You may be eager to go to college, but are you truly ready? If you’ve succeeded in high school courses, you might be justified in feeling capable of moving on to college-level work. But being college-capable is not the same as being college-ready. To earn your degree, you’ll need to do much more than just step it up academically.
Going to college, especially if you move away from home and live on campus, is a huge leap in independence. There are a boatload of skills college students need to have in order to make it through to graduation. If you’ve held a leadership position, worked at a paying job or had other significant responsibilities (e.g., babysitting), you may have a head start. Here are some of the key skills you’ll need, divided into self-awareness (how well you know your strengths and vulnerabilities), self-advocacy (how well you can speak up and reach out for assistance as needed) and self-management (how well you can regulate your actions and reactions).
- Do you know which subjects are most difficult for you?
- Can you tell when you are struggling with a course and need assistance?
- What time of day are you best able to study and learn?
- When you are in stressful situations, how do you normally respond? For example, do you tackle problems head on, withdraw and isolate yourself, or reach out to others for support?
- Have you suffered from depression, anxiety, eating disorders or addictions (including gaming or online activities)? If so, what are the “red flags” that these difficulties are starting to come back? What are your go-to techniques for recovering from these setbacks?
- How do you react to disagreement or conflict? For example, do you tend to withdraw from the situation, “freeze,” or become more aggressive?
- What are the qualities you look for in a friend?
- How will you be sure that your intimate relationships are safe and healthy?
- Can you tell when you need medical care?
- Are you able to approach an instructor one-on-one to ask questions about course content or assignments?
- Are you comfortable contributing to class discussions and presenting to your peers? These skills are not only expected in college, but are also likely to be important in your career.
- Will you make an appointment with your academic advisor to discuss your interests and course preferences?
- Would you take the initiative to sign up for tutoring if you were having difficulty in a course?
- Will you approach instructors or visit the career center to inquire about jobs, internships, research opportunities or other hands-on experience? Most of the time, you will need to take the initiative, as the career center won’t come to you; furthermore, it pays to start the process in the first year or two of college, not wait until you’re about to graduate.
- Do you know how to have a productive discussion with your roommate about topics such as cleanliness or sleep schedules?
- Would you feel comfortable speaking with a resident assistant (RA) about personal problems you need help with?
- Would you be able to contact the counseling center for an appointment if you felt overwhelmed?
- If the dining hall options don’t meet your dietary needs, would you speak with food service staff?
- Can you make a doctor’s appointment and go alone if needed?
- Will you join clubs, teams or social events to develop new friendships?
- Can you get yourself up and ready for morning classes?
- Do you go to bed at a reasonable time to ensure that you get enough sleep for adequate functioning? In college, you will need to do this without any prompting, despite temptations such as late-night parties and other social activities.
- If you have a whole day free, can you plan your time efficiently?
- Can you keep track of your assignments and turn them in on time consistently? Your professors will provide a syllabus at the beginning of each course, and may not provide any cues or reminders when papers and projects are due.
- If you have large amounts of reading to do, major tests to study for or long papers to write, can you start on them early so that you don’t have to “cram” at the last minute? The amount of reading is much greater in college, so it’s important to plan over the course of the term. High school courses may have many quizzes or assignments, while college grades often depend heavily on a single final exam or project.
- Can you manage your use of alcohol, drugs or entertainment without sacrificing your schoolwork and social life?
- If you have a medical condition, can you take medication, get refills and take other necessary measures (e.g., following a special diet) without supervision?
- Will you eat regular, healthy meals without parental oversight?
- Will you shower/bathe and do your laundry regularly without being told?
- Can you live cooperatively with someone–for example, by managing your side of the room in a way that’s acceptable to your roommate?
- Can you manage money responsibly, saving as needed for bills and expenses? If not, do you have a plan to address this issue?
- Can you control your emotional reactions when things don’t go your way?
As you look through this list, give yourself credit for skills you’ve already mastered. You’re that much closer to being a successful college student! But chances are, you won’t be able to check off all of these items. What should you do about the skills you have yet to acquire?
Option 1. Work on these skills during high school. Use the time you have left before college to your advantage. If you don’t know how to work on some of these areas, ask your parents, your school counselor or a trusted teacher. A mental health professional such as a psychologist or social worker can help with some of the emotional skills, while an academic or executive function coach can help with areas such as time management. Of course, there are also many helpful apps, videos and articles available online on topics such as personal finance, communication, and study skills.
Option 2. Take a gap year. Give yourself another whole year to get up to speed. If you get a job, it will not only help you pay for college, but it may also enhance your skills in money management, time management and communication. Alternatively, consider a PG year (a post-graduate program offered at some private high schools) or a college readiness program. In any case, simply waiting longer to start college isn’t enough; you will benefit much more by creating a plan for using the year effectively to boost your skills.
Option 3. Hone these skills in college. If you are mostly ready for college but still struggle in a handful of areas, consider seeking out colleges with specialized programs. For example, some colleges have academic support programs where you can meet with a coach or mentor weekly to improve your study skills and ensure that you complete your assignments on time. Other colleges have wellness-oriented living-learning communities or residence halls that focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle and avoiding substance abuse. Almost all colleges have peer tutors, mental health counselors, career counselors and academic advisors.
Getting through college may seem daunting at times, but you can do it. There are many, many resources available to help ensure that your experience is everything you hope it will be!
This piece was originally published in CollegeXpress.