Preparing for College

Packing for college takes some preparation. Moving from your childhood bedroom to a dorm room, whether with or without roommates, is a momentous change. Your whole way of living has suddenly shifted onto a residential campus because, of course, you are now living with other college students, not with your family. Even so, once you get used to your new dorm – and your new norm – you will find that it is truly invigorating to live on your own, among masses of people your own age.

Many changes are ahead, and one change that is less evident than dorm life is your academic time zone. By zone, I mean your approach to how, when, and what you study. Once you are set up and have started going to class, you will realize that this is not just high school in a new setting. College is very different.

Your academic life will take a dramatic shift. You will be moving from doing homework to working to learn. Class time arrives in increments of several hours rather than a full day, and managing your academic responsibilities will require autonomy, self-motivation, and self-discipline. You can expect study time to increase. A rule of thumb for how that will look in college is this: anywhere from 6 to 9 hours of study per week per three credit hour course. You may feel as if you have a lot of free time, but you will soon discover that class time is just the tip of the iceberg. You will need to spend time reading, understanding material, and working on projects, so you need to be prepared to spend time in the library, study rooms, and other quiet areas that are conducive to deep concentration and actual learning. Thinking about how and where you learn best is absolutely necessary for setting yourself up for success in your work. Furthermore, understanding the demands of each class and managing your time is best learned early!

Think of college as full-time work. Here’s a bit of advice: take careful notes in class, keep up with the assigned readings, consult each class syllabus, plan ahead, participate in discussions, and prepare for quizzes and exams. As you embark on your freshman year, you might ask: Do I need to establish a major right away? Not necessarily, but you should be carefully planning your course of study. General education requirement courses are a good place to start because you’ll need those courses even if you change your mind about your major. Ideally, you’ll have a four-year plan in mind—one that will enable you to accomplish your goals.

Universities and colleges offer advisors, who are there to help you. Try to build a relationship with one person you can talk to and consult about problems you may encounter. Show up for orientations, reach out when you have a question, and ask for help. You are in charge and there are people who will assist you.

A big part of achieving success in college is learning how to balance the new demands you will face. You no longer have a parent to pick up the pieces. You’ll be on your own for establishing a sleep routine, finding opportunities for working out, and developing new friend groups and social outlets. All of those things will contribute, in one way or another, to your college experience – but any one of them, if you let it get out of balance, can drag you down, too. You’ll have to take the smarts that got you into college and apply them to managing both the responsibilities and the opportunities that college will present.