The transition to college is a difficult one. You will have to adjust to new academic expectations and adopt new routines over your first few months. While most of this learning happens by trial-and-error, we have compiled a list of 15 tips to help you make the academic leap from high school to college.
1. Pick classes you are genuinely interested in and a major that you care about
Studies show that you are more likely to graduate if you pick a major that you're actually interested in, versus one that you think will earn you a lot of money. Just about everything in college will go smoother if you like what you're learning.
2. Boss up in class
You're in college to learn, right? Make the most out of class by showing up on time and prepared each day. This Do and Don't list from Marquette University's first generation college student group outlines some basics for classroom success.
3. Strengthen your study habits
Whether you like to study in the cafe, in the library, or your dorm room, one thing is for certain: you will spend a LOT of time studying! Think about how you learn best and get the most done with the fewest distractions. Some people think they are social learners when they really need to self-isolate, while others like to work independently but in a group setting to stay accountable. Try different arrangements to see what works best for you.
We recommend scheduling blocks of time in between or directly after class as non-negotiable study time--treat studying like a class or a job. Use your phone's timer to set attainable goals, like 30 or 40 minutes of uninterrupted reading at a time, and then challenge yourself to NOT check your phone until the alarm sounds. Treat yourself with a 5 minute "brain break" before resuming.
There are plenty of old-school study tools (like flash cards) and new-school apps to help you retain information and remain focused. Consider making an appointment with your college's academic advising or tutoring center to learn more.
4. Don't overspend on textbooks
Going to the campus bookstore might leave you with sticker shock. If you're willing to get creative, you can save a bundle on your college materials. Try purchasing used books online, utilizing the library, or tracking down upperclassmen who are willing to sell you their copies for reduced rates. Here's a full list of ways to save money on your textbooks!
5. Keep your work life in balance
Within reasonable limits, part-time work can be a healthy part of the college experience. You can gain valuable skills, meet new friends, and earn funds to stay afloat. With that said, balance is key.
If you feel like you're working yourself into bad grades, you can put your scholarships and financial aid in jeopardy. (Think about it this way, if earning an extra $1,000 at work means you fail a class worth $3,000, you are losing money in the long run!) Be honest with yourself about whether your job is eroding your commitment to school, and seek help from an academic advisor, financial aid officer, or even your old College Access Coordinator so that you can get back on track.
6. Master the art of email
You will have a different relationship with your email in college than you did in high school. Get in the habit of checking it at least once a day to connect with your classmates, receive updates about your courses, and learn about campus happenings. Need to contact your professor? Read this email etiquette guide from Marquette University so that you put your best foot forward.
7. Stay organized
The most powerful tool to stay organized in college is a physical calendar or planner where you can record your assignments and their due dates. Buy a whiteboard-style calendar if you prefer to have big and bold reminders of your obligations for the coming week. Or, if you prefer to keep things digital, sync your phone calendar with your email calendar so you never miss a deadline. There are also organization and productivity apps that you can download onto your phone.
Make sure you have a binder or folder and a corresponding notebook for each class so you can easily locate readings, notes, and handouts. A three-hole punch is a good investment, or you can often find one at the library.
8. Understand your pathway to graduation
How many credits do you need to earn a degree at your college?
How many of these are core courses ("gen eds") vs. classes in your major?
Your academic advisor can tell you this AND show you how to check for yourself.
9. Become a library expert
Most college libraries contain textbooks, academic journals, music, movies, private study spaces, cafes, and even some novels, magazines, and comic books for fun. Make sure you know where to find what you need and who can assist! There are lots of professionals who can help you.
10. Ask for help when you need it
Feeling stressed? Overwhelmed? Confused? There are helpers on every campus.
Here's a guide for communicating with your professors effectively and professionally, published by Agnes Scott College.
11. Find a squad that pushes you to be better.
Spend your time with people who motivate you to study, learn, and explore the world around you. Good friends empower you when you struggle and cheer for you when you succeed.
Bad friends ignore your emotional needs and push you to engage in self-destructive behaviors.
You don't have to stick with the people you meet the first few weeks of school. Find cool people by attending events, forming study groups, and joining clubs and societies.
12. Attend academic events...for fun!
Your social life in college doesn't have to be all about parties (or parties at all, if they're not your jam). Attend poetry readings, guest lectures, film screenings, student plays, art exhibition openings, and other academic events where you can learn something and potentially network yourself into a new opportunity. Plus, these events tend to have refreshments...shoutout to all the fruit & cheese platters of my college days!
13. Do your work with integrity
Cheating is corny. Do your own work. Take some time to familiarize yourself with proper citation methods if you're out of practice. If you feel tempted to take shortcuts, that's a symptom of a larger problem that you can work through with your academic advisor, peer mentor, or another trusted counselor.
Here's a great resource from MIT that details the importance of submitting honest work, as well as tips for proper attribution.
14. Sleep! Sleep! Sleep!
Being sleep-deprived can affect your mood, your health, your friendships, and of course, your academic performance. Try to get 7 quality hours of rest per night, but more importantly, try to keep your bedtime and waking time consistent throughout the week.
If you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, try these tips:
Stop drinking caffeine after 2 pm
Don't look at screens at least 30 minutes before bed
Plug your phone in across the room so you're not tempted to check it after you turn out the light
Invest in a cheap alarm clock so you don't have to use your phone alarm
Use a sleep mask and earplugs to drown out a snoring roommate or other dorm noises
Don't exercise right before bed
Keep an "anxiety journal" so you can jot stray thoughts that may otherwise keep you up at night
15. Tell yourself daily: "I belong"
Throughout your life, you will encounter people who, whether intentionally or unintentionally, make you feel small. Don't give them power over you.
Be steadfast in your belief that you belong in college and you have the ability to graduate. Remember: you ARE college material!