White hand holding pink highlighter, checking off list of check boxes

A Smart Checklist to Prep for Your First Year of College

Preparing for college now will save you both time and stress in the long run. Here's everything you should do this summer to get ready for freshman year!

You made it! You finally graduated high school and decided which college you’ll attend in the fall. The summer before your freshman year is a time to relax and decompress after all the work you’ve put toward applications, college touring, final decisions, and all that pesky paperwork. This summer symbolizes accomplishment, new beginnings, and freedom! However (not to burst any bubbles)…the summer before freshman year is also a great time to plan out your first year and ensure you’ll get the most out of your undergraduate experience. By getting organized early on, you’ll be shaping the next year of your life (and beyond) in the best way possible.

Connecting to your school

First things first: get connected with your college. The internet is a wonderful resource for learning about and planning out the upcoming year, and it all starts with ensuring that you’re receiving all the information you can. Set up your college email account and check it at least once a week (you’ll be using this practically every day during the school year). You can also join social media groups for your college class. Once you’re matched with a roommate, start the conversation and learn more about them. Find a checklist on your college’s website for everything that needs to be done throughout the summer in preparation for the school year. (Your college will most likely send you a paper version of this list in your welcome letter.) This list will be your best friend throughout the summer to keep you aware and up to date on everything that needs to be done before you get on campus.

In addition to these tasks, you should also sign up for two important things: a tuition payment plan and your college’s academic registration program. A payment plan may be good for you if you don’t want to pay for each semester in one lump sum. These plans allow you to pay monthly or every other month and typically have registration deadlines at the beginning of August. The academic registration program is where you meet your academic advisor, peruse course offerings, and decide/schedule exactly which classes you will take in the fall.

Academic planning

I cannot stress how important this aspect of your summer college preparation is! The aforementioned academic registration program will be the main venue for this, but you can plan on your own as well. Before your academic registration program, take the required placement exams in core subjects such as math and science. These will indicate which level classes you should be placed in. Next, go over your school’s course list and consider which classes you should take. It’s important to take into account classes you need to take as well as those you want to take. Balancing each semester with gen eds, required courses, and electives will help keep you from feeling overwhelmed or dragged down by too many of the same type of course. After your academic registration program, put together a schedule with each class and various information such as day and time, professor’s name, and hall and room. Try to find your required textbooks and order them in advance. Even preparing your mind with simple details such as the layout of each day of your first-semester schedule will help reduce the chaos when you first get to campus. If you take the time to organize your schedule now, it’ll save you both time and stress in the long run.

Related: 5 Smart Tips for Choosing Your College Classes

Required forms

I know what you’re thinking…haven’t I done enough paperwork?! Unfortunately, there will be more to be done during the summer—but luckily these documents are less lengthy than the ones you became acquainted with during the college application process. For example, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) release form is only a page or two long and simply asks you to consent to give your parent(s)/guardian(s) the right to review your academic records. A student health form will also have to be filled out, requiring you to include an immunization record showing that you’re up to date on immunizations; this is for the purpose of reducing the spread of illness in dormitories.

Speaking of dorms: another document you’ll need to fill out is the housing application. This task isn’t so bad, however, because you get to voice your preferences on aspects of dorm living like bedtimes and study habits. This document will pair you with a roommate who shares these preferences and perhaps even your interests. However, the diversity you encounter in meeting new people, particularly your roommates, will broaden your perspectives and introduce you to new cultures, beliefs, and ideas, which are an important part of your college experience.

Dorm room shopping

This is the fun part of your summer college prep! Your dorm room will need some character to make it a true home away from home. There are some basic essentials you’ll need, like bed linens, organizing bins, and toiletries. But there are also other items that most college students can’t do without, like a coffeemaker and mini-fridge (those late-night study binges require fuel!). A laptop will also be a necessary item for classes; a bookshelf is very useful if not already provided in your room; and a TV is something you may want to have for after an exam or study session when you want to decompress with some Netflix-binging.

After these larger items, think about decorations. That beanbag you’ve had forever? It can be extremely convenient for your small dorm room, where you can stuff it in a corner and stretch out to read. A plush throw-rug and inspirational wall hangings can also be nice additions, and don’t forget that framed photo of your family to hang up for when your parents show up to visit/cry/bring you food. (Here’s when the mini-fridge comes in handy too.) You should also take this time to purchase items that you’ll need for class, such as a book bag, a bicycle, or new clothing. When choosing clothing to bring with you to college, make sure to grab some casual items as well as professional outfits for office visits, interviews, or appointments.

