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5 Genius Tips to Prepare for Your College Classes

Many students go to college unprepared for the differences between high school and college-level work. But with these five tips, that won't happen to you!

The transition from high school to college can be a tough one. Your professors will expect a lot from you and your work, and their teaching methods may be much different than what you are used to right now. In high school, students can get extra credit, more assistance, and help from their parents. In contrast, college students are typically expected to fend for themselves and will learn that missing an assignment, under practically any circumstances, is unacceptable. You spend a great deal of time, effort, and money getting into college—it would be a shame to throw it away after a few short weeks on campus. Follow this advice to properly prepare for your college classes ensure that doesn't happen.

1. Get some reading out of the way

One easy way to prepare for your first fall semester classes is to do some advance reading during the summer. Some colleges already encourage this by assigning a book to incoming freshmen to read before the fall term begins. But even if not, try getting a head start on any required books or articles before your classes even begin. Once you know what courses you’ll be taking, you may be able to find the reading lists and/or syllabi on your school’s website or through the department that offers it. This can save you time and reduce stress in the long run.

Related: 8 Books to Add to Your Reading List This Summer

2. Brush up on your academic weak points

If you’ve been an outstanding student in every subject, great. But if there are weaknesses in your academic background, consider taking steps to address them before your college classes begin. If you’ve struggled a bit with math, for example, look at ways to improve your skills before taking college-level mathematics. Options include enrolling for a summer course at a local community college, working with a tutor, or just looking for tutorials and testing yourself using free websites and apps. 

3. Get organized

Once you’re enrolled in college, being prepared for your classes means carefully managing your time, says Dr. Chad Smith, professor of management and marketing at Clarion University of Pennsylvania. “The most important thing is to have a centralized calendar where after the first week of classes you put every assignment, quiz, test, and so forth,” he says. Many colleges also offer a course for freshmen entitled “Study Skills and Organization” or something similar. It probably won’t count toward anything more than an elective credit, but it can be one of the best classes to take. Alternatively, students can work with a tutor or attempt to learn these skills on their own. Sit down over the summer and get organized before heading off to college. This might include making an appointment with your academic advisor; gathering materials for your classes ahead of time; and organizing your daily and monthly schedule.

Related: 7 College Organization Tips from a Type A+ Student

4. Learn proper time management

The primary difference in time management between high school and college is the long-term due date. For the most part, high school students have assignments due the same week they're given. These types of short-range due dates encourage students to sit down and get things done right away. College students are given long-range completion dates. For instance, an assignment discussed on the first day of class may be due two weeks later or even at the end of the semester. The professor allotted more time to finish the assignment because it’s necessary. They expect that students might have questions, could run into difficulties, and will have assignments to complete for other courses. Don’t wait to start a long-term assignment one or two days before it is due. 

And students should not expect an extension or offer excuses as to why the assignment was not handed in on time, with exceptions for things like family tragedy, an illness confirmed by a doctor’s note, or a documented disability that would allow for extra time to finish assignments. Part of earning a college degree is demonstrating the ability to be responsible and take initiative. If an assignment is due on the 15th of the month, then it’s due on the 15th of the month. Period.

5. Pay attention to details

Perhaps the easiest way to prepare for your college classes is thoroughly reviewing instructions, syllabi, and background information. Ask professors at any college or university, and you will hear story after story of students who enrolled in their class but didn’t bother to read the course description, let alone the syllabus. Too many students ignore the syllabus provided for each course, even though this document may outline not only course requirements but also details such as attendance policies, grading standards, and completion dates for major projects. To be as fully prepared as possible, make sure to avail yourself of all relevant info about each course you take.

Related: Infographic: Find Your Learning Style and Study Smarter

Although high school is a challenge, college is a different type of challenge. Far too many students are accepted to great universities only to find that they are struggling to pass their classes within the first few months. It’s worthwhile to ensure that the first semester goes well so you can succeed during and enjoy the rest of your college years.

Looking for even more help to do your best in your college classes? We have all the tips you could possibly need with Our Best Advice for Homework, Studying, and Tests.

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