4 things you can do today to prepare for college

After all the work and stress of the college application process, actually starting college may seem like a comparatively easier and more positive experience. However, college life differs in many ways from the lives of most high school students. Going away for college is a unique experience for everyone, but for most students, it will involve making major adjustments.

Once you’re on campus, you’ll typically be expected to handle most aspects of your life much more independently, from academics to social activities to everyday practical concerns. Balancing all these new responsibilities can be a challenging task.

While people often focus on the academic side of preparing for college, the more personal and practical skill sets that college also requires are just as important.

Here are 4 areas you’ll need to consider as you get ready for the demands of college life: 

Get comfortable taking care of household chores and errands.

For many young people, the beginning of college is the first time they’ve lived independently from their families for an extended period of time. It can come as a shock for them to suddenly find themselves personally responsible for a whole range of activities that might have previously been taken care of by their parents or other family members.

From cleaning to paying the bills to running errands, there are many adult tasks for which you’ll need to take responsibility in order for your college life to run smoothly. It’s wise to start learning how to accomplish these tasks well before it becomes absolutely necessary for you to do them for yourself.

Many young people encounter obstacles as they learn to take on more substantial domestic tasks, but minor disasters, like shrinking all your sweaters by using the wrong temperature on the washing machine, are part of the learning process. With practice, you’ll become much more comfortable with these tasks, and the earlier you start practicing, the more secure in your abilities you’ll feel when you leave for college.

Understand and manage your financial situation.

In order for you to learn to handle your own finances, the first thing you’ll need to figure out is what financial resources you have and in what forms. Do you have savings, and if so, where are they held? Are there bonds in your name waiting to mature, or is there a trust fund or college fund being held for you? Whatever your situation, learn as much as you can about it.

If you have a bank account, check out its terms, and get in the habit of actually looking at your bank statements. (If you don’t have a bank account, get one!) You can also look up whether the bank you use now has branches and ATMs in the cities where you’re considering going to college—if not, you may end up finding it more convenient to open an additional account at a more accessible bank.

If you do have substantial savings, investments, or other financial resources of your own, now is the time to make sure you know what they are and how they work. Your family may be able to help you learn more and access more advanced financial planning resources.

High school is also a great time to start practicing making and sticking to a budget. No matter how much or how little money you have, you can keep track of and think critically about how much you earn, save, and spend. It’s also smart to get a sense of how much money is required in order to meet your usual needs and wants.

Talking about money can be awkward, but it’s important that you have an honest and forthright discussion with your parents about who pays for what and how. There are a number of important questions to be answered before you leave for college, some regarding everyday expenses, others regarding what plans are in place to help you in an emergency situation. 

How much will your parents contribute to your living expenses during college, and how will they send you those funds? Will you have access to a family credit card for emergencies and/or for everyday expenses? Who pays for textbooks and school supplies, and what about medical expenses? Whatever you decide as a family, it’s best to make sure everyone is on the same page before you leave home.

Develop sustainable and organized work habits.

Everybody procrastinates sometimes, and college offers plenty of distractions that can interfere with your academic performance. The same is true of high school, of course, but at least in high school, you’re generally operating in a very structured academic environment with routines and rules that help guide your workflow.

Once you get to college, you’ll have to keep up with your workload much more independently. There are many benefits to this increased intellectual freedom, but the downside is that you’ll have less of a framework to depend upon to provide support, guidance, and check-ins as you complete course assignments. 

It’s important to learn good work habits while you’re still in high school because sooner or later, they’ll become essential to your academic success. Studying, writing essays, and other academic tasks become much easier if you have good habits already in place for managing your schoolwork.

Particularly in the present day, technology can be a useful ally. There are a wide range of productivity apps and computer programs available that might be a good fit for you. Some block your computer or phone from accessing social media websites for a certain period of time. Others help structure your study schedule with tools like checklists, alarms, calendars, and reminders

The bottom line is that you should do what works best for you, as long as it’s healthy and constructive. Whether it’s asking a trusted friend to change your Facebook password during finals period, maintaining an elaborate system of Post-It notes, or managing your time with a calendar app, the best work and organizational habits are those that you can effectively maintain over time and come to rely upon.

In the end, only you can say what will genuinely help you to get work done and which specific strategies match up to which of your goals. Use your time in high school to experiment and find the methods that work best for you.

Learn how to ask for help.

Sometimes, people conflate adulthood with total independence, but this approach isn’t always the best way to go. No matter how old, experienced, or ambitious you are, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it—and sooner or later, everyone needs help.

What you need to learn, the earlier the better, is how to ask for help in a clear, mature, and effective way. This includes figuring out when it’s time to seek help with a task or decision, which can affect how easy it is to resolve the problem—recognizing the issue and intervening early can make a huge difference.

You’ll also need to work on ascertaining who is able and willing to provide that help, and phrasing your request in an appropriate way to get the specific information or assistance you need. If you don’t direct the right questions to the right people, you won’t find your answers nearly as easily. 

Once you get to college, you’ll most likely be surrounded by resources that you can access to help you solve problems and make the best of your college experiment. These might include academic tutoring, mediation for interpersonal or roommate issues, counseling to keep you mentally and physically healthy, and programs to help you manage your stress level, among many others.

These resources are great to have, but once you’re attending college and living a more adult life, they do require some work and commitment on your part to access. An instructor might, for example, recommend that you seek out tutoring to help you through a rough patch in one of your courses, but it’s up to you to actually sign up and go to your tutoring sessions.

As you get closer to college, it’s vital that you develop your ability to ask for help effectively and appropriately. You need to start taking ownership of your life, and this includes recognizing your limits and proactively seeking out the help you need rather than muddling through and hoping that problems just go away.

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