It’s the spring of your senior year of high school, and graduation is near. You’re likely very busy juggling final exams, AP tests, award ceremonies, prom, and everything else that comes with being a graduating senior.
On the CollegeVine blog, we’ve covered the academic tasks you’ll need to take care of around graduation, like sending your final grade report to the college you’ll be attending. Here on the Zen blog, we’ve also addressed some activities that you may want to try to fit in before you leave for college, from organizing and packing to spending time with friends.
However, there’s another category of tasks to consider: practical, everyday tasks related to your transition out of high school. I don’t want to overwhelm you, but I do think it’s a good idea for you to keep these needs in mind as you prepare for the end of high school, so that you can plan to fit them into your inevitably busy schedule.
Here’s what you need to know to get your practical affairs in order before college—in particular, the things I wish I’d known when I was doing my own planning.
Phasing Out Your High School Email Address
If you’ve been assigned an email address provided by your high school, you may lose access to that account when you graduate, or it may cease to exist entirely. Now’s the time to move your important contacts to another email address.
In addition to emails going astray, losing access to an email account can create problems for other online accounts linked to that email address. Password reset functions often use your email address, for instance, so if you lose your password to an online account that’s attached to an outdated email address, you could find yourself locked out for good. (I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me and people I know, and it’s a huge pain every time.)
My advice is to set up an email address on a reputable service that’s based upon your real name, one that’s neutral, professional-sounding, and appropriate for the working world. That kind of email address will be useful for years to come, and it’s fairly simple to have emails forwarded to or from other accounts you might open.
Once you have a new account set up, make sure to update all your contacts and other accounts, and forward anything you might need from your old account to the new one. You might consider forwarding important memories as well—remember, once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Changing Your Physical Address
College students tend to move around a lot, whether they live on or off campus. Even if you’re assigned a mailbox in your student center or other central location, which is common, that address is only valid until you graduate from college, and you won’t have physical access to your mailbox while you’re off campus for breaks.
For this reason, colleges will have you designate a “permanent address,” a place where important mail for you can be sent safely and reliably. Many students use their parents’ address as their permanent address, but that’s not required. It depends whether you’re comfortable with your parents managing your incoming mail, communicating with you about it, and addressing any urgent issues.
Having your mail set back home can admittedly involve some awkward moments. I remember one particularly unpleasant incident when an important piece of mail was sent to my parents’ house, but they forgot to tell me. However, it usually works out just fine, so it’s a popular choice.
The decision is up to you, but whatever you choose, you’ll need to make sure that you’ve changed your address with the appropriate entities. If you have a magazine subscription, for instance, you’ll likely want that to come to your campus address. Your college, employers, student loan providers, and others will need to know where to send important documents.
If you’d prefer all your mail to be sent to you on campus, you can fill out a change of address form with the U.S. Postal Service to have all your mail automatically rerouted to your campus address (or another address of your choice) for a year, giving you more time to update your contact information with all the important people.
Transferring Your Medical Care to Campus Health Services
When you’re away at college, particularly if that’s far from home, it may be difficult or impossible for you to continue seeing your existing doctors regularly. Your basic care—for instance, if you get a bad cold or spike a fever—may come from the on-campus Health Services department or infirmary. These facilities can range from minimal offices to small hospitals depending on the college, but they don’t cover everything.
If you need more specialized care and can’t manage to get back home for appointments, you may have to seek out a new provider near your college. Of course, your options will depend upon where your college is located and which practitioners are covered by your health insurance network.
After you confirm that you’re attending a college, some of your necessary paperwork will include healthcare-related forms. Your college’s medical services will need to know about your health history, get your records, and see that you’ve received the proper vaccinations. (You may have to get a few more shots to get up to date.)
If you’re managing an ongoing health condition, are taking regular medication, or are at higher risk of medical problems than most people, it’s especially important to ensure continuity of care. Talk to your doctor about your needs and options—they’ll depend upon the severity of your condition, your ability to travel for appointments, and other medical factors. Your doctor may be able to recommend a place to get quality care near your college.
Setting Up Financial Arrangements
Most banks require you to be 18 to open your own independent account, so if you already have a bank account, there’s a good chance that it’s linked to your parents. Sometimes these “custodial” accounts come with substantial restrictions, so you’ll likely want to review your options and open a bank account of your own.
There’s a lot of information out there about choosing a bank and an account type; it’s up to you to do your research to find an option that works well for you. Be aware that some banks and account types may require a certain initial deposit, or charge fees if you don’t keep a certain sum in the account at all times. Some accounts also charge monthly maintenance fees or a buffet of other fees for certain types of use, and these can add up.
Another important factor is that not all bank chains exist in all locations. Like many students, I switched banks when I went to college for convenience—my old bank didn’t exist in the same state as my new college. Choosing a new bank that has physical offices and ATMs near your college will likely be the easiest for you, but online banking can make other banks attractive options as well.
You may want to have access to a credit card as well, but the key word is may. Credit cards are often attractive to young people, but they may tempt you to overspend and incur major interest charges, so you need to be careful. Still, they can come in handy for emergencies. Talk to your parents—you may be able to get a card that’s tied to their account, just in case you truly need it.
Another tip from me: order paper checks, even if it seems a little silly. You most likely won’t need to use them on a regular basis, as most bills can be paid online these days, but they’re very useful to have around for things like rent. In situations where I can’t pay for something online or with my card, I’d much rather be carrying a check, which can be tracked or cancelled if stolen, than a large amount of cash.
Sorting Out Important Documents
Paperwork is a constant in life, even if it’s in digital form instead of literally on paper. It’s followed you around all your life. Somewhere, hopefully in a safe location, there’s a treasure trove of highly important documents with your name on them, most prominently your Social Security card (for U.S. citizens) and your birth certificate. If your experiences have produced other documents, such as immigration forms or adoption paperwork, they’ll be included as well.
These important documents aren’t the kind of thing that you’ll use every day, but they’re absolutely essential as proof of your identity in certain circumstances. Before you leave for college, you’ll need to make sure all this paperwork is available and in order, and also discuss with your parents whether you’ll be taking it with you to school.
When I left for college, my parents insisted on keeping possession of my Social Security card and original birth certificate for safekeeping, and I can’t blame them—I was a pretty disorganized teenager. Instead, I brought with me several photocopies of each. I didn’t have a driver’s license, but I did get a state ID card from my home state before I left for college, which was accepted for most of the same purposes. (FYI: as of 2018, state IDs from certain states states will no longer be accepted for air travel.)
You’ll have to have your own discussion with your parents about what’s going to happen to your original identification documents, but bear in mind that you’ll almost definitely need them at some point in college. Whether you keep those documents in your own possession or leave them with your family, they’ll still need to be accessible.
Personally, I think the safest way to go is to get a passport before you leave home. Though the passport application process takes time, passports are one of the most widely accepted forms of identification, they stay valid for ten years, and they also make it possible for you to travel outside the United States. You can also get a passport card, which allows ground or water travel to certain nearby countries, counts as a valid government ID, and is easier to carry. Even if you have a passport, though, you may have to show additional identification for certain purposes, so be prepared.
Adding to your task list for your last few months of high school may seem a little like compounding the problem—you already have a lot to do. However, taking care of these simple tasks early and with conscious intention can smooth the process tremendously and save you time and effort in the long run. Trust me—you’ll thank yourself later for thinking about them now.
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