By Paul Culp, MA (Oxon.), CFT, GCDF, CCSP

The Coaching Educator has spent the last eleven years helping students choose the right college, gain admission, and find the financial resources they need, but our job doesn’t end there. We also offer college success coaching, and if you read our blog with any regularity you know that we often write about study skills, life management during the college years, campus health and safety issues, and other topics of interest (we hope) to students who are already in college or who soon will be. In that vein, let’s consider just a few of the plethora of things most incoming freshman need to do before starting college, some of which are also applicable to returning students.

1.  Learn all about clothing care.

Some students are laundry experts of long standing, but many are inexperienced in these matters and are likely to inflict all manner of shrinkage and discoloration on their wardrobes if they don’t educate themselves about the fiber arts before embarking on the adventure of higher education and independent living. Knowing which garments require dry cleaning rather than a trip through the washing machine is the beginning of wisdom, of course, but you also need to learn how to pay attention to those little tags that tell you what the fiber content of a garment is and what sort of care it requires. Getting the water temperature wrong, or the dryer temperature, really does matter—especially if you borrow an item from a friend or roommate and transform it into something suitable only for his or her color-blind stunted sibling.  

Learn how to iron. Consider buying an inexpensive hand-held steamer and learning how to use it. Familiarize yourself with stain-removal products and techniques. The Coaching Educator can tell you that hair spray really does remove ink stains made by a ballpoint or roller-ball pen. There will be no charge for this vital bit of intel. 

By the way, we are acquainted with a prominent Midwestern private university that does its undergraduates’ laundry for them. We would be concerned if any child of ours wished to marry an alumnus or alumna of that institution. 

2.  Find a grooming regimen suitable for college conditions.

You look marvelous. We know you do. But will you be able to maintain that look in your new living quarters, with your new schedule? If in doubt, take some time to experiment. Solicit the opinions of people who will tell you the truth about whether you can get away with a particular new look. Make sure you actually know how to make it work, lest you end up with more problems than you have now. Educate yourself about what is considered normal at your chosen college and among the people with whom you are likely to associate. Hair and makeup considered dazzling on Sorority Row at Ole Miss might be considered risible at Bennington and might not even be achievable in many of the living quarters we have seen. And gentlemen: Some of you might be a little too high-maintenance for collegiate conditions, but please be advised that there is a capacious middle ground between GQ and GI. 

3. Educate yourself about nutrition.

This is basic to your health, appearance, and academic performance. As we explained in When Your GPA Isn’t Weighted But You Are: The Freshman 15, a high percentage of students put on considerable weight during their college years. Even those who have no such concerns should be sure to eat in a manner conducive to mental concentration and high energy levels. Nutrition is not really all that complex, notwithstanding the efforts of so many would-be sages and savants to complicate it beyond hope and make you dependent on their articles and books and DVD’s and gadgets. Learn how to read labels. Learn how to balance proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Avoid fads and extremes, and cultivate some common sense.

4. Visit your dentist.

College is not likely to be one of the high points of your life where dental hygiene is concerned. Do yourself a favor and get your teeth cleaned before you leave, and get any other work done that you require and might have been putting off. Best not to have dental problems interrupt either your studies or your glamorous new social life. Put your dentist’s contact information in a convenient place (phone or otherwise) just in case. You might find his or her advice useful at long distance, especially if you happen to be attending college in a locality where dental care is not as plentiful or of as high a quality as one might wish. 

5. Organize yourself medically.

If you have a medical condition that needs a doctor’s attention, take care of it now. Make sure your prescriptions are up to date, and determine where you will get them filled while you’re away. Determine whether your vaccinations are up to date, and find out from your doctor whether you need anything new in that regard before plunging yourself into the germ pool we described in These Go to Eleven: Our All-Star Lineup of College Illnesses and College, Flu, and You Store your doctor’s contact information in a convenient place.

6. Develop a fitness plan. 

Most high school athletes will not be competing in college. Most colleges do not require physical education courses. Meanwhile you are no longer growing, or you’re no longer growing very much, and the perils and pleasures of the college table (and for some, the bottle, can, and keg) await you. Exercise, like nutrition, is not really all that complicated if your primary objective is simply to be a healthy, efficient organism. If you don’t already have some sort of exercise plan, inform yourself about how to take proper care of your strength, flexibility, and aerobic capacity, and create a program enjoyable enough and simple enough that you’ll be able to stick with it amid the responsibilities and pleasures of college life. Find out what kind of exercise facilities your college has, even if that means something as simple as a safe place to go for a walk. Aside from the obvious physical benefits, exercise is a stress reliever and an opportunity to clear your head. As Winston Churchill was fond of saying, “A change is as good as a rest.” 

7. Organize your calendar.

Make sure you know when you can/must report to the new places and discharge the new responsibilities in your life, then find a way to keep records and reminders. College will bring unprecedented freedom, but with that comes a greatly increased responsibility for being in the right place at the right time without anyone else compelling or reminding you. Adding to the difficulty is that one day of the week can differ from another to a much greater extent in college than is true in most high school scheduling plans, plus the fact that your own schedule will be unique to you to a far greater extent than has occurred within your high school peer group. 

