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How to Prepare for College: 9 Ways to Set Yourself Up for Success

So you’ve been accepted to college. Congratulations! Getting to this point took a lot of dedication and hard work.

But you can’t rest on your laurels. With your first semester on the horizon, it’s time to prepare for the next phase of your life.

If you’re expecting it to be like high school, you’re in for a surprise. College and high school differ in many ways.

You’ll (likely) go from living with your parents to living in a dorm. You’ll be in charge of setting your schedule. And you’ll be fully responsible for your academic success.

With all these changes coming, some preparation will make the transition much easier. But what should you do to prepare for college?

While it’s impossible to cover every situation, there are some general things you can do to set yourself up for success. Below, we examine nine ways to prepare for college, both inside the classroom and beyond.

9 Ways to Prepare for College

No matter what you’re studying or where you’re attending school, some facets of college life remain the same. With that in mind, I’ve put together this list of things that will help you prepare for college.

Some of these are things that helped me succeed when I was a student, while others are things I wish I had done.

Get Organized

If you only take away one thing from this article, I hope it’s the importance of being organized in college.

College requires you to juggle a lot more than you did in high school:

  • You’re responsible for coming to class, taking notes, and getting help if you need it. No one will hold your hand through this process.
  • Besides class, you have a myriad of clubs and extracurriculars available to you. But balancing these with your classes requires careful organization.
  • If you get a job (on or off campus), you have to keep track of your schedule and show up on time.

How you stay organized is up to you. Everyone has a different personality and working style. Some folks will want to schedule everything down to the minute. Others will be content with just enough organization to keep the chaos in check.

To get started, we recommend these resources:

The above articles will help you organize both your classwork and other activities. However, it can take some time to set up such a system from scratch.

If you’d rather not do that, we recommend using a pre-built organization and productivity system. We’ve created just such a system using an app called Notion, and you can learn more about it below:

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Choose Your Classes

A major part of preparing for college is choosing your classes. Usually, you’ll register for classes during orientation. But feel free to start perusing the course catalog in advance.

In most cases, the specific classes you take your first semester don’t matter that much. Therefore, we recommend taking anything that seems interesting.

Even if you think you know what you want to major in, try to sample a few different fields.

You might discover an exciting new subject you were never exposed to in high school. Or, you might realize that the major of your dreams isn’t as interesting as you imagined.

Need help choosing a major? Read this next.

Gather Your Supplies

From bedding for your dorm to textbooks for your classes, there’s lots of stuff to keep track of in college. To save yourself some stress, we recommend you start gathering all these supplies before you arrive on campus.

Packing for college, in particular, can be overwhelming. How do you make sure you have everything you need?

Again, it comes back to being organized. Make a list of all the things you think you need, then check them off as you buy/pack them. This detailed college packing list is a helpful place to start.

Aside from items for your dorm, your classes will likely require you to purchase textbooks or other supplies. You can of course purchase/rent your textbooks from the campus bookstore, but the prices are often exorbitant.

Therefore, you’re usually better off buying/renting books online from a third party. To learn how to get the best deals on textbooks, check out this guide.

Establish a Routine

College can quickly devolve into a chaos of little sleep and an irregular schedule.

Some degree of this is natural (especially during exam season). But if you aren’t careful, these bad habits can make your life much more difficult and stressful than it needs to be.

To keep yourself healthy and calm, establish a good routine from the start of college. This will look different depending on your schedule and disposition. But some good elements to include in any routine are:

  • Waking up at a regular time each day
  • Going to bed around the same time each night
  • Scheduling time for exercise
  • Planning your study time
  • Making time for fun and relaxation

And of course, sometimes you’ll need or want to deviate from your routine. Don’t stick to it so rigidly that you miss out on cool opportunities!

Take Care of Your Health

With all you have going on in college, it’s easy to let your health fall to the wayside. But this is a huge mistake.

To start, college is the time to establish the habits that will carry through to your post-graduation life. Without making a conscious effort to eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep, you’ll probably slip into some unhealthy habits.

These habits may not be a big deal when you’re a student, but they can have detrimental effects on your health over the long term.

Furthermore, taking care of your health doesn’t mean sacrificing time you could be studying or working. Rather, being healthy and fit will improve your academic and professional performance.

If this seems far-fetched, read the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. It will show you how skipping a workout for an extra hour of studying is never a worthwhile tradeoff.

Stay on Top of Your Paperwork

If you thought the paperwork ended when you got accepted to college, think again. Your first semester of college, in particular, requires you to fill out all kinds of forms. Here are just a few of them:

  • Housing forms
  • Class registration
  • Placement tests for math and language subjects
  • Requests to transfer AP, IB, or dual enrollment credits
  • Financial aid paperwork (for scholarships, student loans, grants, etc.)

Letting any of this slip through the cracks can make your life difficult at the very least.

To avoid this, we recommend making a list of all the forms you need to fill out before starting college. Next to each item, write the due date. Then, cross off each item as you fill out the corresponding form.

Whatever you do, don’t rely on others to remind you to complete this paperwork. You’re an adult now, and it’s your responsibility.

Get Your Finances in Order

Another key way to prepare for college is learning to manage your money. You probably won’t be covering all of your expenses at first, but it’s still important to budget for the ones you have.

Budgeting may seem difficult and boring, but it can be easy and empowering with the right approach. We recommend reading this guide to budgeting and saving money to get started. From there, you can start creating a budget that works for your lifestyle and goals.

To have money to budget, of course, you need a way to make money. This means getting a job. Fortunately, there are far more jobs for college students than you might realize. You can work on campus, off-campus, or even online.

Check out these resources to learn more:

Take Charge of Your Housing

Unless you’re living with your parents or relatives, you’ll probably be in a dorm your first year of college. But you can’t just show up and move in. Choosing your college housing requires input on your part.

Here are some important things to keep in mind when choosing your housing:

  • Fill out the roommate survey, if offered. Many colleges have some kind of survey/personality test you can fill out to match you with a roommate. It isn’t perfect, but it’s better than a completely random roommate.
  • Learn how to live with others. Much of this comes from experience. But you can prepare yourself a bit by reading this guide to getting along with your roommate.
  • Don’t get seduced by fancy housing. Try to choose an affordable dorm without lots of bells and whistles. This can save you a lot of money on housing (or even prevent you from having to take out student loans).
  • Don’t room with your best friend from high school. It probably won’t end well.

If nothing else, remember that your first year of housing is temporary. Once you’re a sophomore, you’ll probably have the option to live off-campus or in some kind of club/program housing.

Let Go of High School

You don’t realize how much high school is a part of your identity until you get to college. While it can be good to stay in touch with old friends, don’t forget to live in the moment.

Once you’re in college, high school is in the past. If you cling too tightly to it, you can miss out on all the new friendships, romantic relationships, and other experiences college has to offer.

People change during college, including you. You may go home for winter break and discover that you don’t have much in common with your old friends. That’s okay. College is a time of growth — embrace it.

Don’t Overprepare for College

I hope this article has helped you feel more confident about starting college. However, don’t take these ideas too far.

You can’t prepare for everything, and you’ll end up a neurotic mess if you try. Much of college is about learning from your mistakes. Don’t try to be perfect; it’s a fool’s errand.

For more help getting ready for college, check out these articles:

Image Credits: college of arts and social sciences building