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After the Acceptance Letter: The Transition to College

May 1st, 2019

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After the Acceptance Letter: The Transition to College

Now that you have sorted through the acceptance letters, weighed the pros and cons of each college, and decided where you want to go, you might think that everything is set until you move to college in August. While you should definitely take time to savor your accomplishments and to enjoy your summer, there are also some steps you should take to help you prepare for your transition to college. A little planning and preparation now can go a long way towards helping you prepare for your first semester as a college student and transitioning to college successfully.


The traditional dorm might seem like the obvious place to live during your first year in college. However, be certain to take some time to explore the different housing options that might be open to you (even as a freshman). These housing alternatives range from rooming with people who share your academic interests, such as floors or houses dedicated to the study of a particular language, to housing cooperatives, where the students share cooking and other household duties. Some schools like Dickinson College offer special-interest housing, dedicated to areas such as the Romance languages, the arts or sustainable living, as well as living learning communities that will examine topics such as social inequality or Humans and the Natural World. Within larger colleges, these housing options can give you a stronger sense of community while also enriching the academic experience. The University of Michigan’s Residential College (RC) is an interdisciplinary liberal arts program within the College of Literature, Science and Arts. Students live and learn in the same physical space that also includes professors’ offices, art studios, exhibit spaces and academic resources. The RC gives students the opportunity to immerse themselves in a small liberal arts college within the context of a large research university.

Pre-orientation trips such as hiking, service or other wilderness adventures allow students to meet peers and make connections before the school year gets started.

Another option on college campuses is substance-free housing. Many schools, such as Brown University offer substance-free housing, which prohibits use of alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes. While some colleges ask students who elect this option to take a pledge to remain substance free, most only ask that they refrain from using substances in the dorm. Keep in mind that substance-free housing is different from recovery housing, which is for those in recovery from substance use disorder and abstaining from substances completely. This article highlights the role of recovery housing on college campuses.

Orientation and Pre-Orientation

Students should plan to attend orientation where they typically meet with an advisor, register for classes and meet their future classmates. A number of colleges offer pre-orientation programs that include off-campus community building activities to help new students get a better sense of their new community and establish ties with one another. Bucknell University offers six different types of pre-orientation events including, BuckWild, an off-campus wilderness experience where students have options such as hiking on the Appalachian Trail, rock-climbing, paddling rivers and exploring caves. David, a current student at Bucknell, attended a pre-orientation gathering in his hometown that allowed him to get to know other students without the stress that sometimes comes with the transition to college. “It’s always nice to be able to say ‘Hi’ to someone with a familiar face during the first few weeks of classes, when you don’t really know many people.”

We highly recommend that students take advantage of the pre-orientation trips. Many students report that the classmates they met on their pre-orientation trip remained their closest friends during their undergraduate years. Those who don’t participate wish they had when they observe fellow freshmen like David who have already connected with classmates.


Students who have regularly seen a therapist during high school, or who are feeling anxious for any reason, should make an appointment with the counseling center either during orientation or the first week of school. You may never need to call upon a counselor during your first semester; however, if you find yourself needing support for any reason, you will already have made a contact. The counseling center can also refer you to resources in the community if you need services beyond the scope of their offerings.

Disability Services

Students who received accommodations or services during high school for a learning issue, AD/HD or other reasons will be pleased to discover that support in college is generally more comprehensive than that offered in high school. Many colleges offer a range of easy-to-access technological offerings such as digital texts, apps to assist with writing, and many other helpful tools. There are sometimes professional tutors as well as peer tutors who can assist not only with academic subjects, but also with course selection, time management and planning. One of the biggest mistakes that students with disabilities make when arriving at college is not registering for services and accommodations. While it is possible that a student may need to access services less frequently over time, it is important to have support in place for first semester. The SALT program at University of Arizona and The Disability Resource Center at Northeastern University are two examples of strong support programs.

Another difference is that in college virtually everyone on campus has access to academic support whether they have a disability or not. There are writing centers and tutoring for everyone on campus. Therefore, students who felt stigmatized in high school for attending a learning center or other support center will find that in college getting help is the norm for most students.

More Tips

  • What to Bring: Know what you need to bring with you to college. Some sites, like College Board and Her Campus, have suggested items, but also check your school’s website for specific information.
  • Preparing to Move In: If you are moving to a college that is far away, don’t feel like you have to try and bring all of your dorm supplies, such as sheets and a comforter, with you. Some colleges offer linen delivery and rentals. You can also buy a lot of your large items at the local Target or Bed, Bath, & Beyond. Just be advised that all stores in the area will be very busy the weekend of college move-in. It is a good idea to check with your college to see if you can order online and have supplies delivered to your dorm coinciding with your arrival on campus.
  • Health/Medical: Be certain that you get a physical and that all of your immunizations are up-to-date. Later this summer, we will feature an article dedicated to health and wellness in college.

You worked hard for the last two years of high school to find a college that is an ideal match. Now you can take a few extra steps this summer to ensure a positive transition for next fall. Take advantage of the events and opportunities that your new college is offering between now and your arrival on campus. Good luck!

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