The back-to-school season is always one filled with excitement. For many, the beginning of a new school year marks a milestone. For college freshmen, the time is particularly special, as they are not only ushering in a new year but also a new chapter in their lives!
I have spent nearly 10 years of my career in higher education. Working directly with undergraduate students, I have seen the challenges and triumphs of student life. Today, I am providing a few points of interest for first-year college students to consider. While this list is not exhaustive of all the points I would like to share, I hope that readers can find this helpful!
Familiarize yourself with your financial aid package and discuss the cost of your education with those supporting you.
We’ve all heard (and probably said) this before - college is expensive. Beyond the cost of tuition and fees, students must also consider the cost of books, supplies, transportation, and meals. For students living on campus, attending college can become quite expensive.
During my career, financial aid was often a subject that students would shy away from. I would often meet with students and families who had not developed a financial plan to cover the cost of education. Knowing your financial standing is a critical component for your college success. You and those supporting you should be familiar with your FAFSA, the amount and the types of financial aid you are being offered, and the terms and conditions of the aid you are accepting. Knowing your financial aid package is critical to minimizing your cost of attendance and maintaining enrollment at your institution. Review your FAFSA, your award letter, and your bill, and determine if all of the aid you are being offered will cover the total cost of your attendance.
Get to know the resources on campus, and connect with the people that work there!
Within the first weeks of the school year, incoming college students will often hear:
“Go to XYZ office! They will be happy to help you!”.
While it can be reassuring to know that there are numerous resources to assist you, it can be overwhelming. You may not know where to begin or whom to talk to at each destination. When you are attending orientation or beginning-of-the-semester events, make a personal connection with the professionals that you meet. Introduce yourself to the staff members that you encounter. Ask them exactly what their role is, and how their role supports you as a student. And if you are an introvert (like me), ask the professionals you meet for their business cards so that you can email them to schedule a one-on-one appointment later to talk privately.
As an undergraduate student, there was a time when I experienced a challenge in paying my tuition. I had a financial balance that was going to prevent me from registering for the upcoming semester. I immediately reached out to my family, and together, we contacted student billing and financial aid to determine what action could be taken to maintain my enrollment. By being proactive and working with staff at the university, my family and I were able to develop a solution to pay the balance, and I was enrolled for the following semester.
During my career, I often met with students who knew about challenges they were having (especially financial) for weeks but did not come forward to seek assistance until it was too late to rectify the situation. In some instances, I was able to assist the student. In other instances, there was, unfortunately, very little I could do to resolve their challenge.
My point: be proactive in addressing challenges - academic, personal, or financial.
To be honest, reaching out for assistance can, in itself, be unsettling. However, as you navigate college life, know that there are trained professionals on campus to assist you and that their space is a “No Judgment” zone. Above all, professionals in higher education are concerned with ensuring your success. Allow them to support you in getting to the next level!