What Is College Like: Basics of Campus Life

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Where will you stay? What will you eat? What will your schedule be like? To help get you started with your transition into college, here is some general information about what might change when your semester begins and what to expect as you explore your options. 

College Calendar Organization

  • The most common way college years are organized are by semester  
    • The fall semester typically begins in mid-August and ends in mid-December  
    • Winter break is between mid-December through January  
    • Spring semester is from mid-January to May, sometimes June 
    • Students typically take 4-6 classes a term

  • The trimester system divides the year into fall, winter, spring, and summer terms, with the Summer term serving as a break  
    • Students typically take 3-4 classes during a summer session
  • The block system divides the year into eight 3.5-week sections, where each section delves into only one subject 
    • This is a very uncommon method of dividing the year  

Housing Options

There are three main possibilities for housing: on-campus housing, off-campus housing, and commuting

  • On-campus housing 
    • Freshmen are usually required to stay in dorms, and in most universities, there are separate dorms for freshmen that may have been built closer to freshman academic buildings 
    • Some universities also provide on-campus apartments 
    • Most on-campus housing will include utilities and amenities in the semester cost 
  • Off-campus housing  
    • Any housing system that isn’t affiliated with the university is considered off-campus housing  
    • Most colleges have apartments in their surrounding areas, and many universities also provide free public transportation to and from campus to the apartments 
  • Commuting 
    • Commuter students are those who drive or travel to and from home to campus every day, and do not live near campus 
    • The main advantage is saving money from on-campus or off-campus housing  

Meal Plans

  • University dining services usually offer a variety of meal plans  
    • Meal plans are typically a combination of dining hall “swipes” and cash or university “credit” that is applicable at on-campus and/or surrounding restaurants  
    • Dining halls are mainly set up buffet-style  
    • Meal plan accounts are normally stored on your student ID card or a phone app  
    • Freshmen are usually required to have a meal plan, while it may be optional for upperclassmen (since many upperclassmen move off campus to apartments)
  • Be careful when choosing a meal plan – you can usually calculate the amount of money you’re “paying” for each dining hall swipe  
    • Sometimes it can be more expensive to purchase a large meal plan if you’re a student who cooks or eats out more  
    • Most meal plans are based on the semester and dining hall swipes and credits may not always rollover if you don’t use the full amount
  • Take full advantage of your meal plan!  
    • Dining halls often have peak hours, where the buffet will have a wider variety of options and fresh food to accommodate the influx of students  

Other Amenities

  • Universities have libraries, gyms, activity centers, tutoring centers, and student buildings with study areas – take advantage of all that is offered to you through campus  
  • Attend networking events and make use of the university’s career center!  
  • Watch your student mail and university social media posts for news on events your college may be hosting, such as free food, T-shirts, event tickets, and more

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