New school. New phase of life. Everything is so exciting… and possibly overwhelming. You have a lot to do as you prepare to leave for music school. The goal of your preparations should be to minimize the stress of the transition and set yourself up to hit the music school grounds running.
Sort out your dorm situation as early as possible
Prioritize commutations from your school's housing office. Very often, dorm selections work on first-come/first-serve basis. That means, you want to do your research on what your top three housing choices are now. Then you're ready to move fast when you can start submitting request applications to different dorms. When deciding what your top choices will be, think about dorm
- Location: what's the safety score of the neighborhood and what are your transportation options to get to the places where you'll be spending most of your time? Even if it's the safest neighborhood, if it takes two bus transfers to get to the main practice hall, that's not smart.
- Culture, official or unofficial: Some dorms have official themes, others have reputations. Talk to current or recent alum to learn what's what.
- Balance between its amenities and your school debt: In-unit washer/dryers are sooo convenient, but can you make do with a laundry room in the building? You might work out more with a gym in the dorm; you might not. Is the premium these non-essential amenities add to your housing bill worth taking out a bigger student loan?
Getting first year housing right can go a long way to helping you achieve success in your first year, which sets the foundation for your music school career.
Think strategically about what you'll bring with you
You'll be moving again in a year, so as a matter of logistics, how much do you want to schlep around? You don't need to go full-on minimalist, just keep in mind that you'll accumulate a ton of stuff during the year. So, it's helpful to keep your baseline of stuff under control. Leaving home, especially for the first time, can be rough. That doesn't mean you need to bring every favorite stuffed animal and framed family photo you've collected thus far. Pick a few you love and that you can live with in case they get spilled on, cracked or otherwise aggrieved.
Items you want to bring that are easy to overlook include:
- Sheets that fit the mattress size – so double check the size of the beds in your dorm!
- An alarm clock in addition to your phone.
- Power strip with surge protection will not only give you all the electric and USB ports you need for all your devices, but will ensure they stay safe while plugged in.
- Two simple dining sets – plate, bowl, flatware will cover you for in-room snacking. Add in a couple mugs if you're a coffee or tea drinker.
- If your dorm has communal bathrooms – shower caddy, shower shoes, and robe you'll be proud to walk down the hall wearing.
- Hangers. It's unlikely the dorm closet will have any. If you're the type that folds more than you hang clothes, think about buying shelves you can hang from a closet rod.
What to bring with your instrument
After your instrument itself, the most important item you can bring is a weather-protective, well-padded case. Ideally one that also has compartments to hold all your peripherals conveniently. You might also want to get a security cable for your case.
Learn the grounds before you arrive
Nothing will feel worse, or waste more time, than running around getting lost your first month at music school. If you don't live near your campus, get online and learn the map. Go to Google Earth and check out the street views. Figure out how you'll be getting from your dorm to the buildings where you'll spend the most time. Some schools have developed map and orientation apps you can download to your phone.
Try to meet some people before you arrive
You'll feel more confident if you've made the effort to meet a few people who'll be on campus with you before you arrive. If you've gotten the name of your roommate, get in touch before school starts. Do you have a passing connection with another student there? Perhaps someone you met a youth orchestra or music festival event?
How are you managing your cash flow?
If you'll be looking for financial assistance, either grants or loans, hopefully you've been working with the financial aid department at your music school already. If you expect to get a part-time job, don't wait until arriving on campus to start applying for local area jobs. Start looking online now.
Prepare yourself and your family
Leaving the nest is exciting, but also stressful for everyone. Parents and younger siblings left behind will all feel your absence, and you theirs. Put together a plan for face-timing or chatting or whatever way you and your family members communicate best.
Lay the groundwork for your arrival to music school. It will ramp your excitement about going (as if you needed that) and help you acclimate to your new environment smoothly. Check out how to survive your first year at music school for tips on making your day-to-day life there productive and happy.