The Coaching Educator has always recommended that our student/clients use an old-fashioned paper calendar in keeping up with their college admissions process, and you might find that some sort of book-style planner will work better for you than an electronic device. Whatever you decide, make sure you develop a particular method and stick with it. Consistency will be the key to dealing with the variations in your new schedule, and you should use the remaining time before college to practice, as when you line up all these appointments we’re recommending. 

8. Get your car serviced.

If you’ll be taking a car to college, go ahead and get the oil and filter changed, the tires rotated, and the belts, fluids, and brakes inspected. Deal with any maintenance needs before you go away. If you’re not already keeping a service record, you should begin noting the mileage and the type of work done anytime you have the car serviced for any reason. Inform yourself about the intervals at which certain tasks should be done, such as oil changes and other fluid replacements. This does not require extensive technical knowledge, only a little basic record-keeping, and the necessary information is readily available in your car’s owner’s manual or online. Where will you have your car repaired if it needs attention while you’re away? Be sure to scout that out just in case. 

And then, once you get to college but before classes start…

9. Find out where everything is.

This means places where events for incoming freshmen will be held, the buildings where your classes will be, department offices, library, dining facilities, gym, student union, book store, health center, etc. Without question life has been made much easier by the development of online registration, which has made it possible for students to arrive at college with their course schedules already decided, in contrast with the not-too-long-ago days when registration involved a gymnasium or other large place of assembly packed and pulsating and pullulating with what Prince Charles called sweating student bodies (he was at Cambridge, after all) aggressively seeking the head of the line at table after table and eventually scurrying to all points on the campus and compass with maddeningly small pieces of paper for peevish strangers to sign. Not knowing where you were going was a major source of stress. Even today, with the miracle of the internet, it pays to familiarize yourself with the campus in a leisurely way, so that once you really do have to be in a particular place at a particular time, you get it right on the first try, without a lot of huffing and puffing or smelling like someone unfit to sit next to the heir to the British throne.

Asking people for directions can be a good way to meet attractive new acquaintances but can also draw unwanted attention to you as a greenhorn, it’s time-consuming, and it irritates people who are themselves in a hurry. 

Worth noting before we move on: Prince Charles’ lifetime travel history indicates that he knows a thing or two about sweaty people and in many cases has learned their native dances. We suggest inviting him to a party. We think he’ll surprise you. 

things to do before starting college

things to do before starting college

10. Buy your books early and actually look at them.

Once you know what classes you’ll be taking, there’s no need to dilly-dally about your books. Take care to avoid that sweaty stampede of people who want the same book you do, by tending to your shopping in relative calm. Shopping online for a better deal is another option. Once you make the purchase, take a little time to look the books over and get a feel for the direction the course will be taking. If your teacher or another member of the faculty wrote the book, you’d do well to be diligent to the point of reverence. 

A word to the wise: A low-priced book filled with someone else’s highlighting and scribbling might not be as good a deal as a costlier one that you can use optimally. College is expensive, as we all know. It would be a pity to compromise the value of a $3,000 course in order to save $3 or even $33 on a book. 

11. If you’ve been a client of The Coaching Educator, check in with us.

We get attached to our student/clients and love sharing your successes and condoling you about your setbacks. Before you head out on the big adventure, stop by or shoot us an email. We’re proud of you and always enjoy hearing from you. 

We at The Coaching Educator never stop educating ourselves about how to be our best and do our best for students who ask us to help them get into the right college, find the necessary financial wherewithal, and succeed at the next level. Unlike many consultants in this field, we are credentialed in education and in career services, and our way of doing things really does make a difference. Last year our clients averaged a 25-fold return on their investment with us, with one family reaping 89 times what they spent on our services.

To learn more about our philosophy and capabilities, be sure to watch our free webinars, listen to our podcasts, sign up for our four-week College App Boot Camp, consider our Ultimate Programs and our special services for athletes and performing-arts students, and book a consultation to hear what we can do for you and how we do it. Keep reading this blog, and look for us on social media (see links below) as we keep our clients and admirers advised of new developments in our effort to help students get into and succeed at the right school.

Paul Culp is certified as a global career development facilitator and writes about college admissions, college costs, financial aid, and college life in general for The Coaching Educator team. A former journalist and corporate ghostwriter who now operates Shenandoah Proofreading, Editing & Composition Services (SPECS), he has also been a humanities teacher at all levels from university down to sixth grade. Paul has degrees from Oxford University, Jacksonville State University, and Samford University, and also is certified as a fitness trainer.

Prince Charles photos by The Today Show and HollyNolly.

We hope you enjoyed “Eleven Things to Do Before Starting College.” We also recommend:

Culp, Paul. “College, Flu, and You,” The Coaching Educator, 4 October 2018, http://tce.local/2018/10/04/college-flu-and-you/

Culp, Paul. “These Go to Eleven: Our All-Star Lineup of College Illnesses, The Coaching Educator, 9 October 2018, http://tce.local/2018/10/09/these-go-to-eleven-our-all-star-lineup-of-college-illnesses/ 

Culp, Paul. “When Your GPA Isn’t Weighted But You Are: The Freshman 15,” The Coaching Educator,  http://tce.local/2018/09/10/when-your-gpa-isnt-weighted-but-you-are-the-freshman-15/

Support smart students and spread the word:
Follow us on: