Your last high school prom is over and for most of you, graduation has come and gone. Yes, freedom and plans for a fun-filled summer are just around the corner. Before you know it, you’ll be loading up your belongings in the family minivan and heading off to college. You’re so ready, right? Well, maybe not. Here are some tips for things to do this summer before you head off to college.
1. Make sure your school has your financial aid ready for you
By now, you should’ve already applied for financial aid. If not, you need to complete the 2016-17 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) ASAP!
Early summer is a great time to check with the financial aid office at the school you plan to attend to make sure your financial aid is and all paperwork is complete. This will help you avoid any unnecessary surprises or financial aid delays when you arrive on campus.
You’ll also want to make sure you have enough money to cover any gaps between the cost of your school and the financial aid you’ve been offered. Here are 7 Options to Consider if You Didn’t Receive Enough Financial Aid.
If you’re using student loans to help you pay for college, make sure you’re borrowing only what you need and keeping track of what you’re borrowing.
2. Find a part-time job
If you’re interested in working part-time while in school, it’s best to start checking out those opportunities early, even before you get to campus or start classes. Working during school can teach you great money management skills and also help limit borrowing if you’re able to put that money toward your tuition.
If you were awarded federal work-study, here are eight things you need to know. For starters, being awarded work-study does not guarantee you a job. Some schools match students to jobs, but most schools require students to find, apply and interview for positions on their own, just like any other job. Contact your school’s financial aid office to find out what positions are available and how to apply. The most sought after work-study jobs are often filled quickly, so get started now!
Which reminds me…
3. Craft a good resume and learn how to network
Work experience can be just as important as good grades when looking for jobs after college graduation. Don’t wait until you’re approaching college graduation to write a cover letter and resume, you need one now. Having a compelling and professional resume and cover letter is vital to applying for part-time jobs, internships, . Internships not only provide you with knowledgeable experiences in your field, but they also provide great networking opportunities. Don’t settle in and nest; put yourself out there and go to as many networking events as possible.
TIP: Make sure you have an appropriate email address. Employers probably won’t be impressed with an email address like justheretoparty@XXmail.com.
4. Create a budget and learn how to manage your money
Now that you’re heading off to college, you’ll need to learn how to manage your money.
Will you get a financial aid refund? How much can you expect to make weekly at your part-time job? What expenses are already covered (i.e. meal plan)? What do you still need to pay for (i.e. books)?
It’s important to know how much you have coming in and what you can afford to spend. Sit down and make a budget for the semester or year. It will help you avoid unnecessary splurges. Here are some tips.
TIP: Consider opening a bank account that has locations near your campus. You’ll save yourself money in ATM and other fees.
5. Register for classes and prepare for a whole new world of time management
Make sure you are registered for classes and understand your class schedule. One of the biggest challenges for a lot of you will be time management. When you head off to college, you won’t have somebody there to wake you up, make you breakfast and send you out the door in clean clothes with completed homework in hand. Set yourself up early with a class schedule (make a course syllabus your new best friend) and a system that works for you. You need to know deadlines for registration, papers, financial aid, coursework and everything in between. Your chance of succeeding academically will rapidly evaporate if you don’t manage your time well. You’re worth the investment–manage it well.
6. Embrace coupons and master the art of a good deal
Yes, I know it’s all about YOLO but you need to embrace BOGO. Coupons aren’t just for stay at home moms anymore. Scoring deals whether in newspapers, magazines or with online sites like Groupon and Living Social is easier than ever. But don’t get so caught up in the deals that you buy vouchers for things you end up not using. That can cost rather than save you money.
Always ask about student discounts and if available, consider getting a student discount card.
Another great way to save money is by buying used textbooks or renting them. Search sites like bigwords.com, Amazon, Chegg, and TextbookRush to name a few. If you sell textbooks back to the college bookstore at the end of the semester, check online sites first for what they’re worth. College bookstore buy back rates are sometimes as low as 10% of what you paid for it new, so you may be better off selling them online.
7. Learn how to keep you and your things safe
Yes, you need to remember to lock your dorm room and place that lock on your laptop. Losing your laptop can wreak havoc on your studies and a theft due to an unlocked door can also ruin your relationship with your roommate. Start practicing being more aware of your surroundings and keeping yourself safe.
Program your school’s campus security number into your phone. You never know when you might need it.
Safety also applies to protecting your Social Security number, usernames and passwords. Your Social Security number is one of the main identifiers when checking on things like financial aid, grades, and registering for classes. Make sure all your passwords and important numbers are not on a post-it-note on your desk. Store them in a secure place. Not protecting your identity and important information can have lasting long-term effects on your ability to get a job and apply for credit.
8. Get ready to fill out the FAFSA again in October
Yes, you heard that right. Beginning this year, the FAFSA will be available three months earlier, October 1, 2016 instead of January 1, 2017. If you want to maximize the amount of financial aid you receive next year, you’ll want to fill out the FAFSA as soon as possible after October 1, 2016.
Congratulations on a job well done and making the decision to advance your education!
Susan Thares is the Digital Engagement Lead for the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.