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You've Been Accepted to College -- Now What?!

So, you've recently been accepted to college! You're set... all you need to know about living away from home will be dropped in your lap, right? Think again. Going off to an out-of-state college requires a lot of responsibility and independence. You might feel overwhelmed at the amount of new information you're expected to discover on your own.

Don't worry -- most new students feel the same anxiety, whether it's nervousness about grades, new roommate anxiety, or an overwhelming concern about cutting down college costs. The tips to follow, however, can help you make a smooth transition into your new environment and encourage open-mindedness for the many opportunities you'll have while on campus.

This Is It?!
Walking into your closet-sized dorm room and realizing how little space there actually is will hit you almost as hard as the smell of meatloaf coming from the cafeteria. If you're confronted with dorm accessory over-abundance, take action. Have a garage sale or clothes swap with the people in your hall. It's a cool way to free up some space, meet new people, and make a little extra cash.

When packing, remember only the necessities. Make a call to your soon-to-be roommate and work out the details of who is bringing the stereo, TV, and DVD player. Never assume; you'll end up with doubles of one item and none of another.

Roommate or Room-hate?
When it comes to making new friends, realize that your roommate is not going to be coming from the exact same background as you. In meeting and getting settled, take advantage of the situation and make a "roommate agreement." This way, when it gets down to crunch time like midterms and finals, you'll still respect each other and each other's property. Smoking in the room, phone messages, overnight guests, neatness, and study time are things that need to be discussed within the first week. Living with a roommate requires compromise and consideration.

"When my roommate and I were in the same math class and our assignments were due over the Web, we were fighting for use of the computer, so we had to work out a schedule," says Kristin Meyer, a junior at Indiana University (Bloomington, IN). "It made things less stressful and I would work on other assignments until her time was up."

Dorm Decor
Decorating can bring out your creative side and serve as an ice-breaker, too. "I know a girl who had everyone on the floor put their hand prints in paint on her wall," says Lauren Naset, a sophomore, also from (Indiana University, IN). "Not only was it a great decoration idea, but she was able to meet everyone she was going to live with for the next year."

For some sentimental style, bring things that remind you of home, like your favorite posters. Fill the walls with photos of friends from home, the prom night you don't want to forget, or that last weekend at the amusement park. Although an extra chair or coffee table can make your room feel more like home, it may be space-consuming. Hold off on furniture until you actually move in so you can see how much room you'll have. You'll be living in this space for nine months; make it comfortable.

Saving Quarters and Other Tidbits
Get ready for the ultimate college lesson: "Quarters are like gold." It's kooky, but it's a good idea to start a collection plate within your household for quarters before you make the trek to school. On campus, quarters will get you a pack of gum, a pencil, a stamp, a few loads of laundry, and you're less likely to pay for pizza with them.

Speaking of laundry, Mom isn't going to like doing 12 loads of laundry when every major holiday rolls around, so it's time you learn how to wash.. And don't forget to keep a watchful eye, or else more than just a sock or two will disappear. Doing laundry can be boring, but it's a good time to bring along that sociology reading you've been putting off.

Keeping in Touch
Letters and e-mail are the cheapest ways to keep in touch once you're on a limited college budget. Receiving a friend's letter in your mailbox is much more gratifying than the getting a phone bill for your homesick calls. If the compulsion to phone home overcomes you, remember to choose the long distance service with the lowest rates. Be sure to keep in mind the times your rates are good for, as well how much the monthly fee is. Your bank account will thank you.

Staying in Shape
Walking onto the varsity swim team may not be a reality for you, but intramural sports can be. Keeping exercise at the top of your to-do list is a priority, plus it's a great way to meet new people with the same interests. Don't fall victim to the freshman 15; keep your enthusiasm going. "My school offers credit for classes in golf, beginners gymnastics, tennis, and personal fitness, so you can set your own standards," says Laura Serico, a senior at James Madison University (Harrisonburg, VA).

There's No Place Like Home
"Homesickness is inevitable for anyone," says Sarah Waters, a Washington University senior (Saint Louis, MO). "You'll realize pretty quickly that you even miss giving your little brother a ride somewhere. [Overcoming] it is just a matter of getting connected to your interests from home while you're at school."

School officials understand the hardships of homesickness, hence the occasional school break. Getting home, however, isn't as easy as clicking your heels together. Some students depend on the ride board in the school's student union or newspaper ads to get home between holidays. According to Brian Hartnett, a senior at Pennsylvania State University (University Park, PA), it's not always a bad thing if you can't make it home.

"The best advice I can give is not to go home during the first few weeks at school. You'll learn to like your independence," he explains. "Sure, I definitely miss the football games from high school, but the spirit of a Big Ten football game beats the standard by far."

Getting Paid
Getting a job is the ideal way to take your mind off of home and pay for out-of-state, out-of-pocket expenses, such as the phone bill, a late-night pizza, toiletries, and shopping sprees. Most colleges have an employment office that either hires students or refers them to businesses in need of part-time help. In addition, opportunities such as becoming a personal tutor or office clerk are always listed in campus newspapers, along with chances to advance science as a paid-volunteer for experiments in psychological studies.

Stashing Your Cash
Budgeting your money means thinking of creative ways to use limited funds. "My whole room is decked out with furniture from the thrift store in our town. We even have matching curtains that we made out of bed sheets," says Laura.

Shannon Taylor, a student at University of Houston, TX, warns against the use of credit cards for over-budget purchases. "I got myself in a lot of trouble over the last holiday. I would take out all of my friends and pay for it with a credit card, and they would give me cash for their share. Then I would just turn right around and spend the money, or forget to deposit the cash [to pay off my card later]." Many students stick with the old standby of a checking account and an ATM card. This way, you can't spend money you don't really have.

What Really Matters
Classes, roommates, and jobs are the main focus of your first year at school, and the opportunities are numerous. The first year away from home is best spent wide-eyed and fancy free. Not that this should replace studying or going to class, but be open to experiences that engulf you in your new surroundings like clubs, team sports, and interaction in your residence hall. There is a place for everyone on campus, as long as you're willing to explore and find it.