Preparing For College: What To Know Before You Go


Preparing For College: What To Know Before You Go Moving from the security of home to the independent world of college is a huge adjustment for teens and young adults. With the transition come excitement, fear, nervousness, joy, reluctance, hesitation, and a host of other emotions. High schoolers leaving their friends and families worry about what to pack, where to go, who will they sit with for dinner, will they be smart enough, will they make friends, how do they take a bus or cook a meal, what if they get lost, etc. The wisdom of current university students offers guidance for incoming freshmen who are preparing for college.

Twenty-five undergrads and grads attending universities in the Knoxville area were asked what they thought was important to know before starting college. Here is what they had to say: 

Preparing for a college social life: 

  • Stay at school until fall break. Acclimating to the college social scene takes time. Making new friends and developing relationships does not always happen immediately. Allow yourself a few months to meet new people and get to know them before returning to old high school friends and the safety of your family. Making friends as an adult requires effort. 
  • Explore clubs, groups and sports. There are lots of ways to meet new people who share your same interests. Colleges are well-aware that establishing a social network is a high priority for happiness and contentment as a student. Clubs of all varieties, sizes and levels of commitment are available to help you make the right connections. Try one! If it doesn’t work out, try a different one. Keep going until you meet YOUR people.   
  • Give yourself a social bucket list! Avoid putting off going to events and procrastinating. If you start with the habit of saying, “Oh, I’ll try that later,” you will lose out on opportunities. Make a list of things you want to try before or at the start of the semester. The first few weeks/months of freshman year are critical in establishing relationships and forming bonds.   
  • Learn to budget. Decide ahead of time how much you can spend each week on your social life, then stick to it! Do you have financial support for socializing? Will you need a job? Check campus resources for job opportunities. Most (if not all) campus employment opportunities allow for flexibility around class times. 

Preparing for campus life:

  • Learn to parallel park. Parking is tight on almost every campus in the U.S. and most freshmen do not bring cars. However, at some point in your college years, you will find yourself driving on campus. Knowing how to squeeze in between two cars alongside the curb can mean the difference between getting to class late or on time. 
  • Take advantage of the available resources. “I was afraid to take the bus my freshman year. I wasted so much time because I was scared to give it a try.” Universities spend loads of time and money investigating what students want and need from their campus, then invest in developing tools and programs to meet those needs. If you are struggling with something, you are probably not the first. Look at the website, make calls and ask around about ways to overcome your challenge. 
  • Less is more when it comes to décor. “My mom totally overdid it with the decorations.” Take the time to make the room your own, but avoid going overboard with knick-knacks and wall art. 
  • Get bed risers. Lifting your bed up a few inches creates more storage space when every inch counts.    
  • Confirm whether or not you have a mini-fridge in your room. Some universities provide a little fridge for each dorm room; others do not. Check with your dormitory and don’t assume! 

Preparing for college move-in day: 

  • Bring all of your hanging clothes on hangers. Don’t pack them in a suitcase and have to waste time hanging them all up. Bring them on hangers, cover them with a trash bag (or pretty plastic bag of your choice) and hang them in the closet. It’s a major time saver.   
  • Pack storage drawers and tape them shut. You know those plastic drawer sets that you can get from any Walmart or Target store? They make for excellent dorm room storage. Pack them with the items you intend to store in them. Then tape them shut for the big move! Your valuables will remain secure and arrive organized. 
  • Use laundry baskets to pack your belongings. On moving day, laundry baskets make for great moving boxes. Students can then hold onto them for storage and, you guessed it, laundry.  

Preparing for college academics: 

  • Learn how to study. This may seem obvious, but many students who had successful high school years without much studying find themselves shocked at the fast pace of university learning. Most topics are discussed once in class or not at all. College students are responsible for learning a lot of information on their own from assigned readings. Be sure you have specific studying strategies that help you absorb large amounts of material.   
  • Practice time management strategies. As an independent young adult, you will need to budget your time to allow for classes, studying, group projects, clubs, sports, work, sleep, stress management and/or social activities. Use a planner, apps, online calendars and/or reminders to help you be productive throughout your day. 
  • Avoid all-night study sessions. Many students report that “pulling an all-nighter” is not an efficient or effective way to study. Plan your schedule to allow for adequate study time and fun time. Wasting hours results in missed opportunities to succeed academically and socially. 
  • Prepare for your major. Read about it. Talk to professionals in the field of study to learn what job options will be available to you when you graduate. Doing career-homework may help you focus your class selections.
  • Consider an exploratory major. It is okay to enter college undecided. Some universities offer an exploratory major to help students find the right fit. If you feel lost, this might be the way to go.  
  • Go to office hours. Freshman year intro classes may be large and impersonal. Take advantage of your professors’ office hours for getting clarification, discussing tips to focus your studying, prioritizing material for tests, and generally getting to know your teacher. One day, these will be the people who write you a letter of reference. It will help if they know your face.   
  • Consider renting or buying textbooks from Amazon or Online companies may be drastically cheaper than ordering from a campus bookstore. Additionally, professors are sometimes indifferent to using older editions of textbooks, which can also be significantly cheaper (hint: many textbooks don’t change much when new editions are published). Be sure to ask before making the purchase.   
  • Map out your classes before the first day. Once you get your schedule, take a walk around campus to find each classroom. You will feel more relaxed when the actual first day arrives. If you know someone who is familiar with the campus, ask them to take the walk with you. 

Starting college is a time of vulnerability and BRAVERY! You cannot prepare for every problem that will come your way. When challenges arise, stay calm, speak up, ask questions and use all the resources available to you. Everyone around you (even if they look all put together) is nervous, too. YOU GOT THIS!

College is a whole new chapter in life and you get to write it. Enjoy every moment.

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Tricia Hedinger
Hello! My name is Tricia and I am an associate professor in the Department of Audiology & Speech Pathology at University of Tennessee in Knoxville with specialties in stuttering and early childhood language. I am a mom to 3 girls, including 10 year old twins and a 14 year old, and a stepmom to 2 boys in their twenties. In 2013, my husband, Richard, and I relocated to Knoxville from Delaware. He grew up in NY and I in Pennsylvania. We love the small city feel of Knoxville, the proximity to the mountains and the fantastic community that surrounds us in our Farragut home. We spend our evenings and weekends on the sidelines cheering on our kids in various sporting events. My primary hobby is driving children from one place to another. I have a passion for anti-bullying movements, outdoor education and building support group networks around the world. I host a podcast entitled "Stutter Stories" to help share the voices of people who stutter internationally. I am a huge fan of thinking globally and acting locally. I am glad to be a part of Knoxville Moms and feel inspired when parents connect to take action for the well-being of each other and their children.


    • Thanks for reading, Missy! Most of these ideas came from the students I teach at UT and a few others I know. I bet he is nervous (or will be soon!) We wish him the best as he moves on to a very exciting time in his life. Good luck to you too, Mama!


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