College is looked at as a massive milestone in our lives. It’s constantly talked about in media, and high school seems to be the prep for what college entails. However, how well are we really being prepped for the college journey? As an outgoing senior, I now realize there are many things to know about college, and you should be getting this info as a high school grad to help you better prepare. I never had even thought of some of these things before my first year of university. Whether it was communication with classes or contact with friends, there was always something new I was learning about college life.
Maintaining Connections With Adventures From Scratch
We can certainly tell you some things to know about college, but we won’t get everything. Friends who are going through the same experience can help fill in the blanks, though! Your college schedule may get hectic, so let Adventures From Scratch do some of the heavy lifting. This adventure book contains over 50 scratch-off challenges that will get you exploring and bonding with your besties, whether you’re on or off campus. Get out there, and make new friends and memories this semester!
Getting You Ready: Things to Know About College
Starting this new leg of your journey can be complicated. There are so many tasks you need to keep track of—and you still should have fun along the way! I want to help make this as painless as possible, so I’ve detailed all the things I wish I had known a little earlier. Let’s dig in!
1. Application Process
As a first-time applicant, you want to make sure you have all of your papers in order. Generally, each college has different qualifications. Make sure you’re making note of any intro papers that need to be written or letters of recommendation you need to send in. It’s actually a great idea to consider these written things ahead of time so you can get a head start! What most people forget, though, is that there is a fee just to send in your application. This is why it’s always good to get your applications in as early as you can—ideally in the summer before your senior year. Sometimes, colleges offer an early bird fee that lowers the price of the application. This will also put you on a higher priority list when college admissions accept people, and you may even get some great college offers in the process.
2. Financial Aid
One of the bigger mysteries of college is FAFSA, which stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Financial aid can be a bit confusing regarding the process and the aid you’re eligible to receive. Try to start learning about your financial aid as soon as you can. Whether you’re doing it yourself or you’re looking over your guardian’s shoulder, make sure you’re aware of what’s happening. If you’re itching to start things off, try researching different colleges’ financial aid offices to get an idea about the overall experience. Another good move is to set reminders on your calendar for filing your FAFSA. This is something that needs to be done every year and can make all the difference in your college experience.
3. Residence Halls
Move-in time can be especially stressful. Since you’re entering a new environment, you may not know what to expect. See if you can look up your residence hall! Sometimes, universities will include a list of things you should pack for your dorm life. This will give you an idea of what your dorm may look like and how much space you’ll have. See if you can get a chance to look at what common areas there are and what the bathroom situation is. It’s always good to be well informed on the building you’re going to be living in for the first year of your college experience. Also, don’t forget to introduce yourself to your neighbors. This is a great way to start making friends within a short distance of your dorm!
4. Adjusting to Your New Schedule
Many students find the first semester to be a culture shock. After all, the difference between a high school schedule and a college schedule can feel jarring at times. There may be this sense of “when do I get to turn off” like you did when you were done with class for the day in high school. And if you live on campus, it may be difficult to find your off button.
Try to make time to figure out how to find this balance! It may seem silly, but as time goes on, being able to find the time for yourself becomes more and more important. Freshman year is about adjusting yourself to this new lifestyle and schedule, but it’s also about learning more about yourself. Exhaustion can sneak up on you, so try to dispel it as often as you can with reflection and relaxation.
High school teachers don’t always properly prepare you for college classes. Teachers tend to make college seem extremely difficult and rigorous. In fact, classes tend to be a bit more on the relaxed side. For instance, the idea of taking notes and memorizing differs from class to class, which is why it’s important to read the syllabus. Some professors will upload their slideshows, and others won’t. Some professors will require you to take in-depth notes. Others may even ask you not to take notes and just pay attention during class instead. The one thing I learned is that the shtick of taking down as many notes as possible is not the best method. If anything, you want to write down the key phrases and important details you notice rather than filler words. Another big misconception is memorization. You never want to memorize a lesson—you should strive to learn and internalize it. This actually helps much more with remembering key details of the class!
