-19 vaccine to resume in-person (vs. online) classes, such as University of California schools.

If you decide to work in your first year of college, then you can begin looking for employment on campus job boards or in the work-study office. As you transition to college, these months are a good time to brush up your resume, cover letter and prepare for job interviews. Here are sample resumes you can download.

Although on your own, it’s important to make a commitment to keep your parents informed about how things are going during the first days of school. If you go too long without calling, you may get an embarrassing message from your mom via your resident assistant. It’s your first time away from home, so they want to make sure you’re ok. Perhaps you can set up regular times to check in so they don’t worry.

The most important step to acclimating to a new environment is being familiar with the terrain. Get a campus map, walk around campus and get to know landmark buildings, such as your dorm and dining hall, the student life center, and buildings where your classes will be held. Other buildings to find are the health services, financial aid, dean’s office, and the writing center.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s common to enroll into college not knowing your major. Many colleges, particularly liberal arts colleges are designed to have first-year students take core classes and electives to explore their academic talents and interests. There will be time at the end of freshman year, or during the sophomore year to begin the process of declaring a major. Your advisor will walk through this process with you…just don’t miss the appointment!

Read through your school’s housing and dining website to learn about meal plans and dining food options. Usually first year student have limited options, and flexibility increases over time.

Sign up for new student orientation immediately. Spots fill up fast and are related to your ability to meet with your advisor and register for the classes you want to take.

Don’t delay this important step. Make an appointment with your physician to get a physical, any outstanding immunizations as required by the college, and COVID-19 testing or a vaccine if required (and you want to) to arrive on campus.

As a first-year or transfer student, the best thing you can do to get to know your school is to ask questions. Remember your college has assigned a team of people to help you acclimate to your new environment and campus life. If you’re unsure who to ask, alway reach out to your assigned resident assistant or college advisor. 

You don’t have to wait until move-in day to meet your roommate. Exchange social media handles and connect on Zoom to start building a rapport.

If you are taking out student loans, the student financial aid office will ask you to complete loan entrance counseling. The session is hosted online and is where you will sign a Master Promissory Note (MPN). This is a required step before your loan will be dispersed to your tuition account.

Placement exams are required tests that incoming first year and transfer students take to assess how ready you are for the college’s course series, usually in math, foreign languages, humanities, and the physical sciences. As  you transition to college, take these exams seriously. Doing well can save you time from taking classes you’ve already mastered, or money by giving you free college credits. 

Your log-in credentials for your Blackboard account, email address, and other services to access campus resources are sacred. Come up with something easy to remember. And mostly importantly – never share your credentials with anyone, not even your best friend, roommate, advisor or resident assistant.

If selected for financial aid verification, you will receive a form that will need to be completed and returned to the financial aid office before the money is dispersed to your account. Don’t be afraid  of this step. You were randomly selected, and your college is just following protocol.

Make a list of what to bring to your dorm and take it along as you shop at your local department store. Click here for a list. The common mistake made is to bring more than you have room for or that you’ll ever need. Bring items that are both essential and practical.

Throughout the summer, you’ll be submitting forms to various offices across your college’s campus. Along with thousands of other students who are making the transition to college, sending human, errors are bound to happen. To reduce the likelihood of delays in your enrollment or matriculation (the official term), make a copy of everything you send and confirm its receipt with the appropriate department by phone or email.

I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but I’ll say it again: the first days of college set the tone for your entire college experience. Get started the right way by submitting all that’s required and all the other things, such as: 

  • Keeping your appointment with your academic advisor
  • Meeting your roommate and classmates
  • Getting to know your campus
  • Asking for help from members of your college transition and support team 

Know your college’s zero-tolerance policies with regards to alcohol usage, drug use, weapons, and anything that puts yourself and

peers at risk. The NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority has a famous mantra: “If you see something, say something.” Campus consequences for participation in zero-tolerance activities or failure to inform campus officials can lead to consequences ranging from moderate (warnings, fines, and parental notification) to severe (suspension or expulsion).

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Bethany Goldszer is top college admissions and financial aid expert. She's been featured in HuffPost, USA Today, Newsday, Queens Gazette, and Official Black Wall Street & voted Best of Long Island. Faced with the overwhelming stress of applying, getting admitted to and financing her University of Chicago education, she started Stand Out College Prep LLC in 2012 so that no student or parent would have to go through this process alone. Over the last 15 years, Bethany has worked with over 1,500 students, helping them and their parents get into their top choice colleges and secure more than $20M in financial aid and scholarships. And each year, she continues to help more students stand out in the college admissions process and their parents navigate financial aid and scholarships.