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How to Manage the Transition From High School to College

The shift from high school to college can be tough, but with the right attitude and determination, the next four years will be some of the best of your life!

You're approaching an important milestone as you near graduation. You're embarking on the winding road that leads from high school to college, and you're bound to feel a strange mix of excitement, nerves, anticipation, and joy. Countless questions will race through your head about college: Will I like my campus? Meet many new people? Fit in? Enjoy classes? Will they be too difficult or too easy? What about finding a major? Am I prepared for the demands of college life?

The transition from high school to college elicits a spectrum of emotions—one minute you're excited; the next, afraid. The shift from life at home to life at school can sometimes be tough to handle, but with the right attitude and determination, the next four years will be some of the best of your life! Below are some tips that will help you ease into the transition from high school to college as well as some life lessons that will support your efforts toward a successful college experience.

Be prepared

Whether you’re facing a challenge big or small, it’s important to face the obstacles coming your way in advance and with enthusiasm. If you’re preparing for orientation, that may mean just packing all the items on the “what to bring to orientation” list. When prepping for your first big college exam, it may entail reading assignments ahead of time, rewriting notes, and clarifying points of confusion in your understanding of the material. Know what to expect by doing some research and asking questions. By preparing well in advance, you will be ready to handle any surprise that may pop up along the way.

Related: Video: What to Expect When Entering College


There's nothing productive about stress. It causes health problems, sleepless nights, and anxiety. Some people say they are energized by stress, but your life cannot be one perpetual “crunch time.” Instead, stay positive to keep yourself motivated and energized. Approach every task with a confident attitude. Meditate, go to the gym, find a quiet place, or go for a hike or walk—whatever you have to do to get stress out of your life, do it! As a result, your daily life will be happier and more productive.

Make safe choices

Life away from your parents means there's often no one watching out for your well-being besides yourself. Campuses are relatively protected spaces, but it's still important to play it safe. Until you familiarize yourself with your new surroundings, don’t go jogging alone at midnight with headphones blaring. (In fact, you should probably avoid doing that anytime.) If you're meeting up with new friends, opt for a public place. Make sure you know a person well before you spend time together alone. Use the buddy system and let people know where you’ll be at all times. It’s important to remember to stay vigilant about your security as you transition to college.

Manage your time and money wisely

At college, you won’t have a strict schedule like in high school. There will be a lot of free time on your hands before, after, and in between classes—but that doesn’t mean you can afford to slack off. College is structured so students have more time to study the material they’ve learned in class, and you’ll need it! Look at 8:00 am–5:00 pm, Monday through Friday, as your primary workweek. The more productive you are with those 45 hours, the more options you'll have in the evenings and on weekends. If you study Thursday at noon, then you don’t have to do it Saturday afternoon instead of going to the park with your friends.

Like managing your time, you’ll also need to learn how to monitor your finances. Money can be tight in college. Even with a part-time job, a lot of unexpected expenses can pop up, so be mindful of how you’re spending your cash. You do not want to graduate from college with an educational loan to repay and $15,000 in credit card debt, charging you 30% interest annually. Your bright future will turn bleak pretty quickly.

Related: Budgeting Best Practices All Students Need to Learn

Get involved on campus

College campuses boast a unique sense of enthusiasm for community, leadership, and diversity. The opportunities stemming from these qualities could create a remarkable college experience. Getting involved on campus not only fosters a sense of pride in your school, but it will help you meet new people. If you’re not sure how to start, try attending a student activity fair or research different clubs on your school’s website and explore the ones that seem interesting. You can start your participation with a quick email to an advisor or club member, a visit to the club’s office, or just show up at the first meeting. Bulletin boards around campus are sure to be covered with flyers advertising groups, meetings, and events, so be on the lookout. No matter how you go about it, getting involved on campus will help you make friends and feel like you’re connected to your school.

Meet your professors

If professors didn’t enjoy teaching students, they would have chosen another career. If you don’t feel comfortable asking for an appointment, visit during office hours (designated times during the week professors will be in their office, ready for “walk-in” meetings with students). You may end up having the privilege of being mentored by one of your professors. Think of what you might miss if you don’t go to the office for that first visit. At large institutions, some of your instructors might be graduate or teaching assistants (GAs or TAs). Make the effort to introduce yourself! Meeting your TAs can certainly come in handy when you need clarification of a concept before a test or to go over an exam that didn’t go as well as you had expected. They are also great resources if you have general questions about life on campus and the intangibles that only students would know. If you're at a smaller institution where professors will be teaching your classes, don’t be shy—pay them a visit!

Seek a balanced lifestyle

You may know the expression, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Perhaps more appropriate in this context: “All play and no work sends Jack home from college to better define his priorities.” Both ways of life demonstrate excess. You need to remember to study, eat healthy, exercise, visit with friends, and go places. Some weeks will not be balanced, no matter how hard you try. Midterms and finals weeks are notorious for making students go crazy studying. However, if you can counteract these stressful periods with weeks of relaxation, then you’ll have a better chance of making it through. Your goal is an overall balanced lifestyle, even if every week isn’t perfect.

Related: 8 Tips for Finding Balance in College

Learn how to learn and find your passion

You can't discover all that you need to know for the rest of your life in four years. But if you learn how to learn while you're in college, you will always be able to obtain the knowledge you need. For example, you may leave your college philosophy class with no better understanding of Nietzscheism than the day you started; however, you should walk out the door knowing how to read for both content and analysis—a skill that will serve you well for the rest of your life. College is also an ideal time (maybe even the best time) to discover your life’s passions. Life is too short to spend all your waking hours working at a lucrative job that you hate. Find your passion and live it! If you love what you are doing or studying, the transition from high school to college will be that much easier.

Live consciously

While you may live in a neighborhood or socialize with friends who all attended or graduated from college, this does not reflect the norm for the world. When you graduate from college, you will represent only 1% of the world’s population. Sacrifices have been made along the way that have brought you to this place. Be sure to continue to make the road easier for those following in your footsteps so they can make an easier transition to the higher education world. College provides fantastic opportunities to do great things, and you're just beginning to make a difference in the world. Keep in mind that all your efforts do not have to come in the first month of school. Be patient and allow yourself to get used to your new surroundings. Start slowly. Speak to people you meet on campus—you don’t have to know them.

Related: How to Be Awesome at College: A Student's Cheat Sheet

This is a new beginning. You can start with a clean slate. Go into the collegiate experience with your eyes wide open. There may be days that you feel less confident than others. There will be times you don’t know what you want. Give yourself a break and try to relax as you begin your journey. There will never be another time like this. Be determined to give it your all and the returns will be plentiful!

Learn more about campus life and how to rock at college with the articles and advice in our Student Life section. 

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