How to Navigate the High School to College Transition

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The transition from high school to college is one of the largest changes you will experience. You will likely be living on your own for the first time, in a new location, surrounded by new people, and learning new things at a break-neck pace. This often feels overwhelming, and new students sometimes struggle to make this transition smoothly. 

We can’t make the transition for you, but in this article, we’ll give you some tricks and tips to make your high school to college transition go smooth and set you up for the future. We’ll discuss academics, your social life, and logistics, and let you know what you can start doing now to make sure you succeed once you get to college. Let’s get started with some high school to college transition tips!

Academic Transitions

College is about learning above all. Four years of classes, exams, research, and other experiences to give you the knowledge you need to thrive as an adult. Some of these are hard skills, and some take the form of new methods of examining the world, and new ways to approach and solve problems. Here are our top tips for making your academic experience a good one:

1. Sign up for classes that fulfill requirements and interest you.

A common piece of advice is that you should devote your first years to only taking courses that fulfill core college requirements. However, this is nearsighted. While it may be nice to finish all your prerequisites early, it can also make your first two years of college a complete drag.

Instead, create a course list every semester that includes a good mix of prerequisites and courses that interest you. Also, make sure to look out for courses that combine both! If you want to major in psychology, for instance, it is possible that the prerequisite science courses you need to take for your major line up with prerequisite courses that your college requires.

2. Plan out your schedule ahead of time.

You will get a syllabus from each course you take, sometimes even before the first class. Use these, and your downtime in the first week of classes, to plan out your exams, major assignments, and deadlines throughout the semester. Knowing when everything is due will let you keep on track.

Make sure you schedule a time to study and relax alike. Too much studying can cause burnout, while too little can see your grades suffer. You may need to experiment to find the balance that works for you, but know that you will need both.

3. Complete your coursework strategically.

There are some periods in college that are particularly busy. Notables are midterms and finals, which mark the middle and end of the semester respectively. Rather than thinking you have to do everything during this period perfectly, strategically rank your work based on (1) that which has the greatest impact on your grade, and (2) that which is most feasible for you to complete.

Once you have finished your work, it can be tempting to use your sudden free time to focus on anything other than school. However, instead of simply giving up all of your available time to some other pursuit, allocate a portion of this time to catching up on upcoming assignments.

You can begin working on these skills now by mapping out the end of your senior year. Take some time to experiment and see what methods work best for you. You likely already have some experience managing projects and homework from your time in high school, but now you can refine your skills, without the stress that college will bring. Mastering skills in a low-stress environment helps you use them instinctively when you transition to a higher-stress one.

Social Transitions

While you can and should maintain your friendships from high school, you will meet many new people in college and have many opportunities to make new friends and connections. Trying to manage a social life while keeping up with classes can be challenging, so here are our top tips for socially transitioning to college:

1. Networking is just socialization.

At its core, networking is the simple fact that people enjoy working alongside and interacting with friendly and open people. You don’t have to be something you’re not, but work on meeting and interacting with people. Valuable connections often come from unexpected places, and lifelong friends or business partners are often made in college.

2. Look for mentoring opportunities.

You should look for mentors in graduate students, faculty, instructors, and researchers, while also looking for opportunities to serve as a mentor yourself. While the latter of these likely won’t come in your first year, there are many opportunities for advanced students and upperclassmen to get involved as TAs, graders, or researchers.

You should seek mentors of your own to increase your understanding, to pick through bright minds at the forefront of their field. This also ties into the networking tip above; making friends with professors always pays off. You should seek to mentor in turn because being able to teach and explain a subject clearly is the final step in mastering a subject. It’s also good to pay forward the help you have received.

3. Get used to not being the best.

You were likely exceptional in high school, if not the smartest in your class. This will not be the case in college. Top colleges gather the best high schoolers from across the country and around the world. Everyone there is exceptionally intelligent, motivated, and skilled in some way (though some of the people you meet will make you question this).

This is a great opportunity, but can also cause serious culture shock. You will be able to learn almost as much from your peers as your professors, and the discussions and debates you will get into are a key tenet of a classical liberal arts education. You will have to get used to not always being the brightest in your classes, however, and not always being the first to know the answer.

Once you have decided where you are going to college, you should begin looking into specific clubs you want to join, or professors you might want to work with. As housing decisions come out, you will be able to get in contact with your roommates. You don’t need to become best friends right away, but discussing who will contribute what to the room before you move in will reduce friction, and help you get to know each other naturally.

Modern lecture hall for students

Logistical Concerns

Along with classes and socializing, there are many logistical concerns associated with your transition to college. We’ll give you some of our top tips to prepare for the transition and to ensure that you don’t let anything fall by the wayside.

1. Learn life skills now.

Life skills, like all skills, take time and effort to master. You should start small now, and get into the habit of doing your own laundry, keeping your own space clean, and learning to cook meals. You don’t have to be independent right away, but practicing these skills while you still have a support network will save you from trouble later. Don’t be the guy in my dorm who asked his date to help him do his laundry.

2. Pay attention to your health.

As an adult, medical professionals won’t release information to your parents without your say-so. Find a General Practitioner MD (not a pediatrician!) around your school, and give them a state-specific copy of a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) Release of Information form so that your parents are able to help in case of emergency.

Start carrying a health insurance card along with your ID. Most colleges also require students to have health insurance. You are able to stay on your parents’ plan until you are 26, so many of you can be covered through this. If not, many colleges offer health insurance to their students at a reasonable cost.

3. Learn how the meal plan works.

Every college administers its meal plans differently, and most schools have several separate meal plans you can sign up for. Figure out which plan works best for you, and then make sure you understand it. You don’t want to be caught running out of food partway through your first semester.

4. Set a budget.

It’s very tempting to go out every weekend or to order out for food every night. Everyone at college comes from different backgrounds and has to set their own budget. You are in charge of yours. Figure out early how much money you are willing to spend each semester, and on what. Your priorities are your own, but you should set them and stick by them.

5. Figure out transportation.

Some of you will bring cars to college, others will rely on walking and public transportation, and others still will embrace bicycles and scooters. Figure out now what your plan is for getting around campus. Some schools have massive campuses (like A&M), and getting from one side to the other can be an adventure if your classes are scheduled excitingly.

If you are going to a school in a large city, look at what public transportation options are available. These are often more feasible than cars, especially if you are living in dorms.

If you do bring your car to school, see what the options are for student parking. Schools in urban areas often have extremely limited or no parking for students, while schools with more land will often charge for parking, or require a pass to use campus lots. This is something to consider before you arrive on campus. We have information on schools’ parking policies in our university guides.

For all of these, you should make your arrangements before you arrive on campus. Learn relevant skills, do the needed research, and prepare yourself to live on your own. You still have a safety net at home, which makes this the perfect time to learn necessary life skills. 

Final Thoughts: High School to College Transition

We’re very happy to have helped so many students get into college this year, and look forward to seeing all the amazing things they will go on to accomplish. We know the transition can be difficult, and we hope that this advice will help you make your own successful transition to college.

If you are just now starting to think about applying to college, and want to know how we can help you on your way, schedule a free consultation with us. We’ve helped hundreds of students get into great schools, and are always happy to hear from you.

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