In high school, the person who helps you build your class schedule for the following year is usually your guidance counselor. However, other than that, you tend not to really communicate with them. While you may not have a guidance counselor, you will have an advisor for each major and/or minor. It’s incredibly important to use your advisor. Get to know them, attend their office hours, and keep them up to date! In college, there are so many more class options to choose from and quite a bit of general education credits that need to be taken on top of your classes for your major/minor. Advisors are meant to help you—that’s why you’re assigned to them! If at any point you think there may be an issue with your scheduling or academic progress, see if you can plan a meeting and get those things figured out asap.
7. Campus Life
As mentioned before, adjusting to this new schedule can be rough. Campus life is so much more different than life in high school for many reasons. Since you’ll be on campus for at least your first year of college, it’s important to get to know the area you’re in. When you have free time, explore the buildings, and get a lay of the land. See what fun events are occurring and how you can participate. See if you can find where the common areas are, not just in your class buildings but in places like the student union or academic/residential quads. Chances are there is always something happening in these areas or there are people there hanging out whom you can meet. It never hurts to explore the different options available to you to fill your time!
8. New Friends
One of the most anxiety-inducing events in your college career is the act of making new friends. With a large campus and so many classes, sometimes it feels difficult to know where to start. Try something simple, like socializing in your classes first. It’s always great to start with classes for your major since you may be seeing these people again and again for quite some time. Then, try talking to other college students. This is a great way to broaden your friendship circle and meet different people. The same goes for introducing yourself to the people in your dorms. You’ll most likely be living on the same level as other first years, which is a great jumping-off point.
Another way to meet new people is to get involved in clubs and student organizations! You get to meet people with similar interests who also come from different backgrounds. It’s also another way to find fun things to do outside of classes. If you’re feeling a bit more extroverted, try going to those common areas that were mentioned before! Academic quads and residential quads are meant for students to come together and hang out.
9. Old Friends
It’s incredibly important to make new friends. But when it comes to the college experience, a topic of discussion that tends to be forgotten about is staying connected to your old friends from high school. Chances are, you and your friends might be going to different places. You may feel that since you’re starting college somewhere new, you need a completely new slate. But you can still be the person you already are!
Don’t let the excitement of college make you forget to keep up with your established relationships. Those still living in your hometown want to hear about your experiences! You can also find comfort and stability in those friendships. College can be a great bonding experience for people you’re going to school with, but it’s also an amazing part of life to experience with your friends from high school. You get to pretty much see each other grow up, which is so special! Try to find time to stay connected, whether that’s a moment to video chat or just a simple text message.
10. Greek Life
Greek life gets a very confusing description in the media. It tends to be focused on just parties and other activities that may seem scary. These stereotypes can give an intimidating vibe when going into that area of college life. However, this is not all Greek life. While in some cases the stereotypes are true, sororities and fraternities are actually another way to meet new people and also potentially build a new skill. It’s definitely worth researching a bit before completely blowing it off. There is even some Greek life within different majors meant to bring those in the major together. This is a great way to build a community of people who are all working towards a similar goal. Always do your research first!
11. Extracurricular Activities
At first, it may seem like classes will be taking up all of your time on the college campus, but this is not always the case. Especially when you start planning your second semester, you get much more say on what you would like your schedule to look like. Since it always changes, it isn’t a bad idea to look into extracurricular activities. As I mentioned before with campus clubs, see what other groups there are to get involved with. This doesn’t have to be just on campus, either! If your campus has a town close by, explore what things are done within the community that you can do in your spare time! This is a great way to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.
Along with clubs and student organizations, there are also many working opportunities on campus or nearby. Internships are something worth looking into! They are great resume builders and can provide some different working experience. However, these opportunities don’t always pop out easily. You may have to search for them a little and do your own research into what each experience is like. Try connecting with upperclassmen in your major, and see if they have any internships they can pass on to you!
