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Step by step - on the road to university or college

By Ashleigh Viveiros

After weeks, or even months, of anticipation, you finally open your mailbox one day and find an envelope from the university or college you applied to earlier this year.

If you're lucky, that envelope will include a letter that begins with: “Congratulations! You have been admitted to Crocodile's Ron's Croc Taming University” ... or some other prestigious institution.

After you've finished showing the acceptance letter to your parents, your friends, your great aunt Ida, and the family goldfish, it's time to get down to business and figure out what steps you need to take before arriving on campus this fall.

Pick a school, any school
If you're one of those high-achievers who applied and got accepted to multiple schools, it's decision-making time.

Before applying to your various schools of choice, you likely went through all the reasons you wanted to attend those particular institutions - they had a really good program, charge reasonable tuition rates, are located close (or really, really far) from home, and so on.

But now that the prospect of actually spending the next few years at a given school is more of a reality, you'll want to reassess those pro and con lists all over again to figure out which school is the best for you.

Read everything - and then read it again
Once you've settled on a particular school, spend some quality time with whatever information came with your acceptance letter.

This information is your personal key to the academic ivory tower. It'll outline important things like: whether you need to reply with a confirmation of acceptance; how, if you wish, to defer your acceptance to a later term/year; what, if any, sort of deposit the school requires ahead of time to secure your spot; whether you need to send them your final high school marks transcript in order to finalize your acceptance (some schools will request your transcript directly from your high school themselves); and when the first week of classes begins.

Double-check the letter for accuracy - make sure they have your name right, your permanent mailing address (especially if you're moving in the near future), and other vitals.

Also triple-check the deadlines for confirmation letters, transcripts, and other required documents. If you miss a deadline, don't expect to show up on campus in the fall and still have a spot in class.

Above all, do not lose the acceptance letter and accompanying literature - you will likely need to refer to it in the months to come. In fact, you might want to start a post-secondary education folder or binder right now, and keep in it everything your school sends you over the next few years for future reference.

Home is where the homework is
Long before you arrive on campus this September, you should know where you're going to be living during the school year.

If you're planning on staying in residence, make sure you send in your application form early since at most schools space is limited and rooms are assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis, and check to ensure you do, indeed, have a room waiting for you. Confirm the necessary room deposit, meal plan, and other residence-related deadlines ASAP.

If you're planning on renting an apartment, you'll likely need to visit the city your school's located in ahead of time to find the ideal place. You may also want to begin looking for potential roommates, figuring out how you can get to school from your apartment (bus? subway? foot-power?), and locating things like the nearest grocery store and laundry mat.

And if you're simply planning on winging it all once you get to school in the fall, at least bring a tent.

Money, money, money
Now that you know which school you're going to and where you'll be living, you'll have a better idea of how much your education is going to cost you.

This means it's time to hunker down with a calculator, budgeting software system, or parental accountant and figure out how, exactly, you intend to pay for your education.

Student loan applications generally become available in early summer and ask you to declare which school/program you're attending, the program's start and end dates, and other relevant details. Now that you have that information, you should fill out your student loan application and send it in pronto so you're more likely to get a response well before classes begin.

You might also want to look into the entrance scholarship opportunities your school offers. Many schools have automatic entrance scholarships based on your high school marks (make sure you send back the scholarship acceptance form if it's a requirement of the award), but a few have special awards you need to apply for by - you guessed it - a specific deadline.

Remember that acceptance letter literature I told you to keep? Well, open it up and look for the section discussing tuition payments (this may also be found in your school's general calendar). Make sure you're clear on what day the first tuition payment is due, how much of the total tuition you're expected to cough up in September, and where on campus you can make that payment.

And, as with every other school-related deadline, missing the tuition deadline is a really bad way to start off the school year since most schools charge penalties for late tuition payments.

Register for classes
In your acceptance literature (or in a package sent by your school shortly after confirming your acceptance) will be information on when and how to register for classes.

Now, registering for classes in college and university can be a bit overwhelming for a first-time student. It isn't anything like high school, which generally has way fewer courses and scheduling options.

On the bright side, you get to chose what classes to take and when (if they're offered in multiple time slots/terms) to take them. The downside is that balancing your schedule and figuring out what courses you need can be a real pain.

This is why most schools advise or even require students to visit with an academic counsellor before registering for their courses. These advisors can help you organize your schedule and decide which first-year courses to take to make sure you're eligible for as many general or specific academic paths in your future years at school.

Make an appointment with these advisors well in advance of your registration day so you'll have plenty of time to map out multiple versions of your school year just in case of any last-minute course cancellations or fill-ups.

Odds and ends
There are number of other odds and ends you'll need to remember to do before classes start.

For example, you'll want to track down your book list and prepare to buy your books, pick up your student identification card (after posing for the traditional deer-in-the-headlights student photo), arrange for a parking pass, figure out how to get a locker, find out where on campus your classes are, and so on.

Many of these things can be done the first week of classes or, better yet, during the orientation day or week that often takes place just before classes begin.

Speaking of which, you'll want to find out when and where your school's orientation activities are taking place, and whether or not they're mandatory for first-year students. Even if you don't have to attend these events, you should still plan to go since orientation week is a great way to get to know your fellow first-years and become acquainted with your new home away from home.

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