Preparing for college means more than just filling out the Common App and buying a mini fridge for your dorm room. For many students, college is a whole new world of time management and independent living. How can you really get ready? Do these five things.
Think about your major (what degree you want).
In addition to factors such as cost, location, scholarship opportunities, internship availability, and more, you should consider how the college you want to attend will ultimately fit into your life plan. No one is expecting you to have everything planned out at this stage, but having a general idea of the areas of study/possible careers that most interest you will help you find a college that’s the right fit. Whether or not they have an active Greek system or a great football team are not good reasons to choose a school for most students. Someone – whether you, your parents, or the government – is paying thousands of dollars for your education. That money needs to be paid back eventually, so to truly get the most out of college in terms of future job opportunities, you need a plan. If you have an idea of what career paths interest you the most and are confident that it won’t change much, pick your school based on their programs for that subject. If you aren’t sure of a major, consider a liberal arts college that has several good choices. If you’re unsure where to start, check out our other articles on choosing your major and your college.
Find out how much your college of choice really costs
After you’re accepted by a college, you’ll have to deal with financial aid and more. Many students don’t take a look at these numbers, but keep in mind that you may be on the hook for that money in the future. Don’t just look at the numbers provided by the college. Add up the total cost of tuition, fees, books, housing, food (that’s room and board, to you), laundry, transportation around campus, and back and forth to your family. Everything. It’s not unusual for the cost of college to be $200,000 or more over four years. Depending on your plan of study, school, and whether you decide to take more years to get your degree, the costs can go past $500,000. You need to know these numbers because you need to understand how much this is costing someone – likely, your parents or you. This will help give you perspective on those days when you might want to let an important grade slip and slack off. Yes, college is a grand experience full of memories and possibilities, but don’t forget that the main goal is to groom you for success in your future career(s).
Get a job.
Work while you are in high school, even if it is just your senior year or over the summer. Find out what it’s like to take orders and be active and present for several hours, several days a week. Learn what it’s like to work with the public and to have income taxes taken out of your paycheck. In addition to a little spending money, the benefit of doing this is that you can find out what you like in a job, and what you don’t. For example, if your high school job involves standing for long periods of time (say as a cashier or retail worker), decide if that’s you like or dislike. If it’s something you dislike, you may not like certain jobs in medicine, teaching, or cooking. Last, having a job will help you build valuable skills for being independent in the workforce and improve your work ethic overall. After all, you’re on your own now when it comes to accountability for your school work.
Learn and practice some life skills.
While still living in the safety zone of home, learn how to cook, do your own laundry, and perform some basic car maintenance. You will be on your own soon. Can you cook anything more than ramen noodles? Can you sew on a button or make some quick repairs if your clothes get torn? If you expect to use your car away from home, you also need to know things like how to check the oil in your car, change a tire, and jump a battery. Think about the activities you will need to do on a weekly basis. Can you do all of them or find help if need be? What would be difficult? Take this time to fill in some of those gaps in your knowledge.
Time management becomes a major problem for a lot of people once they’re in college. Without mom around to nag (er, remind) you about dates and deadlines, cook your dinner, and wash your underwear, what will you do? Investigate apps like Wunderlist, Trello, Dragon, Yummly, and others to meet your individual needs, whether it’s mapping out everything you have to do, taking better notes, or cooking. Get a planner or use a calendar app like Google Calendar. Don’t forget smartphone regulars like Siri for setting alarms and asking basic questions. Develop these habits now so that you aren’t learning how to keep track of yourself while trying to read three chapters of a textbook in a week.
Start on one of these five recommendations as soon as possible. Then work on another, and another. Consider putting them on the one calendar or organization app that you plan to use. There is a lot to do before going to college. Get started now, and be ahead of the curve.