15 Good Things to Do the Summer Before College

Use the time off from school this summer to position yourself well for classes in the fall.

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Summer is typically the slow season for college students. Unless you're going to summer school, college is probably the farthest thing from your mind. But there are a number of things you can do to put yourself in the best position for college, come fall. Here are our 15 best ideas:

1. Go to orientation. If you're just starting out at college, get to the first orientation session you can. Not only does the school give you key information about where things are on campus, you get to pick courses which, come Labor Day, will be "wait-listed." And while you're at orientation, it wouldn't be a bad idea to check out the dorm and eating facilities, so you'll know what you're up against.

2. Surf the school's website. You can find out a tremendous amount about the school—without leaving your lounge chair—by checking out the college "portal" (or website). Be sure to brush up on the college requirements and available majors; and, if you're lucky, you can find individual course pages (look for them on the departmental pages) so you can take a peek at what'll be going on in your individual courses.

3. Friend your roommate. Initiate contact by E-mail, Facebook, or Skype. You might find your roommate and you share lots of interests and, in any case, you can set dorm "ground rules" about visitors, quiet/noise, and lights out.

4. Get some furnishings. Nice lamps, bedding, and interior decor items can make a major difference in your quality of life, especially if you get stuck in a dorm that hasn't been renovated since the '70s. Major retailers have significant back-to-college specials, so be sure to check them out.

5. Improve your mind. Pick a book you've been meaning to read and read it. Before you hit the pack of required readings, it's nice to reconnect with the love of learning for its own sake.

Extra Pointer. If you don't know any books you'd like to read, check out the bestseller lists at New York Times, USA Today, or the Wall Street Journal.

5-Star Tip. Some first-year experience courses and freshmen seminars assign summer reading, so be sure to do it if you're enrolled in this kind of class. (So much for love of learning for its own sake.)

6. Brush up on a language. Sure, you've taken two years of Spanish in high school. But you'd put yourself in a really good position for the college language requirement if you reviewed some of what you've learned. Trips to exotic countries are ideal for this purpose (resolve not to speak a word of English while there), but if your plans don't call for travel, there are myriad opportunities on the Web, online courses, and DVD's for self study.

7. Get wired. If you don't have a notebook, netbook, or tablet, now would be a great time to get one. Retailers have specials every week, and you don't want to be the only one at college unable to take notes, do research, and social network electronically.

4-Star Tip. Features you'll want to have include: good processor speed, portability (less than 4 pounds is a plus), long battery life (better than six hours is a plus), wireless capability, and a built-in Web cam.

8. Get cultured. How about getting to a concert this summer to see something you're not used to—for example, the Juilliard String Quartet or Kings of Leon. Or visit an art museum or exhibit. There's no need to wait until you get to college to expand your cultural horizons.

9. Tour your hometown. If you're leaving town­—and even if you're not—this summer would be a good occasion to play tourist in your own backyard. Get a guidebook, too.

10. Make a deal with your parents. Now's the time to avert any future conflicts about how often you'll be coming home, and how often you want to hear from your folks while you're at school. Make sure you're on the same page on these issues; it will save a lot of grief later.

11. Do your catch up. If your college has told you that you will need to take remedial coursework, say in English, math, or some other subject, it'd be a fine idea to take the required course(s) this summer at your local community college. Just be sure that the course you take is the one you actually need and that it will transfer properly to your college.

12. Service your car. The last thing you need once the semester kicks in is to have your car break down. Have your mechanic check out your car, change the oil, check the tires, and what not. And be sure to tell your mechanic if you're moving to a much hotter or colder clime, so that he or she can put in proper oil and antifreeze for your new ecosystem.

13. Get yourself checked up. Along with your wheels, your body might need a tune-up. So, get to your doctor and make sure everything is in order before you head out. It's a good idea, too, to have any prescriptions refilled. While colleges usually have health services on campus, they vary in quality. And you'll feel more comfortable talking to a doctor you already know.

Extra Pointer. Be sure to get on top of your health insurance status. With healthcare reform now going into place, your coverage (and your eligibility for your parents') may have changed.

14. Organize your finances. Make sure your bank accounts and credit card accounts are set up. And do any necessary paperwork on loans, scholarships, and financial aid. And while you're on the topic of finances, you might want to reach agreement with your parents about who is going to pay for which part of your college costs: from tuition and fees to gas and pizza.

15. Organize your life. Get a calendar—electronic or print—and mark down key academic dates: the start and end of classes, dates for finals, and vacation times. (This information will be online at your school's website. Also, take time to assess your daily commitments (work, child care, etc.). Make sure you have your priorities straight and your support systems in place, so that you don't have more balls in the air than any college student could successfully juggle.

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