13. Job Opportunities
Sometimes, having free time and spending time with friends may result in needing to spend money. And the stereotype of the broke college student is there for a reason. This is where it may be important to start perusing job opportunities in your area. Chances are you may not have the time for a full-time job, but a part-time job can fit into your schedule fairly easily. You don’t need to work crazy hours, either, just enough for you to have money to spend. This will especially help if you want to move off-campus; then, you’ll already have your foot in the door at a job. Plus, just like internships, a part-time job can be a great resume builder for the future.
14. Time Management
Between classes, clubs, jobs, studying, socializing, and free time, you may be thinking, “How in the world am I going to fit all of this into my schedule?” Time management is one of the key components of college life. In your first year, it may be easy to start slow and gradually build your schedule up. I’ve found that having a planner (digital or physical) helped immensely with this exact thing. Being able to keep track of everything you’re part of also helps you recognize when you’re doing too much and might need to step away from something. The biggest part is finding steady study habits within the chaos of classes and social life. It’s crucial to find the balance between everything.
15. Mental Health Check
Between the culture shock and the loaded schedule, the first semester can seem overwhelming. As such, mental health check-ins are extremely necessary for starting your life as an adult. It can be easy to forget to think about your mental health with so many things occupying your time. Like how I mentioned with time management, it’s important to know when to take a step back and ask yourself, “Am I doing okay?” Even if you think you are, these self-reflections help you understand yourself as a person more than anything. You can even make this a point of discussion within your friend group. Being able to check in on each other and being open and honest can help forge a bond while also keeping everyone in check.
16. Off-Campus Life
At a certain point in the future, you may find yourself needing to live off campus. This process tends to be much more time-sensitive than you think. If you plan to be in an off-campus apartment for your third year, you need to start looking at places in the fall semester of your second year. Leases tend to go fairly fast in college towns, and you want to make sure you’re getting the best deal. This is why the process needs to start as early as possible. Another thing to consider is getting a credit card if you haven’t already got one. Having an apartment and bills to pay allows you to create a good credit score. Since these are consistent payments, they’re a great way to set a healthy foundation for yourself early on.
17. Work Load
As mentioned before, after your first semester, you will have a bit more control over what classes you take. While it may be tempting to do a full 18 credits or even overload your credits, you need to keep in mind your time management! Yes, having lots of classes would move along your degree process, but consider the time, energy, and coursework you would need to put into each of those classes. What’s the use of taking all of these classes if you don’t do well in them? Try setting yourself up with a four-year plan in a document, and see if you can place everything first before selecting a class right away. This is a great way to manage your workload and make sure you’re not doing too much at one time.
18. Major and Minor
As a college freshman, sometimes you may think you need to have everything figured out immediately. But here’s the real secret: Your first year of college is for figuring out if what you’re currently working towards is actually right for you! In high school, you’re kind of thrown right into the fire that is higher education. You don’t get a whole lot of time for your college search, and you get even less time to figure out your major. Realistically, it’s absurd for you to know what major you want to pursue in college at 16 or 17. This is why it’s good to consider your first year a test run. If you’re going to change your major, your first year is the time to do it! Don’t be afraid of it—you’re supposed to experience trial and error in life!
19. University Services
As a student, there’s so much on our plates and a lot that needs to be done in day-to-day life. In the process, we tend to forget the plethora of services the university provides—some of them are even worked into your tuition costs! Do some research on what services are available at your campus, and be sure to make use of them. From career services and tutoring to mental health services, the university has something for pretty much everything. Take advantage of these things while you still can. They can help you with coursework, job hunting, or just the need to talk to someone.
A More Informed Start
There are a lot of things to know about college you might miss out on. While part of the experience is learning as you go, knowing certain tips ahead of time prepares you for what the future holds. Hopefully, this list was able to bring some things to your attention and give you an idea of what to expect. Good luck on your new journey into college life!