Updated: Jul 29, 2022
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—especially when you are juggling challenging courses, too.
These seven skills for college may not be taught in any classroom, but they will help you feel better prepared for the big shifts ahead. (And don’t worry—you’ll have plenty of time to hone them once you’re in school, too.) Working on these things before college can give you a leg up when you finally get to campus.
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 assignments and studying, extracurricular commitments, and a work-study or part-time 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 find you’re struggling with time management when you get to college, speak with your resident advisor/assistant (RA), your academic advisor, or the counseling center at your school. They may have tips and resources that can help you get on track.
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 in college, 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. These could be acing a certain course, playing on an intramural team, or applying for an internship.
If you’ve had your own room until now, sharing a bedroom and other living spaces can be quite an adjustment. Keeping neat and cleaning up after yourself are great first steps in roommate living. 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. Just as important is communicating effectively. You may not be best friends or even have much in common, but being able to let each other know if something is bothering you can go a long way in ensuring you peacefully coexist.
Good communication skills, emotional intelligence, problem-solving, and leadership are just a few of the skills needed for college that will serve you well throughout your career and life, too. At college, you will interact with fellow students, instructors and professors, RAs or landlords, coworkers, and many others. Strong interpersonal skills will help you build relationships and get more out of them. If you feel that your interpersonal skills need some work, practice. The more you talk to people, the more confident you’ll feel in connecting. And when you get to college, there may be workshops offered by your career development center or the counseling center that could help.
The same goes for virtual skills. Learning how to write professional emails to professors, deans, and other adults you encounter will serve you well in your future career. It can also be a good idea to learn how to communicate across channels. For example, if your teaching assistant (TA) allows you to text them in between classes, stick to working hours and be clear about what you might need from them. “I’m running late to the study session due to car trouble but will file the notes over email later tonight” may be much better than a social media direct message or no contact at all. If you’re still in high school and your parents handle admin messages for you like reaching out to your teachers to collect work if you’re home sick, now’s the time to step up and begin handling your own communications.
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, and ask questions. Familiarize yourself with professional social media sites such as LinkedIn® to help organize and maintain your contacts in your chosen field.
Your career development office might also offer networking opportunities. For example, they may organize panel discussions on certain career fields, offer introductions to alumni, or have mock interview opportunities. Taking advantage of these, even as a first-year student, can be beneficial when the time comes to apply to jobs and internships.
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 (or the money you have set aside for the semester, if you don’t have a job) 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.
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