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10 Ways to Prepare for Your Freshman Year of College

Travis Mitchell, Emma Kerr

Get ready before arriving on campus.

Moving from high school to college can be a big transition for students. For those stressing over this new life chapter, there are ways to prepare before even stepping foot in a classroom or dorm. From researching academic support to developing strong interpersonal skills, the following tips can help incoming freshmen get organized and build a foundation for college success.

Read as much as possible.

College coursework consists of substantially more reading than is required in high school. Students should start getting used to the increased workload by reading books during high school and the summer before college. What you read is not as important as how much, but it helps to select recommendations for your intended college major or areas of academic and personal interest.

Research possible college majors.

At most colleges, students don't need to know with certainty which college major they will pursue the first day of freshman year. But students should start thinking about what they might like to study in preparation to select courses. Those interested in prelaw and premed, for example, should learn more about those tracks if their college offers them. "Take the time to explore what type of academic advising programs are at your university," Jess Casimir, a rising senior and admissions ambassador at the University of North Carolina--Chapel Hill, wrote in an email. "It's always a good idea to make a connection with someone who can help you figure out the best plan of attack for completing all of your major/minor requirements."

Polish social, people and soft skills.

College pushes students to develop strong communication skills. From group projects to communicating with professors, an ability to convey ideas clearly and work collaboratively will serve students well. That includes dealing with social issues; many students will find themselves living in a dorm with a roommate they didn't know before arriving on campus, so they should be aware of each college's policies on requesting a roommate or finding a replacement. In addition, leadership and problem-solving skills will be important qualities when it comes time to apply for jobs and internships during school and after graduation. With that in mind, students should consider enrolling in courses that teach soft skills once on campus.

Embrace time-management tools.

Balancing the academic and social demands of college can be a challenge for even the most diligent student. But there are plenty of digital tools designed for students, and a little organization can go a long way in making sure time is used wisely. Smartphone apps and tools can help students limit time on entertainment and social media, and can help keep study schedules on track.

Weigh getting a job freshman year.

College is expensive, and costs go beyond tuition and fees. Day-to-day expenses like eating out, commuting and weekend entertainment make up a significant chunk of a student's college budget. A part-time job can alleviate budget strains, but also take time away from classes. Some students may also be eligible to participate in the federal work-study program, and college financial aid offices can help answer any questions before the semester begins. Before making the decision to work as college freshmen, students should talk to their families about financial expectations.

Know how to stay safe on campus.

Whether walking back from a late-night class or from an evening out with friends, it's important for students to feel safe at college. Students should practice common sense by being aware of their surroundings and learning about how their college handles safety issues, including sexual assault. Both parents and students should take time before the semester begins to become familiar with the campus' safety resources and procedures.

Contact professors before classes start.

Cultivating a strong relationship with professors can go a long way in helping students succeed. Once students have selected their classes, they should consider emailing a handful of instructors or seeing if they can meet during orientation. Make sure to be respectful and mature in all communications with professors and other academic staff.

Make the most of orientation activities.

Orientation begins in the weeks and sometimes months before classes start. It's a great way for students to make friends and get acclimated. Ask plenty of questions and try to be as outgoing as possible. Realize that everyone is trying to make friends and adjust to a new environment, so don't be shy. After orientation, many schools offer unique first-year experiences that help students further connect with their classmates and college community.

Research ways to get involved.

College provides a number of opportunities for students to explore existing interests or embark on new hobbies. Whether it's playing sports, joining a musical ensemble or getting involved in social issues, many schools make it easy to get involved. Having a plan of action before arriving will help students select meaningful activities and ensure they don't miss any important sign-up dates or meetings once school starts.

Know where to go for academic help.

Many colleges have offices dedicated to helping students brainstorm and write essays. Students having difficulty in a class or who just want to speak with a professor one-on-one should take advantage of open office hours. School libraries can also offer knowledgeable staff and study resources to help students. These options can be especially valuable for international students who might be struggling with English language skills.

Find more resources for college success.

The college journey doesn't end after freshman year, and U.S. News has a wealth of information on everything from finding scholarships to how to write a resume for opportunities like internships. You can also get the latest news by following U.S. News Education on social media, including Facebook and Twitter.

Tips for a successful freshman year

-- Read as much as possible.

-- Research possible college majors.

-- Polish social, people and soft skills.

-- Embrace time-management tools.

-- Weigh getting a job freshman year.

-- Know how to stay safe on campus.

-- Contact professors before classes start.

-- Make the most of orientation activities.

-- Research ways to get involved.

-- Know where to go for academic help.

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