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Top 10 Things Students Must Know Before Starting College


Excited about starting college but slightly nervous too?

Read this first.

Starting college is like entering a whole new world…

…and there’s so much to think about:

  • Will I make friends?
  • What Major should I pick?
  • How will I juggle everything?
  • What should I bring?

And, lot’s more.

That’s why we’ve created this list of the top 10 things you need to know before you (or your child ) start college.

Let’s get started!

1. What to Take With You to College

(You can skip this if you are living off campus – but it’s still good to read.)

For most students, going to college is the first time they live away from home.

So, the question is:

What do you take with you when moving into a dorm?

Before deciding…

Get in touch with your college and ask for their approved and prohibited items checklist. Every college will have one and each college will have slightly different guidelines.

Some colleges won’t even allow a power strip!


Make sure you contact them before spending money on things like mini-fridges and microwaves.

Another thing to consider is space.

Freshmen tend to underestimate how much space they need, and dorm storage space is notoriously less than it seems at first.

(quick tip – find out the exact dorm room dimensions and measure any larger items you want to take figure out how much will fit –good to know before showing up in a U-Haul!)

A good rule of thumb is just only to take what’s necessary:

  • Comfortable clothing for class.
  • A formal outfit & shoes for special occasions and job hunting
  • Laptop & phone (obviously)
  • Bathroom supplies
  • Bedding (sheets, pillows, blanket)
  • School supplies i.e. pens, rulers, calculators, sticky notes, etc.
  • Eye mask, ear plugs, and pain medication (just trust me)

Of course, there’s more, but these are the essentials.

Many students wonder if you can bring your car to campus. This is something you will need to check with your college. Some allow cars; others don’t.

Talking about transportation ….

2. Things to Do On And Off Campus

Think about what you would like to do with your spare time (and how you will get there).

College campuses and their surrounding areas are packed with things to do.

Almost every college has plenty of clubs, events, and activities on offer for students.


When you’re on the phone with the college and asking about what things you can take with you, make sure to find out about things to do on and off campus. 

You will also want to get off campus now and then.

Do a google maps search using the college’s address to find out what there is to do out and about the college.

For example, you could search for:

  • Starbucks near [college name]
  • Restaurants near [college name]
  • Movie theaters near [college name]
  • Comic Conventions near [college name]

And so on…

These kinds of places know that students love their products and services. So chances are they will be located around the college.


You need to know how to get there!

Once you know where you want to go, make sure that you come up with an idea of how you can get there by bus, train or bicycle (if you have one).

Knowing how much it costs to get where you want to go is also an important element in making your weekly budget…

…which we will talk about later.

In the meanwhile:

3. What Classes You Will Take

Maybe you have already chosen your Major, maybe you haven’t.

Either way:

If you look around the room on the first day of college, statistically up too half of them haven’t chosen their major either.

Even then…

Two-thirds of all college students who have picked their major, change it at least once before graduation.

(Plus most colleges don’t require a firm choice of major until the Sophomore year anyway.)

Having said that:

You should look into which classes you will be attending in your first semester. Because you will need to prepare beforehand.

You will need to buy books for example. However, don’t order them just yet, we’ll give you a few tips about saving money on books later.

More importantly…

Did you know that you forget almost 82% of what you learn in class within 28 days?


After graduating from high school, students often have three or four months before starting class again.

This is a great way for students to relax after the stress of their final year of high school.


The problem is that because of a natural memory drain, getting back into the flow of studying again can be stressful and overwhelming.

That’s why we suggest to:

Take a few pre-college tutoring classes based on classes you will have during the first and second semester. That way you can hit the ground running with one less thing to worry about when starting college.

Talking about memory…

4. How to Improve Your Memorization

College can be challenging.

There is so much to learn and topics you have never studied before.


Like I said in the last section:

The average person loses 82% of what they learn within 3-4 weeks, while a typical college semester is fifteen weeks long.

This means that by the end of the semester:

When it’s time for exams, you will only remember 18% of what you learned in the first two-thirds of the semester!

Frustrating, right?

So, I’m going to share three memory tips that will help you retain much more of your course content and while having fun doing it:

Tip 1. Find Your Why

Think about why you want to study your subjects.

If you are just learning to pass an exam, chances are you will forget everything the next day.

When you want learn, you need to have a strong (emotional) motivation.

Just by tapping into a desire to learn something will increase your memory retention and learning abilities.

For example:

Those who want to be doctors are more likely to have an active interest in topics like biology or chemistry and therefore find it easier to remember key facts and information from those classes.

What is your end goal?

Find something you want to achieve and connect it with your academic success. Once you find your own key motivation for studying, everything becomes easier to learn and remember.

Tip 2. Learn Use Mnemonic Devices

Mnemonic devices are ageless proven tricks to help you remember almost anything more easily.


Many of the techniques have been around for thousands of years.

