What you should know about college


Your student probably has a lot of stuff to think about before starting college. But aside from the things that are naturally top of mind, such as which schools to apply to, where they’ll be living and what they want to major in, there are a lot of other things your student should consider that might be less obvious. 

Here's our, what to know about college before beginning your first semester, list.

Be ready for online classes

If your student is taking in-person classes, they should be aware that although things are slowly getting back to normal in the wake of the pandemic, that could change, and students could be required to return to an online learning environment on short notice. Your student should be prepared for this. Do they have a good computer and workstation free of distractions just in case they have to take all their classes online?

Read as much as possible

Reading anything and everything before they start college will help your student get their mind primed for learning. Suggest they read a book in their spare time or even peruse magazines, graphic novels or online academic articles.

Polish social, people and soft skills

Your student is going to be interacting with a lot of people in college, from their classmates to their professors to campus staff. Help them be ready by working on their soft skills (e.g., teamwork, problem-solving, adaptability, etc.) as well as their social and people skills. For example, they probably won’t want to talk with a professor the same way they talk with a classmate. Do they know how to adjust depending on who they are interacting with? 

Embrace time-management tools

College teaches students so much more than just their major. One of those things is time management. Your student won’t have you there to wake them up in the morning and make sure they leave to get to class on time or make enough time for studying. They’ll have to learn how to manage their time themselves. Fortunately, there is plenty of information on the web (here’s a pretty good resource), as well as time management apps that can help (check out these). Encourage your student to experiment with different ways of managing their time. Some students live by their calendar, and others do fine leaving themselves Post-It notes.

Consider getting a part-time job

Before you say, “My student can’t work, they’ll be studying all the time,” consider that research shows that students who work up to 20 hours per week while in college earn higher grades on average than those who don’t. And the extra money your student earns can help with their college expenses. That said, working during college isn’t for everyone, and if possible, college should come first. So if your student is struggling with both working and going to school, and they are able to quit their job, they should.

Keep in touch with the financial aid office

Your student should check in regularly with their financial aid office to keep on top of ways of paying for college. The financial aid folks know all sorts of scholarship resources and other ways your student might be able to chip away at their tuition bill. It’s good to know these people and for them to know your student.

Know how to stay safe on campus

Most colleges take safety very seriously and have an abundance of safety resources. But they’re not always obvious, and your student may have to do some legwork to find out all the safety features their college offers. But it’s worth it. If your student’s college has a campus police department, start there. They can give your student a rundown of all the ways the college can help them stay safe.

Contact professors before classes start

Your student should get to know their professors as early as possible. Before classes even start is ideal. They can email their professors before the semester begins and introduce themselves so their professors have an idea of who they are on the first day of classes.

Participate in orientation

Orientation is one of those can’t-miss steps your student should take before starting college. In fact, many colleges require it. And it’s so worth it. Your student will learn about college resources, see the campus and where they’ll be taking classes, and take care of necessary to-dos, possibly including registering for classes and getting their ID card.

Research ways to get involved

College offers plenty of opportunities for your student to get involved and make connections. Suggest to your student that they join a club, work with a professor on a research project, join an intramurals team or go to athletics events with friends.

Know where to go for academic help

Your student should become familiar with tutoring and other academic resources on campus before they begin classes. Even if they think they won’t need them, it’s better to know what resources are available and where to find them just in case. This is something they can ask about at orientation.

How else can your student become ready for starting college?

Here are four more ideas. They aren’t necessarily “to-dos,” but more like good things to know.

  1. Professors value research, deep thinking and asking insightful questions. They want to see evidence that your student is interested in the class. Really interested. Not just trying to memorize some facts, get a passing grade and move on.
  2. Students must develop their knowledge outside of the classroom (the 20/80 shift). In high school, your student’s teachers provided about 80 percent of the information your student needed to learn the material, and your student learned the other 20 percent by doing homework and other tasks. College is different. Now professors provide about 20 percent of the information, and it’s up to your student to produce the remaining 80 percent by developing knowledge outside the classroom.
  3. Read material before class. This one your student probably knows, but still could use a reminder on. Reading the material before class ensures that they are prepared, and also arms them with questions they can ask their professor about any aspects of the material they aren’t understanding.
  4. There is a difference between memorizing and learning. If your student memorizes everything, they will forget it all as soon as the test or the course is over. Where’s the value in that? Your student should try this to make sure they are comprehending the material: Act like the professor and teach the material to an imaginary audience. If they can explain it comprehensively, then they’ll know they understand it and are less likely to forget it.

This is, of course, not a complete list of everything your student should do or know before starting college. That list is almost endless. But encourage your student to keep exploring ways to be prepared by Googling college prep websites, participating on college chat boards, and talking to friends or siblings of friends who are in college. Good luck!