By Josephine Vonarburg of Transitions College Advising
Things move quickly in college. A great deal of material is covered in a short 14 to 15-week period, and there is no time to waste. This means that students need to be ready to learn on DAY ONE. If students take the first couple of weeks of school to try to “figure things out,” they may fall behind and find it difficult to recover. For this reason, it is a good idea to prepare over the summer. The goal is to have fewer “firsts” to tackle on the first day of school. Here are ten tips for what you can do over the summer to be ready on day one of college:
1. Register with the Disabilities Office: Make an appointment to register for services and to request accommodations. Also make sure you understand the procedures for getting the accommodations. For example, ask who is responsible for notifying professors about extended time on exams, how far ahead of time students need to sign up for tests in separate rooms, if there are special forms to fill out, etc. Don’t wait until the day before the first midterm to get this information.
2. Get Familiar with the College Website: Learn to navigate your school’s website and locate essential information before arriving on campus. Typically, the “Academics” and “Student Life” sections contain essential information for incoming students. For example, look at your major’s department page for detailed information about course requirements, faculty members’ names, department events, and more. Look at the academic calendar and take note of critical dates, such as the last day to add/drop or withdraw from a class, midterm and final testing periods, the first day to register for classes, and holidays. Students can start adding important dates to their planners before classes even begin. Look at the academic support services, such as tutoring, academic coaching, and writing assistance, and note their hours and how to make appointments. In addition, some schools offer study strategy and time management workshops through their tutoring centers. Look for the dates the workshops are offered and sign up before the start of the semester. Look for opportunities to get involved in campus life. Look up the clubs, organizations, and sports teams that interest you. There will be opportunities to sign up for clubs at the beginning of the semester, but researching the organizations ahead of time will give you one less thing to do during the first week of classes.
3. Get Familiar with a Typical College Syllabus: The syllabus will be a crucial document in each class. It provides the plan for the entire semester, and unlike in high school, students will be expected to refer to the syllabus to know what’s happening without repeated reminders. Other essential information included in this document is a course description, grading details, professor contact information, and office hours. Before the first week of classes, students should be familiar with the layout of a typical syllabus, know how to read it, and have a plan to store it. You can find sample syllabi online; some colleges make past syllabi from specific departments available to students. If you have older siblings or friends already in college, ask them for copies of an old syllabus.
4. Find a Planner That Works for You and Practice Using It: Time management is one of the biggest challenges for new college students and the first day of school is not the time to experiment with new planners. There is a lot of information to keep organized, such as assignment due dates, test dates, course registration deadlines, professor office hours, and more. You will need a tool to help you keep track of it all. Some options may be a large whiteboard planner for the wall of your room, a traditional paper planner (here is one I recommend from Order Out Of Chaos), or a digital planner (I like the myHomework app for iOS,
Android, Windows, or Mac). Whatever you choose, start practicing during the summer and know how to use these tools by the time classes begin.
5. Find Tech Tools and Practice Using Them: There is a lot of technology to assist students with time management, note-taking, memorization, writing, productivity, and more. Research and choose the ones that you think will be most helpful to you and practice BEFORE using them at the start of school. Whether it’s a new app on your phone like Voice Dream (text-to-voice reader) or a tool like the Livescribe Pen (for note-taking), digital tools take some getting used to, so practice using them before the first day of classes. (Students can also contact the Disability Offices at your college to see what assistive technology will be available to them).
6. Check Your College Email Daily: You will receive messages from your schools about orientation, housing, advising, course registration, etc. Professors may even email you over the summer. To make sure you are ready on Day 1, you will need to stay on top of all this information, so plan to check your college email daily.
7. Get Familiar with the College’s Learning Management System: Log onto Canvas, Blackboard, or whatever system your school uses a few weeks before class and learn how to navigate the interface. Professors may post messages, syllabi, or other important class information, so check it regularly. You may even have an assignment for the first day of class.
8. Purchase Your Textbooks Before Classes Start: You can check the college bookstore site or the class info on the school’s learning management system for book titles. Decide which format works best for you – hard copy, digital, or audio. (With the appropriate documentation, the Disability Office may be able to help you locate the audio versions).
9. Build Your Support Network: Think of your learning strengths and challenges, and decide the type and amount of support you will need. Of course, your college will have resources included at no extra charge, such as tutoring and writing assistance. But if you think you may need additional support, set that up BEFORE the start of the semester. You may want to continue to work with a tutor you had during high school, so talk to them over the summer and create a plan for virtual tutoring. There are also virtual tutors and executive function coaches that specialize in working with college students. Research those services and develop a relationship with your new tutor or coach during the summer.
10. Keep Your Brain Active: Day one of college is the start of a 15-week learning marathon, and your brain needs to be ready for the challenge. Over the summer, READ as much as possible! Consider a classic novel. Dive into a book about an area of interest. If you can’t think of anything, look for recommended reading lists online. One of my favorite resources for college learning strategies, Thomas Frank from the College Info Geek website, provides a great list of recommended books. Also, keep in mind that math may be required in college no matter your major (look at the required courses on the college website). If you didn’t take math senior year, review the material from your last class; one year is a long time to go without math practice before jumping into a college-level course.
About the Author: Josephine Vonarburg is an Independent Educational Consultant and the owner of Transitions College Advising. She specializes in guiding students with learning differences and their parents through the complex process of finding a college or other post-secondary program where the student can thrive both academically and socially. Before becoming an IEC, Josephine worked as a Learning Specialist at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Regional Center for Learning Disabilities for 15 years. During that time, she was a tutor, advisor, and coach and helped students develop the skills and confidence necessary to achieve success. She is an Associate Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association and NJACAC. She has a Bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and Master of Education degree from Boston University. She has been teaching and advising college students since 1992.