Top 5 tips on how to prepare for college

Student sitting on steps

Getting ready for college marks the start of an exciting new adventure. It’s not only the beginning of the next step in your learning and career journey, but also the start of some incredible new memories, friendships and experiences.

Preparing for college while you’re still a student in high school will give you the head start you need to plan for your future success.

While taking the leap to study in a new country is a big step, there are some basic things to know before college that will make your move all that much easier and stress-free.

Here are our top 5 tips on how to prepare for college:

1. Research college majors

The first step is to figure out what you want to study at college. Which subjects do you enjoy at school? Which subject areas could you see yourself working in in the future?

An excellent way to help you get a better idea of which career path you’d want to follow is to apply for internships and work experience opportunities. Getting hands-on, real-life experience in the areas you’re interested in will give you a much clearer idea of which direction to go with your studies and your future career.

Once you’ve figured out which subject areas interest you the most, you can research which college majors would be best-suited to you and your interests.

2. Get a feel for the campus

Getting a feel for the campuses you’re interested in attending is a great way to prepare yourself for college. Following your favorite campuses on social media and watching video tours will help you get a better idea of which is the right fit for you and your study goals.

By following the campuses you’re interested in on social media, you’ll be able to connect with staff and other students like you who are looking into which college is right for them. Getting a feel for a campus and the community there can play a key role in helping you to decide which college you want to apply for.

You can also visit the colleges in person if you have the opportunity to be in the USA before you plan to study. This is a great way of experiencing college life before making your decision.

If you’re an international student considering college in the USA, you can also visit the on-campus centers specifically set up to prepare you for college, such as the James Madison University (JMU) International Study Center.

3. Get yourself organized

One of the biggest tips to success in preparing for college and getting good grades while you’re there is to be well-organized. That starts with mastering your time-management skills.

While you’re in college, you’ll have lots to keep you busy, like lectures, assignments, exams, sports, and an active social life. The key is to manage your time effectively so you can fit in everything comfortably, without feeling completely burnt out.

A good tip for becoming an excellent time manager is to create a weekly schedule for yourself at the start of each week, map out what you need to do each day, and use calendar reminders to stay on top of your schedule. There are many time-management apps and tools out there that can help you with this.

Another way to help get yourself organized is to speak to your teachers at school and ask if they have any handy tips or techniques to share.

4. Learn to be independent

Getting ready for college is more than just about preparing to get good grades. College life brings new challenges, and it’s important that you’re well-prepared to take on those challenges.

To be successful at college life, you’ll need to be independent. That might come easier to you if you’ve already been living alone or with friends, but it could pose a much greater challenge if you’ve never lived away from home and family.

Learning to be independent means stepping up to the responsibilities of everyday life, such as cooking, cleaning and budgeting for yourself. It essentially means looking after yourself in all areas of your day-to-day life.

If you’ve never had to take on these responsibilities, having family and friends support you in making the transition can be a great help. Whether it’s asking for cooking tips and recipes, learning how to use the washing machine, or finding out how to create a monthly budget, your family and friends can offer you a wealth of information and advice to help you hit the ground running.

Learning how to take on everyday tasks and responsibilities for yourself will give you the independence you need to succeed not only in college life, but throughout your life.

5. Participate in activities

College life can be even more exciting if you join a range of the extracurricular activities on offer.

Participating in activities such as sports, music groups, volunteer work and social events will not only give you the opportunity to step out of the classroom to have fun and meet new people, but also help you develop a range of core life skills, including:

  • Leadership skills
  • Communication skills
  • Teamworking skills
  • Interpersonal skills

You can prepare for college by joining in activities at your high school now. That way, by the time college comes around, you will have built enough confidence in each of these skills so that you can get the most out of your new college life.

If you’re an international student looking at studying at a college in the USA, the JMU International Study Center can give you all the help you need to get started and prepare you for college life. You can also find out more about JMU and check out our handy guide for things to bring before you arrive in the USA.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

How do I mentally prepare myself for university?

To mentally prepare for university, set realistic expectations, build a support system, develop healthy habits, and stay open-minded. It's normal to feel nervous!

Develop a schedule that works for you and prioritize time for study, and social activities. Lastly, connect with resources like student groups to help navigate challenges you may face.

How many hours a day should I study, at university?

University students should spend around 2 to 3 hours studying per every hour of class time. However, the actual study time may vary depending on individual circumstances. It's essential to prioritize quality over quantity, use active studying techniques, take breaks, and balance your workload with self-care.

What should I bring to university for my first year?

Check with your university to see what textbooks and other equipment you need. You might also need a laptop or other way to take down notes during lectures. Don't forget the essentials, like toiletries and any medications you normally take, too! You might also want to decorate your accommodation with items from home, like posters and other photos.