The transition to college life is a big one, and it comes with a lot of changes. For most students, it’s the first time they’re living away from home and managing their own time, money, and life. So it’s not surprising that adapting to this new lifestyle can be challenging at first. These seven skills will help you feel better prepared for the big shifts ahead. (And don’t worry—you’ll have plenty of time to work on them once you’re in school, too.)
1. Time management
In high school, you spent most of your day in the classroom, following a rigid schedule. But in college, you’ll likely spend less than half that amount of time actually in your classes, and you’ll be expected to spend a lot more time reading and studying on your own. While at first it can seem like you have tons of free time, once you factor in class readings and studying, extracurricular commitments, and a work-study job, you’ll see that taking control of your time is crucial. Prepare yourself while you’re still in high school by practicing prioritizing your responsibilities and balancing various commitments. If you anticipate this being a struggle for you, read up on time management tips and techniques.
2. Goal setting
Whether they’re academic, career, or personal, writing down your goals can help make them feel more real, and sketching out a plan for achieving them can give you a roadmap to success. (Hint: Break down daunting or long-term goals into smaller, more doable steps or mini-goals.) When setting goals, remember that they should be attainable but not too easy, so that you really have to push yourself to achieve them, and feel accomplished when you do.
3. Roommate etiquette
If you’ve had your own room until now, sharing a bedroom and other living spaces can be quite the adjustment. Keeping neat, and cleaning up after yourself, can help prevent a lot of roommate quarrels. So if you’re not already in the habit, start practicing making your bed each day, picking up after yourself, and doing basic cleaning tasks. When you get to school, agree on some basic ground rules with your roommates, set a schedule for cleaning shared spaces, and most importantly, always respect each other's personal space and property.
4. Interpersonal skills
Good communication skills, emotional intelligence, problem-solving, and leadership are just a few of the interpersonal skills that will serve you well in college and throughout your career and life. At college, you will interact with fellow students, instructors and professors, landlords or RAs, coworkers, and many others. Strong interpersonal skills will help you build relationships during this time, and get more out of them. If you feel that your interpersonal skills need some work, practice asking thoughtful questions and listening well, develop empathy by “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes,” and bolster your self-confidence.
You might think of networking as something you do after college, when you’re looking to land your first job. And it’s true that networking is an important aspect of building and advancing your career. But you don’t have to wait until after college (or even until it starts) to begin. Your college peers may end up being some of your most important connections. So learn how to introduce yourself, build connections (see #4), and ask questions. Familiarize yourself with professional social media sites such as Linkedin® to help organize and maintain your contacts in your chosen field.
With fewer in-class hours and more on-your-own learning, college requires you to really engage in material—and on a deeper level than simply memorizing facts. To be successful in college you'll need to learn how to take effective lecture notes, read and synthesize large amounts of information, study for tests, do outside research, write papers, and seek assistance from professors and teaching assistants. Organization is key, so if you are not someone who is naturally organized, think about how you’ll set up your study schedule and space.
Learning to manage money is a critical life skill for everyone, and for many people, college is the first time that they develop it. Think of a budget as a plan for your money. Start by estimating your income and expenses. Then prioritize your expenses and determine how much money you'll need to set aside every month to cover those costs. Don’t forget about savings… and the fun stuff (movies, dinners out), too. If you’ve never managed your own cash flow before, read up on personal finance in preparation.