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.

 

However, it’s a challenge that can be met, and millions of college students do exactly this every year. One strategy that can help tremendously to ease this transition is to start working on the skills you’ll need later while you’re still in high school. 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.

 

Read on to find out what areas you’ll need to consider as you get ready for the demands of college life, and how learning these skills early on will improve your college experience.


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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.

 

Keeping a tidy dorm room can be a challenge, but it’s worth making an effort. Staying at least somewhat neat will make you feel good and keep you organized as you go about the business of being a student. It will also help you avoid roommate conflict, which can often spring up over cleanliness issues and can significantly affect your college experience.

 

Even if you’re theoretically invested in taking on adult household chores, you may not realize how many tasks and how much time goes into maintaining a neat and clean space. Dusting, for instance, is a chore that may need to be done far more often than you’d think if you aren’t used to doing it yourself. Other chores may be more complex than you might have imagined, or might require more elbow grease than you’re used to putting in. 

 

As a college student, you’ll also need to think about managing things like laundry, groceries, and other errands, and balancing these necessary tasks with your academic and other commitments. If you forget to buy shampoo, run out of clean socks, or neglect to pay your phone bill this month, you may encounter consequences that aren’t very enjoyable, and you’ll have no one to blame but 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. (For more on this topic, check out our post How Do I Get Started Saving Money For College?)

 

Managing your finances doesn’t have to mean doing everything on your own, of course. Most college students still get some amount of financial support or help from their parents. What you can do, though, is get more informed about how this arrangement will work in your college years.

 

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.

 

Not only is understanding your financial situation generally a wise move, if you apply for need-based financial aid later on to help with your college costs, you’ll be required to provide information about your and your family’s resources. This process can be complicated, and you may end up being very happy that you started gathering the requisite details early on.

 

Finally, even if you plan to work during college, it’s still always a good idea to save up beforehand and come to college with money in the bank. You likely won’t find a job right away, especially considering that you’ll be very busy getting acclimated, and there are a lot of expenses potentially associated with starting college and adjusting to your new lifestyle.

 

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.

 

Breaks are an essential part of keeping your work schedule sustainable—if you don’t take time to rest, you’ll burn out before long. However, they should of course be deployed strategically, so that a helpful study break doesn’t turn into a harmful procrastination party. Rewards are also potentially useful motivators that must be used wisely.

 

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. 

 

Every person has their own areas of expertise, and throughout your college experience and career, you’ll need to know how to effectively use the resources around you, including human resources. Even when you’re in a leadership position, delegating tasks, recognizing others’ skills and talents, and knowing how to admit when you don’t know something are essential.

 

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 (which even students at Ivy League schools use), 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.

 

For more information

 

If you’re contemplating your transition from high school to college, CollegeVine has some advice you’ll find useful. Check out these posts from the CollegeVine blog for tips on deciding which college to attend, dealing with disappointment in the application process, and getting ready to move forward on your educational path.

 

 

Preparing for and applying to college is an immensely exciting experience, but it can also be stressful. If you’re looking for some extra help in defining your goals and shaping your applicant profile, CollegeVine’s experienced near-peer mentors are here to help. To learn more about the services we offer for high school students, check out the CollegeVine Mentorship Program site.

Monikah Schuschu

Monikah Schuschu

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Monikah Schuschu is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard University. As a graduate student, she took a job at the Harvard College Office of Financial Aid and Admissions, and discovered the satisfaction of helping students and parents with the often-baffling college admissions process. She also enjoys fiber art, murder mysteries, and amateur entomology.
Monikah Schuschu