As a parent, you may feel nervous when your college freshman goes away to school. It's a new and changing world for them and you. With all the information that is bombarding the student, it can be overwhelming to keep track of everything when they need it. Today, I am going to share with you a DIY Freshman Year Reference Binder for your student that you can create at home for your particular situation. Follow along and make one for your freshman. Better yet, create one together with your freshman!
Speak with your freshman and ask them if there are particular areas that they are concerned about regarding starting a new school. Be sure to add solutions for those topics in the binder. A little guidance will help them feel less out of control in their situation.
Below is how we created my daughter's DIY Freshman Year Reference Binder and what sections we included in my daughter's binder.
I found that a 1-inch binder worked nicely for the papers my child needed. She went to a larger school with very little guidance and a lot of rules and many things to remember.
How to make a College Freshman Reference Binder?
Purchase sheet protectors for the binder. To protect the papers, we found that using sheet protectors worked best to keep things tidy and they were more likely not to fall out of the binder. Below are a variety of ones I found on Amazon.com (affiliate).
Purchase sticky file index tabs. These file index tabs are very handy and you can easily add them to any sheet protector or page you want to stand out in the binder. You can get use the 2-inch ones but you can either go with the 1 inch or 3 inch or various sizes. Below are some examples you can purchase from Amazon.com (affiliate).
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Get the right size binder. Gather the information first then, determine the size binder you need. Below are the binders I found on Amazon (affiliate) from .5 inches to 2 inches. Feel free to click through and buy on Amazon. I will receive a small referral fee at no additional cost to you.
Now, what should I add to the Freshman Year Reference Binder?
Well, I'm glad you asked. This binder will vary from university to university. Some colleges may give you more paper reference information, and other colleges may be more up-to-date with their online references. Add sections to the binder that isn't well-organized or easy to find on the university's website.
Course / Major Information Section of Binder
The first section I added was the course / major information. This section included the courses my child needed to take for her major in college and any additional information that she received from the orientation that she felt was necessary. If the information was on the website, we would print it out, so there was a paper copy of it instead of looking online. Below you can see an example of how I designed her divider pages. I used Microsoft Word application to create this divider page because it was convenient for me, but you can use any other word processing software like Google Docs.
Meals section of the Binder
The second section was Meals. This section includes places that served gluten-free and vegan foods. I also added a list of items that are easy to purchase for a healthy snack. Check out my post here for details. EASY HEALTHY SNACKS FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS DORM LIFE
Dorm and Move-in Reference Section of Binder
The third section was the dorm and move-in reference information. I included the Dorm Room checklist I created in the post: TIPS FOR A SUCCESSFUL COLLEGE YEAR. This section consists of an extensive 2 page printable that you can use to gather all the items together for the college dorm. Feel free to click and print it out for your binder. It's free!
Campus Map Section of the Binder
The fourth tab was a Campus Map. This section was just in case she needed it to find a class or where a building was located. Since my child's campus was large and spread out over several blocks, this gave her a place to go to check out the school and where things were, so when she went out, she would hopefully not get lost.
Transit System Section of the Binder
The fifth section was showing the transit system in the city. She was in a metropolitan area, and it helped her to see how the transit system worked, so she knew where to go when she took it on weekends and holidays so they could explore the city. Note: if there are areas that are not safe, you can mark those areas on the map, so they know it is not a great area to visit.
Self Care Section of the Binder
The last tab was reference material for self-care. I created a post called Easy Self Care Remedies for College Students that were intended to help my children if they can't get a hold of me. Feel free to check out the link above. In this section, you can also add doctors in the area and where they can go that is covered under their insurance.
I also added extra sheet protectors, index tabs, and sheets for each section just in case she wanted to add something herself.
Other Index Tab Topics to add to your binder.
- Quick and Easy Recipes your kids can do in their dorm.
- A list of things to buy to eat healthy.
- Places in the area to check out for dinners.
- Where to go shopping?
- Shared items for an apartment printable. Visit our newest post that talks about how to set up: Who is bringing what? checklist to reduce costs in a shared apartment.
- Local clothing and other stores to visit.
Well, there you have it! A completed DIY Freshman Year Reference Binder your kids can take with them to college. This binder may be used for the first semester, and then it can be updated each year with new and additional information. What a great going away gift for your freshman's first semester! I hope this inspires you to create it and share it with your college freshman.
Do you have any other ideas on what to add to this freshman year reference binder? Please leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you.
Below are some additional posts you can visit for parents of college student tips I found online.
Ten Tips for Parents of College Kids
9 tips on how to be a good college parent
I love your binder; I made myself something similar once I got to college. (Pre-internet, most of this wasn't available until we got to campus, and I went to college very much pre-internet.) I like Seana's idea of a laundry section, and you could also add info about house-of-worship schedules, maybe some first aid and "sick day" pages, and yes, notes of encouragement.
I can also see making a digital version of this bind with an Evernote notebook so that the information (like dining halls and transit info) even when the student isn't likely to be carrying the binder (like on Saturday nights). Great, detailed information!
When my son went away to college I didn't think to do this. Great idea. I tried to give him copies of some of his personal information like social security card and medical insurance info. He won't take it. I just figured he'd contact me if he needed it and he never did.
This how-to-guide is amazing. First of all, it’s clever and it’s so helpful. The first semester away is tough and scary. This is a real gift.
You even included recipes! Love it
Love the idea of adding a section for meals to the binder. That's something that is so important that our kids will often overlook. My kids are still really young but I know the time will come sooner than I'd like where I'll be making a college binder! Thank you for your suggestions!
Stacey Agin Murray
I love this idea! My eldest is only 14 but before I know it, he'll be needing a binder like this one. This will make the nerve-wracking transition from high school to college much easier! And, as a parent, I think I would sleep better at night knowing that I sent my child to college equipped with a binder full of knowledge that they can reference if they can't get in touch with me or if they'd prefer to embrace their independence.
Diane N. Quintana
What a great idea, Sabrina! Having a map of the city and how to navigate public transportation is really handy. I also agree with Julie's comment - asking your child about their concerns. Each one will have different things that are bothering them about this transition.
The brilliance of this idea struck me with the first line, before I even read what you were including in the binder. A little work on this might save you from needing to respond MANY a text! I might add "How to do laundry," with the basics on sorting, temperature, etc. It is sort of like a damage-free version of a bullet journal, where you can keep any information you don't want to try and hold in your brain. I'm sure every freshman would love having this. You could even tuck in a little "I know you are going to be great" note up front:)
That's a great idea of adding how to do laundry!
What a great binder. The best tip I picked up from the blog was right at the start. Ask your student what they are concerned about. It might be about laundry, how to repair stuff, budgeting. Having the sections they need with a little guidance from an experienced adult, older sibling or friend will make the binder well used and not gathering dust.
Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Julie! I found this binder was also a handy place to keep important class scheduling and advisor meetings paperwork.