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College Freshman Checklist

So you’re headed off to college in the next few weeks, and you’re taking a spin around the ol’ search engine looking for a “dorm checklist” or whatever, to tell you what it is you’re going to need to take with you to the prestigious university of your choice (or second or third choice).

And believe me, you should be doing that. Those checklists are correct about the shower thongs (the flip-flop shoe kind, not the undergarment kind), and really, really, you do need a can opener. Forget the iron unless you’ve actually used one before in your life – if you haven’t up till now, you’re not going to while trying to run out the door to an 8am class.

But what these checklists often leave off is the “money stuff.” My entire freshman class showed up with either no checking account, or they had one… at a credit union “back home,” 300 miles away. Yeah, that’ll do you a lot of good once you’ve drained it buying textbooks. Speaking of buying textbooks…


No college checklist is complete without a mention of textbooks. I urge you to be the one smart freshman on your campus, and avoid the campus bookstore like the plague. They will offer you just about the worst prices on new and used textbooks ever. Instead, here’s what you do (assuming you have your class schedule already):

  1. Your school’s bookstore probably has a website, and most likely, it even has a handy-dandy textbook look-up. Enter in your class numbers and find out what textbooks it thinks you need.
  2. Track down the email addresses of each and every one of your professors. Right now. Email them and ask if the books listed on the bookstore website are the ones you actually need for class (tell them which books are listed on the website). It happened to me every semester: I’d walk into at least one class with the textbooks, and the professor would go “Oh, is that still listed on the website? You don’t need that book…” ARGH.
  3. Use the handy-dandy internet to track down that book from someone else on your campus. Facebook has a marketplace (you’re on Facebook, right?), and there are tons of websites dedicated to connecting students to buy and sell textbooks directly. (Such as Starving Scholars and Also look for campus-specific textbook exchange sites. For example, my school has BookMaid.
  4. If that doesn’t work, search Amazon, and for used books. There’s also Chegg for textbook rentals (Chegg link includes a coupon!). If you can’t find it online, your dick professor picked the most obscure book s/he could find… and that means you’re screwed for this class – you just gotta swallow it and pay the bookstore price. Good luck!

Bank Accounts
Now that you’ve dropped all but your last dime on textbooks, you’ll need somewhere to put that dime! Now, you could certainly wait until you get to campus to think about opening a new account. Don’t worry, all of the local banks will set up tables during orientation, so you can easily sign up right there! No need to compare, just go for the one that offers the free T-shirt and lanyard!

Ok, sarcasm over. Seriously, there’s no reason you can’t investigate banks from home before you go to school. The best thing to do is seek out a bank that has branches both in your home town, and in your university town. In general, this means the big banks. The big banks should offer you a free checking account for being a college student. If they don’t? They’re lame, ignore them. No matter how many lanyards they have. Do not pay for a checking account.

After you’ve got a checking account set up, attach a high yield savings account to it – even if you only have a dollar to put in there. Hey, that dollar could be earning almost five cents a year! That’s a nickel you didn’t have before. Also, high yield savings accounts are insanely useful for loan money that you don’t have to spend right away (like for textbooks).

Meal Plans
You’re not gonna eat 21 meals a week in the dining hall, and if you do… then you’re “that kid that eats every meal in the dining hall.” Also, don’t steal all the forks from the dining hall, either. You only need two.

Film Students
… All bets are off with you guys and money. I saw one guy finance a sophomore project for $3000 on credit cards. Who spends $3000 on a sophomore project? And more importantly, what did his thesis cost him? Just be warned that film school is insanely expensive and the degree doesn’t mean anything in LA… but the experience and the networking mean everything, so spend your money on stuff that will help you learn (and on booze to make more film friends).

10 responses to “College Freshman Checklist”

  1. Peter Mottola

    I want to stress a couple of things you mentioned:
    1. FACEBOOK! Go to and sign up. This doesn’t have anything to do with money, but it has everything to do with social networking (which is infinitely more important than money).
    2. Bank Accounts. I graduated from RIT, stayed in the Rochester area, and only then opened an account in New York state. Dumb move. Do it now, kids!
    3. Textbooks. I propose another strategy: don’t buy books. Roughly half (probably more) of the textbook’s you’re told to buy aren’t required in any way. You save more money by not buying books than you would by buying them on sale. By the end of the first day of class you usually have a pretty good idea of whether or not you’ll need the book. Sharing books is also advised. Finally, borrow! Libraries and other communal book depositories are your friends.

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  3. The Travelin' Man

    Facebook should come with it’s own caveat. Guess what? The Dean of Students will look at your Facebook account and see pictures of you doing keg stands at frat parties when you get called in for your first underage drinking infraction. Your excuse of “it was my first time” goes out the window when the Dean turns his computer screen around to show you the pictures that YOU posted with a beer funnel coming out of your mouth! Oh – and just because your profile is set to private doesn’t mean that the Dean won’t find those pix anyway! Trust me.

    Our campus has Bank of America (not shilling for them – I am sure that every campus is different – something may be more appropriate depending on your school) that is on campus setting up “free” (I don’t believe that anything is truly free) accounts during orientation. They also have ATM on campus, which means that students who are trapped on campus have easy access to their own banking.

  4. Anitra

    The bank account advice is on the money. Don’t sell your hometown credit union or internet banking short, though. If you’re carless like I was in college, they can be just as convenient, with ATM fee rebates and/or prepaid envelopes for mail-in deposits.

    Be smart and realistic about your food/ meal plan. At my school, everyone would start inviting their off-campus friends to come eat in the dining hall and use up their meals at the end of the semester to “get their money’s worth”. Unless you’re an athlete, plan on eating breakfast in your dorm room and getting pizza or fast food at least once a week.

    Speaking of eating in your room: see if your roommate will go halves on a mini refrigerator with you, and DON’T buy/rent it from the on-campus service! You can buy a used one for less than you’d spend to rent it for a year, and a new one at Sears for about 1.5x that price.

  5. Sam (Azuaron)

    Ah, fork stealing… I remember when Murph stole most the forks from the dining hall and they started posting guards to stem the flow off lost silverware….

  6. Sarah

    My out of state credit union worked great all through college – even for direct deposit for student jobs, travel study across the country and my backpacking trip through Europe. The only problem was getting cash at ATMs ($1.50 fee, I don’t think so!), and I quickly learned to just get cash at the grocery store.
    My hubby’s cu didn’t work well and he did have to switch to a big bank (the cu kept turning off his debit card fearing fraud).

    If you do switch banks I’d recommend choosing one that has a free ATM on campus, especially if you’re carless.

  7. james

    I highly recommend for cheap textbooks. If you have to buy them which I dont like doing this is the best place to get them

  8. Annie @ Credit Dispute

    Getting ready to move into your freshman dorm room takes a lot of work. But it doesn’t have to be stressful. It is essential that you should prepare a list of the items we felt were absolute necessities in our freshman dorms.

  9. Reggie Jordan

    I know this is an old post and I stumbled upon it over the weekend and I couldn’t help thinking how different a freshman in college is now compared to just 4 years ago when this was written. I do think though that you can find things a little bit cheaper if you look hard enough. I would suggest not stressing too much about it but go out and enjoy your freshman year.

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