So what does a Mnemonic device look like? They are simply different methods to help you remember specific chunks of information.

Here’s an example:

This mnemonic device helps you to memorize the first 10 elements and their position.

“Henry Hester Likes Beer But Can Not Obtain Food Now”

Just by remembering this line, you are able to remember each of the first 10 elements and their position in the list:

Henry – Hydrogen

Hester – Helium

Likes – Lithium

Beer – Beryllium

But – Boron

Can – Carbon

Not – Nitrogen

Obtain – Oxygen

Food – Fluorine

Now – Neon

See how each word represents an element in it’s position? This is a type of mnemonic device. Our brains find it easier to remember a storyline or a structured sentence rather than a list of random names of elements.

You can use Mnemonic devices to memorize nearly anything. The more you practice the easier it gets, too.


If you practice these tricks often, studying for any exam will become a breeze.


Tip 3. Use Regular review

The best way to move something from your short-term memory banks to your long-term memory banks is to repeat it a few times.

So, schedule some time every week to review your class notes from the semester. Don’t just review what you learned that week. Review what you leaned 2,3,4 weeks ago as well.

Another extra trick here is to practice recalling the information out of sequence. This cements the info even further into your brain.

Which brings us to:

5. How to Take Notes Like a Boss

Notetaking is one of the best ways to help you learn faster, as long as you read them – see the previous chapter.

Here are some of our top notetaking tips to become a note-taking pro.

  1. Be prepared. Look over the upcoming class’ outline and slides if available to get an initial picture of the lesson to come.
  2. Use your notetaking to summarize, not transcribe. Focus on recognizing key concepts (often indicated in the class slides).
  3. Practice your listening skills. Learn to Identify the most important snippets of information and forget the rest. Create a few notes on the big picture, then pinpoint “subheadings” underneath with brief, key information under each.
  4. If the lecturer is going too fast for you, take a photo of the slides or board notes with your phone for later review. (Check first whether your faculty allows this)

Recognizing Key Topics

Wondering how to identify key information in a lecture? Here are a few things to listen out for which suggest what your professor feels is key information:

  • Introductory comments outlining the class topic
  • Repeated phrases or information.
  • Auditory changes such as verbal emphasis or change in speech pattern.
  • Verbal cues indicating something to be important.
  • Final remarks in the form of a summary or review of the lecture’s main idea.

6. Time Management

Here’s a bit of adulating 101:

When you get to college; you can choose how to spend your time. There is, for the most part, nobody looking over your shoulder or guiding you. This can be exhilarating but also destructive.

(depending on how you use it)

Even though skipping optional classes and spending more time with Greek life rather than studying is tempting…

…It may not help you to graduate on time and without too much stress.

Unless you use proper time management to balance everything.

I suggest creating a weekly schedule.

This allows you to keep track of your time and means you can get everything done with time to spare (as long as you stick to it).

“How do you eat an elephant? – Bit by bit.”

Scheduling your time is the same.

When faced with mountainous assignments and class requirements, the best bet is to get everything done in small increments.

Believe me:

A major assignment completed in chunks over eight weeks is much easier than cramming the whole task in the last four days before the due date (I know from experience).

So, the next question is:

What should you include in your schedule?

…Well, that depends largely on your lifestyle…

As a general guideline, you should schedule time for:

  1. Sleep –8 hours every day. (Trust me, it’s the most essential item on your schedule)
  2. General Course Requirements
  3. Assignments (even if they aren’t due for weeks – as explained above)
  4. Weekly review that we discussed in the last section.
  5. Extra-curricular activities, clubs & social events
  6. Scheduled downtime for games, movies, and relaxation.
  7. Time for paid work (if you have it.)
  8. Domestic chores (which we’ll talk about next)

Another common fear when starting college is that you will have to pick between having fun with new friends or doing well in class.

The truth is:

With good time management – like making a weekly schedule – combined with the right study habits (mnemonics, notetaking, and regular review) it’s certainly possible to get top grades while still having the time of your life with friends.


7. Domestic Skills

Time to do your laundry…I know, right?!

This might be the first time you’re going to spend away from home and the number of weekly chores to just maintain your lifestyle can be overwhelming.

That’s why:

High school graduates should start flexing their domestic muscles before heading off to college.

At least make sure you know how to:

  • Do laundry. i.e., don’t mix whites with reds (unless you love pink)
  • Cook a few different types of meals for yourself (heating cold pizza doesn’t count)
  • Sew a button/mend a piece of clothing
  • Keep your space tidy and organized
  • Do food shopping yourself
  • Pay for bills online yourself

From my experience:

One of the “weirdest” experiences for many students is food shopping when they realize they have no idea what to eat.

You can overcome this is to practice planning a few meals each week and practice to get all the ingredients. This will also give you a better understanding of the cost of food too.


Make sure to create shopping lists with nutritional items. Contrary to most student’s beliefs, popcorn does not count as a vegetable.

