Congratulations! All your hard work has paid off. By now you’ve been admitted to the school you plan to attend next fall or are choosing among several schools. Those days of prepping for standardized tests and taking the hardest courses your school offers while pursuing many activities within and outside school are almost a memory. Enjoy these last special days of high school and get ready for college
Before your parents drop you off at college, here are some words of advice (in no particular order):
- Give yourself time to adjust to college life. Unlike high school, you’ll have a lot more personal freedom, but you’ll also have more responsibility for managing your classroom and study schedule as well as your personal life. Before taking on a lot of outside activities, figure out how much time you need for classes, study time, and extra preparation for tests. Choose other activities wisely to give yourself plenty of time to succeed academically and personally.
- Don’t start out taking the hardest courses. The grades you earn your first semester will count on your transcript when you apply to graduate or professional school in the future. So as you’re adjusting to college life, consider taking classes of interest to you, but put off taking harder courses until the second semester or later when you’re more settled with college academics and life. If you’re contemplating a future career in medicine, dentistry, the law or another competitive field, spread out your most challenging courses. Don’t take all your hard courses in one academic semester or year. Assess your academic strengths and be realistic about your academic schedule and what you need to be successful in these classes. You may even want to take a particularly challenging course during the summer academic session when all your time and energy is focused on one class.
- Know when you need academic support and get it sooner than later. The smartest students I know are those who know when to ask for help and are proactive in getting it. Most colleges have a dedicated tutoring or writing center where you can schedule an appointment to get academic help early on before you find yourself in real trouble. Colleges also have academic support centers, generally in a centrally-located place on campus. These centers offer a range of services including trained peer tutors and peer advisers available on a one-on-one basis to work with you on any subject or writing assignment. When you get to college, familiarize yourself with these services and use them as needed.
- Think carefully about whether Greek life is for you if that is part of the campus culture. There are benefits to joining a fraternity or sorority (friendships, peer academic and career advice, philanthropic opportunities, and simply being part of a like-minded community), but the negatives may outweigh the positives. For example, the simple act of pledging a fraternity or sorority requires literally a full-time commitment — attending special events and parties, running funny and endless errands for fraternity/sorority members. All this means less time devoted to classes and studying. Your GPA may suffer in the process. Take stock of the missed opportunities that can result from rushing and devoting considerable time to Greek life.
- Set up your safety net before you get to college. If you are a student who received special learning accommodations in high school, it is important that you make arrangements to set up these resources and services in college. By law, all institutions are required to provide academic accommodations for eligible students with Learning Disabilities. If you are age 18 or older it is your responsibility. Set up your accommodations either before you arrive on campus or during first-year orientation.
- Take care of your health. Similarly, if you are student with a chronic medical condition or suffer from depression or another diagnosed psychiatric condition, identify medical specialists, psychiatrists and the like outside the college community who will be the primary person to make medical decisions concerning your care. While campuses provide medical and psychological services, there is no substitute for professionals who know your medical history, medications, and the specialized care and counseling you may need in college. Don’t wait for a medical crisis to occur to set up your safety net.
- Give yourself the full year to adjust to your new home. You may think midway through your freshman year that the college you’re attending isn’t the best fit for you. Give yourself the full year to determine whether it makes sense to transfer to another institution or, as an alternative, consider taking a gap year or deciding to work for a semester before returning to college. In many instances, taking some well-planned time off from college can be rewarding, confidence-building and give you some career direction. At the same time, give yourself a year to make friends, adjust to college life, manage your academic schedule and free time, and discover different opportunities of interest to you on campus and nearby. Keep in mind that if you transfer to another institution it may not necessarily be any better and you may end up extending your time in college if first-year course credits don’t transfer.
- Don’t worry if you don’t know what you want to study in college. You’re not alone. Generally speaking, about 20-50 percent of students enter college as “undecided” and an overwhelming majority of students change their major at least once before graduation. My advice: enjoy the process of discovery. Take a variety of classes that interest you. Search out internships and research opportunities in areas you want to explore. And remember that some of the most interesting career paths are serendipitous and ones that are not imaginable to you now. Be open to the process of exploration and self-discovery. I promise it will all work out.
Enjoy the ride along the way!