Related: A List of the Most Important Things to Bring to College

Summer jobs

It may not be the most exciting way to spend your summer, but getting in a lot of hours at a good summer job is important to make sure you’re able to contribute to your college education. Even with scholarships and grants, you’ll almost surely need more money, at least for textbooks or offsetting unsubsidized loans (those which accrue interest rather than deferring it until after college). If you need to take out private loans, a summer job could take away a few thousand dollars from the amount you’re borrowing—which will also save you stress and debt in the future.

Loose ends

Summer before your freshman year is also a good time to tie up any loose ends. Need to get those wisdom teeth taken out? Set up an appointment. Don’t have a debit or credit card yet? Sign up for a bank account and start putting away some money for textbooks and school supplies, or even spending money for coffee and snacks. Feel like your résumé needs work? Take some time to polish it up. Anything that will just take up your time during the school year can be done now. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today…”

Related: An Easy 4–Week Plan to Perfect Your Résumé

Move-in and orientation

About a week before classes start, you’ll move into your dorm room and set up all of those great items you’ve purchased and brought from home. Oftentimes other students at the school will help you get settled in, and many activities typically go on during the week before classes start. Freshman orientation will introduce you to all aspects of the campus and round out your understanding of dorm living. Then finally, classes will begin! This is when your summer after high school graduation will conclude—and your college experience will begin.

The official summer before college to-do's

  • Set up your college email account and check weekly
  • Connect with your college on social media
  • Get a summer job
  • Fill out/send in all required forms (FERPA release, health form, immunization record)
  • Complete and submit housing application
  • Complete placement exams
  • Register for academic registration program
  • Sign up for a payment plan (if necessary)
  • Make class schedule
  • Match/connect with your roommate
  • Shop for your dorm room
  • Move into your dorm
  • Attend freshman orientation

Related: How to Prepare for College Over the Summer

Summer is important for those last few months of fun with your high school friends, but it's also an important time to get stuff done to set yourself up for success in college. Find a good balance between enjoying yourself and taking care of this checklist of things before heading off to school in the fall. Good luck and enjoy your summer!

For more ideas for both fun and productive ways to fill the next few months, check out the tag “summer.”

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

college freshmen college planning first-year students freshman year freshmen preparing for college summer

About Karabella Hernandez

Karabella Hernandez

Karabella Hernandez is a student attending the College of Wooster to study Psychology. She plans to eventually earn a doctorate degree and become a counselor. Karabella recently finished taking two years of dual credit courses at The Ohio State University at Mansfield and Missouri Western State University. One of her greatest passions is writing, whether it be novels, articles, or essays. She recently won second place in Creative Nonfiction in the Florence B. Allen Literary Competition. Her other hobbies include listening to exorbitant amounts of music, acting and singing in community theater, and riding her slightly unruly, fluffy horse.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Nazira Abdelkhalek

Nazira Abdelkhalek

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2014

I am very honored to be this year’s recipient of the Multicultural Student Community Service Scholarship! This scholarship is vital to helping me achieve and fulfill my dreams, and gives me confidence and motivation as I begin my college career. The CollegeXpress website has been invaluable over the past year as I planned my educational and professional goals. I highly recommend it to all students as they begin to focus on their college and career interests. The website is a wonderful guide to schools and scholarships.

Hailey Riddile

Hailey Riddile

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me find scholarships to apply for and look into more colleges. While there are many websites similar to CollegeXpress, every website is different, and I've found a lot of good insight on this website. Receiving emails from CollegeXpress about scholarships is extremely useful, and getting insight about colleges near, far, and anywhere in between helps me narrow down my choices to what I want, which is also super helpful. The articles are always really good reads, and I can't stress enough how helpful this website has been to me. Anything related to college is beneficial to me as a senior, and I have learned lots of useful things to help me on my college journey this year.

Caitlin Eaton

Caitlin Eaton

$10,000 Scholarship Winner, 2021

I first discovered CollegeXpress during my sophomore year of high school while researching colleges that interested me. My SAT prep class the following year further familiarized me with the opportunities available through the organization. CX has personally helped me by exposing me to a diverse selection of schools as well as scholarships and life tips that have provided valuable guidance in my college search.

This scholarship will help me adjust to college life without worrying as much about tuition. This gives me more room to truly explore and benefit from all aspects of higher education. I plan to study Conservation Biology and work protecting species/ecosystems. I’m looking forward to getting field experience and seeing firsthand the problems research is solving.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Bell College Consulting

The college lists on CollegeXpress are indispensable for sussing out creative additions to a student’s list, and the college-specific pages provide terrific commentary and suggestions for related schools. CollegeXpress is among the most trusted sources I use for information for my students.

Tariq Adam Khatib

Tariq Adam Khatib

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress helped me a lot. I am a Tanzania boy who finished my high school studies in Tanzania. I never knew I could get an opportunity to get a scholarship to study abroad. I am happy that now I know how to find the school to study abroad through CollegeXpress.

College Matches