Of course, one benefit to learning how to create nutritious meals at home is that it saves you money, which is important for most students. This brings us to our next topic:

8. Money Management

“It’s only five bucks” is a slippery slope into the money pit.

Little amounts add up quickly.

If I had a nickle for everytime a student told me that they went through their entire savings within a few semesters…

… you know how it goes.

My advice:

Make a budget, and stick to it.

Here’s how you can start, even before leaving home:

Start keeping track of what you use on a weekly or monthly basis.


Just make a simple list:

Monthly spending:

Food: $400

Snacks: $90

Travel: $120

Netflix: $12

Other (shampoo, makeup, etc): $30

Next, think about how that list will change when you go to college:



Dorm costs

Book costs

Food or travel costs.

List out anything else you think you will need to spend money on each month and try to get as close to the real cost as possible by looking up the prices for everything on your list.

That way:

You can add it all together and see how much you will need per week, month, or year to survive as a student.

It’s often more than you expect.

You will still probably spend more money than your budget for because of little unnoticed purchased (the $5 money pit).

To counter this…

Add 20% to your estimated weekly spending when making your budget to prepare yourself for any unexpected expenses.

That way:

You will have a clear monthly budget.

Pro tip: Textbooks are often one of the most expensive college life costs. Some books can cost as much as $300!

Instead of buying new:

Either buy second hand or Kindle versions of the books. This will save you much money. The bonus about buying second-hand books is that you can often sell them again to make your money back.

Once you have figured out your budget:

Compare it to your savings. Do you have enough in the bank to keep you going?

It’s better to know sooner rather than later whether you will need a part-time job to stay afloat.

That’s why our next on the list is:

9. Job Hunting Skills

You’re not alone.

Over a quarter of all college students look for part-time jobs while studying.

It’s a great way to pay your way through college, save a little cash for the future, all while getting real-life professional experience.

If you do decide to get a part-time job, my advice:

Look early and look close.

Start looking for job opportunities around your college or university before starting classes. Depending on the job, the interview process may take weeks and just getting to an interview can take weeks too.

What do you need to go job hunting:

  1. A brief resume. Don’t worry if you don’t have any “professional” experience. In that case, focus on your academics and any unpaid activities that indicate you have the right abilities they are looking for.
  2. To dress the part. Depending on the type of job you want, make sure to wear formal attire for a job interview. Turning up in shorts and a t-shirt won’t work in most cases.
  3. Persistence. Looking for a job can sometimes mean that you have to call dozens of businesses before someone finally says yes. So, if you don’t get a job on the first go: don’t sweat it. That’s normal! Just get up and keep going till you get one.

However, what about if you don’t want to get a traditional job? There are lots of things to do for extra cash around campus.

Here are a few:

  • Teach classmates a desired skill that you have (or could learn) like speedreading, a musical instrument, memory skills, etc.
  • Tutor other students in classes you have already passed or are exceptionally good at.
  • Freelance your skills and talents on sites like up work or Fiverr.
  • Offer transcription services to other students
  • Provide hourly research services to classmates
  • Create a sandwich or lunch business, preparing great meals for others.
  • Be a fitness coach or yoga instructor (if that’s your passion) or…
  • Manage events for someone with expertise. For example, you could help a yoga enthusiast by helping her find attendees in exchange for a percentage of income.
  • Sell other products to students (you could find wholesale items on websites like

Last but not least…

10. Socializing Skills

For many…

College is a time of starting fresh.

Most of our high school friends go off to learn different majors than we do. Many of them may even attend colleges in different cities.

The good news?

Everyone else in your class is also in the same boat.

All of your classmates in college have also left their BFFs behind and are on the market for making new friends.

That’s why students often comment that making friends in college is easier than in high school!

But what if you feel like you’ve forgotten how to make new friends? Nonsense!

Making friends is a natural part of life. But, if you still feel nervous, here are a few tips on how to quickly make friends in college.

  1. Get involved with clubs & group activities. One of the fastest ways to meet people is to put yourself in situations which force you to interact with others based on mutual interests.
    It’s a surefire way to meet some likeminded people quickly.
  2. Give before expecting. Great friendships are based on value, kindness and thoughtfulness towards each other. Make yourself of value to others, wherever you are and might be surprised how quickly you make friends.
  3. Use this fresh start as an opportunity. Our closest friendships shape who we become. Use this opportunity to pick the type of people you want to befriend.

Asking yourself: what qualities do I admire and wish to surround myself with? And, before you know it, you’ll have plenty of great, uplifting, friendships.


Remember, this is an exciting time!

College is a great experience of learning and developing yourself in so many ways.

And now armed with this list, you can be one step ahead with preparation. Btw, do you have anything you feel this list is missing?

Let us know in the comments below!


Maite HalleyTop 10 Things Students Must Know Before Starting College