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College can be intimidating. This is especially true if you don’t know what to expect beforehand.

You’re on your own for the first time, trying to learn how to juggle a schedule with classes. And no one is there to make you go to class or take a shower. Many students struggle their first year or two of college.

But luckily, if you prepare for college ahead of time, you can make your transition as easy and painless as possible. We’ve written an in-depth guide on everything you need to know to plan for college. Read on to learn more!

Get Started in High School

If you are still an underclassman in high school, chances are you’re reading this to give yourself a leg up on preparing for college. There are quite a few things you can do to get ahead over the next couple of years.

Even if you’re a junior or senior, it’s not too late to beef up your application or improve your grades. College admissions committees love to see growth and change.


Most college admissions are looking for a well-rounded individual. Just having good grades does not cut it for admission most of the time.

High school is an excellent time to explore your interests and passions. Broaden your horizons with extracurriculars you may not have considered, such as taking an art or dance class.

Volunteer work is another popular extracurricular. Many people discover skills and talents they were unaware of while doing volunteer work. Plus, being able to help other people is always a positive.

Sports are a great way to learn soft skills, stay fit, and can even open doors in college for scholarships if you are driven to succeed. But even casual sports participation is good for your body and mind.

If “traditional” extracurriculars aren’t really your thing, remember that admissions committees are looking for people who stand out.

If you’re in a rock band or are a passionate skateboarder who is involved in your local scene, mention that on your application! Not everyone is a good fit for varsity sports or school band, and colleges know that.


Grades are definitely an important factor in college admissions. However, they are not the main one, and should never be your primary focus.

College admissions committees would rather admit someone who is involved in their community with a slightly lower GPA. Someone who has done nothing but study and make perfect grades their entire life is less appealing.

Make sure to always do your best in your classes, and try to keep your GPA in a competitive range. Just don’t forget that there is life outside of school and grades.

Getting Ahead in Classes

If your school offers honors, advanced placement, dual credit, or International Baccalaureate classes, you should definitely take advantage.

These are classes that can knock out an entire semester’s worth of college credit. They are also structured to be more challenging and independent, like college classes.

These classes also make you more appealing to colleges as an applicant. Someone who challenges themselves and makes A’s and B’s is going to do better in college than someone who makes straight A’s in easier classes.

Standardized Tests

Most students going off to college choose to take the SAT and/or the ACT in their junior year. These standardized tests are fairly common requirements for college admissions.

If you tend to struggle with test-taking, consider getting tutoring for these tests. It will teach you test-taking techniques and prepare you for the content in the tests.

Advanced Placement courses also have standardized tests. If you score high enough, colleges will allow you to replace freshman-level credits with your AP class high school credits.

Remember that while standardized test scores play a role in your admissions, they are not the only part. You don’t need near-perfect SAT scores to get into college, so don’t waste time and money on retaking tests.

Choosing a Major

Choosing a major is something that many students struggle with. After all, you’re not even in your twenties yet and are expected to decide your entire career?

Plus many schools have programs that excel in certain majors. Some schools don’t even offer majors that you might be interested in. Having at least a general idea of what you like is key to deciding where to apply.

Luckily, you don’t have to commit to a major right away. There’s a common misconception that you have to declare a major when you enter college.

But many schools let you enter undeclared or as a “general studies” major. This allows you to take classes from many different majors and get a feel for what you’re interested in.

Additionally, a vast majority of college students change majors at least once. This can cause you to waste credits (and money), as well as time. Some people end up not even working in the field they majored in.

So while choosing a major impacts the classes you take later in your college career, it is not very important for your freshman and sophomore years.

Focus instead on doing well in your general classes and taking a variety of classes for electives that interest you. Most people find their major through electives!

University or Community College?

As tuition and living costs continue to rise, some students are finding that four years of traditional university is just too expensive. Community colleges are an appealing alternative.

They allow you to take general classes (such as math, science, and history). You can then transfer those credits to a four-year university. This will save you thousands and thousands of dollars in the long run.

Community colleges are also excellent for people interested in trades and professional careers. Many nurses and doctors start their education at community colleges to save on costs and prepare for college at a four-year.

Many community colleges allow you to graduate with a two-year associate’s degree. This gives you a great fallback, as well as makes you more appealing to university admissions committees.

Community college, however, does not offer the same “traditional” college experience of football games and campus traditions. Consider how important these things are to you when deciding between a university or junior college.

The College Search

Searching for the right college fit is a fun but stressful experience. It requires a lot of time and legwork.

Be sure when you are searching for a college to keep an open mind. Sometimes you never know what a campus is like until you are there in person.

Campus Tours

Campus tours are a great way to get to know the culture, climate, and overall feel of a college. These can be guided tours led by current college students or self-guided tours.

