It may seem like only yesterday you were starting high school, but juniors and seniors are now thinking about college. For juniors, the task is narrowing down the list of possibly schools and thinking about visits. For seniors, the task is simply to survive the rest of high school and buy some nice dorm supplies. What may not be at the top of that plotting student’s to-do list is how to prepare his or her mind for this drastically different stage in the academic career. In this article, I have compiled 6 tips to help you prepare for college life.
PREPARING FOR COLLEGE LIFE
1. THINK ABOUT YOUR WEEKLY SCHEDULE.
In high school, you spend a lot of your time in a classroom, and just a couple extra hours on homework after school lets out. In college, those trends reverse. You’ll spend less time in class, but you’ll be required to spend much more time outside of class working on your study material. The rule of thumb is typically 2-3 hours outside of class for each credit hour you take. That means a typical week might have you in class for only 12-15 hours, but you may need to spend upwards of 45 hours outside of class. Therefore, time management is a must.
You’ll want to split up and schedule your days to include all the time you will need to spend studying. Buy a good day planner for this. Some days you may have three classes and a club meeting, so you might try to spend less time on schoolwork. Other days you may have just one class, so you might schedule in extra study time. Remember, you need to schedule time not only to complete class assignments, but also to do readings, start on big projects/papers, and study for upcoming tests.
Not only will this habit help you manage your workload in college, but proper time management is a skill that will help you throughout the rest of your life. Adults don’t juggle families, jobs, school, and hobbies through magic, they do it by being organized and productive with the time they have.
2. LEARN HOW TO STUDY.
You may have had to put some effort into studying for the ACT and SAT, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have good study habits in place. Here, I’ll outline just a few good habits to work on and consider for the future.
I recommend that you buy a notebook and folder for each class (I even like to match them up by color, but that’s of course not necessary). I know that you are probably taking a laptop to college with you, but it’s not the best way to take notes. Computers contain the internet, and the internet contains distractions. This is not conducive to learning. Additionally, the speed with which you can type makes it tempting to try to take down every word your professor says. This may sound like a good thing, but it is actually just another distraction. You don’t need all those details, and documenting them all can cause you to focus on minutiae instead of grasping the big picture. It also causes you to create pages and pages of notes for each class, which you are much less likely to review than a few handwritten bullet points.
Another good study habit is to review your notes from class immediately after class ends, if your schedule permits. This helps your brain to solidify the information you just learned, as it assists those details to enter long-term memory. It also helps you to be able to pinpoint topics that seemed to make sense in class, but are actually confusing to you now. Most, if not all, of your college professors will be ecstatic to see you in their office hours, so if you have questions over the lecture, don’t hesitate to ask your professor to meet up.
Finally, when your professor tells you to read chapter 3 for next Wednesday’s class, read it. I know, there’s no quiz over it and your professor may never know if you don’t read it, but seriously: read it. If you introduce yourself to the material before it’s taught, you will have a broad grasp on what’s going on before your professor dives into details. Your brain will be more able to absorb the information it’s receiving, and you’ll be able to ask better questions.
Having functional study habits will allow you to be a good student throughout college, and it is helpful beyond that time as well. Good study habits are even more necessary if you decide to go to graduate school, as you will be even busier then. Also, if you choose to have children somewhere down the road, you can impart these habits onto them.
3. START PRACTICING INDEPENDENCE.
You may have a license, a lack of a bedtime, and a late curfew, but trust me, it’s a long shot from the independence college offers you. Suddenly, you will go from the comfort of your own home under the supervision of your parents to living in a small room with a stranger and a dearth of rules. That means you need to be able to manage that responsibility. No one is going to treat you like a kid anymore, so if you make mistakes, you have to own up to them. Sure, you can stay up until four in the morning binge-watching shows on Netflix, but if you sleep through your alarm and miss the calculus exam, your professor will probably just give you a zero. Your parents can’t call the principal and schedule a make-up test. You are completely responsible for yourself.
Your professors will hand you a syllabus on the first day of class. This syllabus outlines the assignments due, the topics of every lecture, the due dates of papers, and what they expect out of you. They will go over the syllabus in detail with you, but that may be it. If you forgot about the 12-page paper, you probably won’t get a reminder that it’s due, and most professors lop off a letter grade for each day the paper arrives after the due date. Be warned!
It’s probably obvious how this habit is practical for the rest of your life. College is where you truly develop into an adult, and you need to learn to take care of yourself.
4. GET AND STAY ORGANIZED.
As I said above, finding a good day planner is absolutely mandatory. Take it with you to all your classes so you can add details if they arise, and fill it out entirely when you get your syllabi. You can use an online calendar or an app as well, but I really don’t think there’s a replacement for a good day planner. Plus, there’s no feeling more gratifying than crossing something off your list when you finish it.
At the beginning of every week, look at your schedule and your workload and make a list of everything you need to accomplish that week. Start with the things that are mandatory. Once your list is complete, work it into your schedule. If your last class ends at 1:30 and you’re free until your 4:00 meeting, schedule in your review of your class notes and your reading for next week. A to-do list is all well and good, but without the step of scheduling it into your day, it’s going to be difficult to actually stay on top of that list. When your list is all scheduled into your week, if you still have time, you can work on adding some things that aren’t mandatory, like maybe getting in an hour of research on that paper due in a month.
You probably won’t last long as an adult in the work force if you regularly miss deadlines and double-book yourself. In addition to being able to counteract those slip-ups, being organized and efficient at managing your time will make you more productive, which is one of the most useful qualities you can have as an adult.
5. GET SOME EXERCISE.
The dreaded “freshman fifteen” is the idea that once you’re allowed to eat whatever you want, students tend to put on a little bit of weight. Now, let me be clear: I don’t think gaining fifteen pounds really makes any kind of difference in your life. However, as you get older, your metabolism will begin to slow down. In other words, eating unhealthy food will catch up with you later if it doesn’t now. Exercise is a great way to counteract that.
Most colleges have excellent workout facilities that are completely free to students, often including classes if you are uncomfortable being let loose on a bunch of gym equipment. Developing a routine of exercising is a great lifelong habit. Additionally, if your classes are beginning to get stressful, exercise has been shown to decrease stress and focus your mind.
6. IT’S COLLEGE. DON’T FORGET TO HAVE FUN.
Of course, it’s unbelievably important to consider your schedule, develop good study habits, practice independence, get organized, and get exercise. However, college is also absolutely one of the most fun times in your life. You’ll make new friends, experience new things, and develop new opinions. So when you’re making up that weekly schedule, don’t forget to leave time to relax as well. Go to social events and meet people. Get involved in a club that interests you. Try something that scares you a little bit, like an open microphone night. College is hard work, but it’s also one of the more rewarding experiences you will have.
Author: Victoria Kerns, Teacher at A Grade Ahead