5 Summer “Must-Do’s” Before Starting College

CONGRATS to the Class of 2021! While my Pandemic-Powered Seniors post shares why this class may turn out to be the best prepared college freshmen yet, there’s still some “summer homework” I’d recommend before they fly the nest. NOW is the time for students to begin actively preparing for and engaging with their new school and community. Here are 5 ways grads can get ahead:

  1. HOMESICKNESS is real, and ironically, often worse in students who stay close to home. Kids who are close enough to go home for meals and laundry often miss out on the spontaneous hang-outs, meals and connections with people in their dorm/apartment. The best way to prevent serious homesickness is to immediately get involved in your new school and start building new friendships. What can you do NOW? Start by making a list of AT LEAST three clubs you’d consider joining (Trust me, they are on your school’s website, or simply google “top 10” or “coolest” or “most unique” clubs at your university!)
    • PRO TIP: Make sure at least one club is purely “sign-up” (not tryout, audition or recruitment). I cannot emphasize this enough! Every semester we see new students who are very anxious and depressed after they don’t get into their dream sorority/frat/a cappella group/dance/cheer/etc. group and suddenly college life looks nothing like they anticipated.
    • Think BROADLY! Colleges have everything you can imagine:
      • Intramural teams can be fiercely competitive or casual fun; sports range from flag-football to ultimate frisbee. Bonus points for co-ed teams to meet a broader range of new friends!
      • Singing, Acting, or Dancing Groups: think beyond ballet or hip-hop; consider branching out to couples ballroom or swing- great ways to be “forced” to meet others.
      • Gaming Clubs: Trivia, video, role-playing, board-game or fantasy-themed
      • Food-focused clubs: restaurant hopping or communal bake-offs
      • Service-based Organizations: Mentor community youth; help feed people experiencing food insecurity or homelessness; or perhaps sign up to walk and “share” therapy dogs on campus!
      • Out-of-the-box: Every school has something unique. Some of my favs from across the country include juggling clubs (LMU, Notre Dame, Princeton, UGA), actual circus clubs (FSU, Illinois State Univ),  bad movie clubs (OU, Michigan, Goucher), Humans vs Zombies (Univ of Florida, Univ. of Tennessee), happiness clubs (Northwestern, Columbia), and of course, the Ukulele Tree Climbing Club (Univ. of Wisconsin)
  1. Consider a Faith Connection
    • Synagogues, churches, and other places of worship throw open their doors to welcome new students, including many active on-campus ministries. Check out your options! Especially if you have grown up with a particular faith tradition, do not underestimate the power of that familiarity to help combat homesickness.
    • If religion is not your thing, no worries. However, if you are curious in this regard (and in the spirit of inclusion, not pressure), know that many students enjoy “sampling” different traditions purely to learn about different cultures and viewpoints, and many universities have cross-faith groups to enhance this type of social interaction.
    • Bonus points: FREE FOOD is almost always involved!
  1. Want or Need a Job?
    • If you plan to work, start looking at job descriptions and time commitments. Most ON-CAMPUS jobs limit employment to about six hours per week for full-time students, to allow enough time for your studies. Note that many low-volume on-campus reception jobs allow you to do homework during your down time.
    • Create or touch up your resume, and locate your actual social security card (campus jobs often will not accept a copy.)
    • Pro-tip: Many self-described introverts and students who suffer from social anxiety have shared that adding a few hours of weekly employment gave them the extra nudge they needed to get out of their dorm room/apartment- especially on weekends- and interact with others, rather than “holing up” in their room.

Next, start taking charge of your own healthcare! Through high school years, parents typically handle making their kids’ medical appointments, complete with filling out insurance forms and detailed medical background information (shots, allergies, family health issues, etc.) This process can be intimidating, especially if the first time you do it, you are writhing in pain from an injury or suffering bone-aching fevers and chills from an illness.

  1. Schedule and go to at least one appointment this summer, even if it is a virtual visit.
    • “But I don’t need to see a doctor!” Are you sure?
      • Prescription medications need refills: If you have asthma, allergies, acne, ADD, anxiety/depression, or anything else that requires a prescription, this is a great reason to see your prescribing doctor and get REFILLS for the semester.
      • Immunizations: Is your tetanus up to date? How about the meningitis vaccine booster that you need after the age of 16?  Did you get a COVID Vaccine? If so, do you know which one? Most (if not all) colleges require an up to date shot record and possibly recent physical exam to attend classes and/or live on campus.
      • Do you wear contacts or glasses? Make SURE you have a pair of glasses that matches your current prescription. Eye injuries are more common than you’d expect (from blowing leaves/debris to intramural eye-poke accidents to passing out/falling asleep in contacts). If you get pink eye or otherwise irritate your eyes , you will need your actual glasses on hand to
      • Dentist or orthodontist? Especially if you (like most of us) skipped your oral health visit to the dentist this, year,  book it! Bet you’re due for a routine teeth cleaning and/or retainer check.
    • Fill out all the billing and medical forms with your parent available to look over your shoulder.
    • Right now -literally now- take a picture of your health insurance card (if you have one and plan to use it while you are at school) and if possible, your shot record. At a minimum, record the date of your last tetanus shot (and COVID Vaccine if you’d had that) in your phone. Trust me, you’ll be asked for these dates!
  1. Make a College First Aid Kit
    • Medications: steroid (hydrocortisone) and antibiotic creams, pain relievers, antihistamine, decongestant, antacid, and cough drops. (Test your first aid knowledge with this QUIZ, and for a complete first aid kit shopping list and cheat sheet of what to use when, see bonus section of The ULTIMATE College Student Health Handbook.)
    • Get the GOOD band-aids (finger, knuckle, and blister-style)
    • Compression (ACE) wraps-2 (these disappear quickly)
    • Bulb syringe to your clean ears if you are a wax-builder-upper (all the extra use of ear buds/pods make this worse.)

BOTTOM LINE: Don’t wait till August! Start checking these five tasks off your list now, and feel more confident about preventing homesickness, settling in to campus life, and taking charge of your own health care this fall. Congrats to the Class of 2021!????

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