young girl with backpack facing away from camera

On the Morning of Her First Day of Kindergarten

On the morning of her first day of kindergarten, my daughter was so excited. 

She knew kindergartners could do big math problems and read; two things she was anxious to learn. 

And there was the great adventure of riding the bus. 

Most importantly, she could finally wear her first-day outfit: a new pink dress that had been torturing her with its glittery stars and un-twirled skirt. 

While she happily dressed, her older brother was in the next room over listing all the reasons why he didn't think he should have to go to school at all. 

As a second-grader, he was fully aware of the drudgery of line-waiting, rule-keeping and listening-ears-always that comes with the dark end of the blissful summer days. It was even worse this year since he was starting at a new school and he took this as a personal injustice. 

Three first-day-of-school lessons

Heading to school, whether for the first time or returning after a break, can stir up some of those first-day jitters of excitement and twitches of terror for students of all ages. 

For my son, having been out of school for the summer (and when you're seven, even twenty minutes feels like years) made the return even harder. While an older college student has the benefit of understanding the value of a degree that a second grader doesn't yet appreciate, here are three tips for starting school that translate from elementary school into the college level. 

Be at the right bus stop at the right time

Doing well in class is only part of the job. First, you have to get there. No one wants to be that sweaty kid in class who had to chase the bus down the street, backpack bouncing and arms flapping, and even worse, you don't want to miss it altogether. 

Technically, if you're an online student, you may not even have to leave your room to go to class. But there was a lot of work before the first day of class to make sure you started your academic journey well prepared. 

Find out when you want to start classes, and work your way backwards to know when you need to apply for admission and financial aid. In general, most programs require an application and transcripts from high school (if you've never attended college before) or from previously attended colleges. Then there is a determination if you have been accepted or not into the school. This takes time, and if you want to start classes at a certain date, you need to know the timing so you don't miss that bus. 

If you're concerned about the cost of college, you'll want to get started on your FAFSA application right away. You'll have more time to arrange student loans, school supply purchases, etc. if you're able to know what your financial aid situation will look like before you have to register for classes. Find out from your college what the processing times are like so you'll always know where you are in the timeline, between submitting the FAFSA and finding out what aid you might be able to access. 

Pre-sharpen your pencils

The ritual of back-to-school shopping was something I grew up with, and just like my daughter, I loved new clothes. They were fun, and gave me confidence. 

For the adult student, whether new or returning, do things that make you feel like a student again and build up some excitement about this transition. Try starting by gathering the right school supplies that you'll enjoy using (don't forget your status as a student can get you discounts at certain places!). You'll need a computer or computer access for research, typing and communication, and it needs to be one you can navigate well and provides reliable internet connectivity. 

Because things always come up, you also need to be familiar with how to get help. That could be the tech services number for your college, customer support for your internet provider or tutorials on using your devices. 

Be ready to make new friends

There are people all along the admissions process and beyond that can support you in your educational goals. Your admissions counselor can help you get the information you need to decide on a college or program and help you navigate the application. 

Then, after you've been admitted to a college, you'll rely on an academic advisor to help you choose the right classes and connect with the resources you need to succeed as a student. As a busy learner, a study partner from your class to compare notes with can make your student life easier. Don't forget that even online instructors have "office hours" to help answer questions or give early feedback on assignments so you can have time to make revisions before the final deadline. 

Related content:

Before You Hit Submit: A College Readiness Guide

Find Success as a Non-Traditional Student

How Do I Do It All and Not Make a Mess of Everything?

Higher Education

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photo of Maria Haynie