Be sure to schedule campus tours early, before the summer rush. Most people tour campuses in the summer before their senior year of high school.

While on a campus tour, be sure to ask lots of questions. If you are interested in a particular major or program, try to find a student or professor in that department and have a quick conversation.


Once you have toured some campuses, it’s time to start submitting applications. This process can be extremely tedious as there are many moving parts to keep in mind.

Most college admissions committees ask for:

  • Transcripts
  • Extracurriculars
  • Test scores
  • Resume/personal information sheet
  • Admissions essays or questionnaires
  • An application fee

Make sure that everything required is turned in completed and early. The earlier you can get your application in, the better. Many schools offer early acceptance if you can meet the deadline.

Most people apply for anywhere between five to ten schools. This is because you want to apply to some competitive schools as well as some “safety schools” (where you are sure you’ll be admitted regardless).

Don’t get too hung up on going to your “dream school.” The truth of the matter is, you can have an excellent education and college experience wherever you go if you are willing to make the most of it.

Financing Your Education

Let’s face it, college is expensive. And it’s not getting any cheaper. Most people need some sort of financial aid in order to afford college. Besides the community college route, there are a few other options available.

Outside Scholarships and Grants

Many companies and organizations offer scholarships and grants to incoming college students. These funding sources often require a separate application and are not offered to you. You’ll have to go looking for them.

Luckily, there seems to be a scholarship program out there for just about anyone. For example, there are specific scholarships for women.

Outside scholarships and grants can range anywhere from $500 to a full ride for all four years. Don’t just go for the big-ticket scholarships though; those $500 awards can add up quickly if you manage to get a few of them.


Almost every incoming college student fills out a FAFSA when they prepare for college. This is the Free Application For Federal Student Aid.

The FAFSA is sent along with your application to every college you apply to. It tells colleges how much you can afford to pay for college.

They will then offer you an aid package of grants, scholarships, and loans that will cover all of your tuition and expenses. Try to avoid taking out large loan amounts, if possible.

You can consider your aid package when choosing which college to enroll in. A full-ride scholarship at your third-choice school is a much smarter decision than four years of loans at your top choice.

Prepare for College

After you’ve accepted and enrolled at a college, it’s time to start preparing for your arrival on campus. Don’t just show up expecting everything to be handled for you!

Dorm Decor

If you are living in the dorms (like most freshmen), there are quite a few things you will need to make your life more comfortable. Basics like bedding, toiletries, clothing, and some appliances are popular dorm items.

However, don’t get hung up too much on designing the perfect dorm room. If you’re “doing college” right, you may not even spend a ton of time in there. Just get what you need and some creature comforts.

Books and Supplies

College textbooks are notoriously expensive. Look online for used or virtual copies. Many departments have their own laptop requirements so don’t buy until you know what specs you will need.

For supplies, here’s a hot tip: don’t buy a bunch until after the first week. You will get so many free pens, notebooks, and folders from orientations and kickoff events that you’ll save a ton of money.

Be Schedule Savvy

When you’re putting together your class schedule, make sure that you’re smart about it. Don’t schedule classes with a 5 minute break between them that are across campus from each other.

If you’re not a morning person, try to avoid early classes if possible. Set yourself up for success. Finally, don’t overload your schedule, especially your first year. 12-15 hours is enough of a courseload when you’re a freshman.

How Much Should You Study?

As a general rule of thumb, you should study one hour a week for every credit hour of a class. So for a three-hour class, study three hours a week.

Let’s be honest: not every class is the same difficulty. You’ll get a feel over time for which classes to prioritize.


Getting involved in student organizations in college is even more important than it was in high school. These organizations help you make friends and network.

Luckily, colleges have an organization out there for just about any interest or passion. Don’t be afraid to sample a few every year; you don’t have to commit to everything you try.

Social Life

Parties and clubbing are always going to be a part of college life. But they can majorly distract from your studies and contribute to unhealthy habits.

Make sure that your social life revolves around more than just partying. Make friends with who you can study or go camping on a weekend. Those are the more meaningful experiences anyways.

Taking Opportunities

College is the best time to take advantage of unique opportunities. Guest speakers, career fairs, art gallery showings, internships… There’s a lot that college has to offer you.

Don’t let potential opportunities slip by because you are so focused on making grades or going to all the parties. Keep your eyes and ears open for anything unique and interesting!

College: The Best Time of Your Life

Most people say that college is one of the best times of their lives. You get to meet lifelong friends, forge your career path, and grow into being an adult.

If you prepare for college, you will be able to make the best of it. Stay calm, start early, and plan ahead. You’re sure to have a great and worthwhile experience.

For more helpful higher education articles, be sure to check out the “Education” section of our blog. Feel free to reach out to us at any time with questions or comments!


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