How to Prepare for College: 13 Tips for Freshman Success at University

Are you anxious as you count down the days until university begins? Not for long! In this guide, we show you how to prepare for college right, whether you're a freshman or returning student, so you start the term ready for academic success!

Looking to learn how to prepare for college?

The transition between high school and college is way more than just changing schools.

In many cases, you’re also moving far from home, progressing into adulthood, meeting all new people, and taking care of yourself for the first time in your life.

It sounds daunting, to say the very least.

Fortunately, it’s nowhere near as hard as it sounds. In fact, if you plan out your college prep tasks effectively, becoming a university freshman student can be the funnest moment of your life!

Whether you’re a college freshman, transferring from community college to a four-year, or returning as a grad student, you should find this guide relevant with all the best ways to prepare yourself for university.

Note: This guide assumes that you’ve already chosen a college, applied for it, and been accepted. But, if you need more preliminary advice on getting into university, simply check out our blog’s education section!


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Without further ado— 

Here are our best tips for how to prepare for college:

1. Keep an Open Mind

The first thing to keep in mind is to always keep an open mind.

College is full of new experiences, from new friends to new challenges to new experiences. The best way to not just survive, but also thrive, in these circumstances is to embrace the novelty of it all. You’ll meet so many new people, so be receptive to their beliefs and ideas. Promise yourself to try to say “yes” when opportunity knocks. Ask plenty of questions to learn more about this brand new world around you. Prepare to listen to others, and just try to keep a positive outlook throughout.

2. Don’t Miss Student Orientation

Unless you absolutely can’t, make a point to attend your student orientation, or at least part of it. Often a week in length (orientation week, or O-week), student orientation introduces you to the school environment without the pressure of having classes to contend with. You’ll learn the layout of the campus, have the opportunity to ask questions, get an idea of how your dormitory looks, meet new friends and faculty members, play games, and more. It basically allows you to dip your toes in at your pace rather than throwing you in at the deep end.

Related Read: Glossary of College Terms: 25+ Important University Words to Understand

3. Work on Important College Skills

You doubtless have plenty of important skills already, but college is going to provide you with your first big test on just how skilled you are. Where you had the help of mentors, siblings, parents, and relatives during high school, now it’s mostly you on your own.

Some important college skills to work on include time management, budgeting skills, organizational skills, studying, interpersonal skills, managing stress, and communication. If you feel like you need to improve in any of these areas, now’s the time to brush up.

4. Know Who to Turn to For Help

We just mentioned that you’re on your own, but not really. Especially before you start college, you still have people of guidance around you. Make use of them! These people include:

  • High school/college counselor
  • Parents
  • Older siblings
  • Current or former teachers
  • Friends
  • Extended family
  • Admissions counselor
  • Resident assistant (RA)

5. Meet Once More With Your High School Counselor

By high school counselor here, I mean the person hired at your high school to counsel you on applying and transitioning to college, among other things. High school counselors are there specifically for helping you plan out your continuing academic path and to help you remove any barriers. If you have any questions, concerns, or reservations about starting university, they’re one of the best people you can meet with. 

A special one-on-one session with your counselor may also provide you with perks. Your counselor may have connections in the college you’re about to attend, which could give you a helping hand once you arrive. Also, they could connect you with a job opportunity, extracurricular activity, or other fellow high school grads heading in the same direction. 

6. Get Organized

Upon reaching university, organization is key. You need to stay on top of your time, your studies, your schedule, your assignments, and anything else you’ve taken on. 

Use time management tools available on the web or your phone to stay on track. Keep a planner handy to track progress, deadlines, and events. And, most importantly, keep every course syllabus you receive somewhere safe and refer to it often; on your syllabi will be your various due dates, course requirements, contact details, guidelines, and other pertinent information. Make use of it!

7. Research the School You’re Attending

You’ve already done some research when choosing which college to attend, and that’s great! But, now that you’re about ready to begin classes, get to know your school more intimately. Sooner or later you’ll know it inside and out, but why not get a jump on things?

First, understand it geographically. Where is your dorm in relation to your first class? Make yourself a handy map, if you think it’ll help, either on paper or on Google Maps. Map out the quickest way to get from class to class and you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble on your first week of school.

Learn about the school itself, as well. While it isn’t necessary, of course, understanding your school’s history, mascot, motto, and mission statement might instill a sense of pride, at the very least. Finally, get to know a bit more about the town or city you’re moving to. If it’s a city campus, you might need to familiarize yourself with the metro or bus system. If it’s more out of the way, perhaps you’ll either have to drive yourself or discover the school’s town shuttle schedule. 

8. Understand the Details of Financial Aid Received

If a grant, scholarship, or government financial aid is paying part or all of your tuition, make sure everything is in order now before you learn something’s off the hard way. Know the details of the aid package, understand what will be covered and what won’t, and keep notes of any requirements and important information. 

Related Read: Scholarships 101: Everything Students Need to Know About Getting a Scholarship

9. Make New Friends

Wait a minute—make friends at college before I get to college?

There’s no better time to start making your college friends than now! If you have a dorm mate, that’s priority number one, as you’ll be in close proximity for months or even years. Also, check to see if any others from your high school graduating class is attending the same school; it could be an easy friendship (or an already-made friendship) simply because you both come from the same hometown. If there’s a Facebook group for your freshman class, join it. 

And finally, I’ll repeat one college prep tip from earlier – attend your orientation week! 

Related Read: How to Make Friends in College: 10+ Easy Ways to Meet People at Uni

10. Read, Read, and Read

University life consists of lots of reading, way more than what you did in high school. To prepare for entering college, get some of your own reading in. Whether you’re into history books, classic literature, entrepreneurial reads, or self-help publications, reading will keep your mind sharp and ready to take on your first adult challenge. Once you start classes, you’ll have little time to read the books you want to read, and it’s a great way to get acclimated to the reading load you’ll have once the first semester begins.

Related Read: 15 Books to Read Before College for High School Students

11. Pack the College Essentials

Unlike a weekend trip during the summer, you can’t expect to pack last-minute and be prepared to move in. Start gathering everything you need to bring to college weeks or even months in advance. First, if you’ll be staying in a dorm, contact the university to see if it comes pre-furnished, what size bed sheets you’ll need, and how many roommates you might have. Then, gather together your clothing, study necessities, decor items to make it your own, important documents, gadgets and gizmos, and anything else you can’t do without. To make sure you don’t miss anything, check out our ultimate college dorm checklist below.

Related Read: Ultimate College Packing List: 200+ Things to Take to University

12. Consider Your Major, Minor, or Specialization

Many universities don’t require you to choose your major before you start your freshman year, especially in the United States. Still, though, keep it in mind so you don’t end up frustratedly trying to choose a major when it comes down to the wire. While you’re at it, consider if you want to double major, minor, or specialize in anything, as well, and you can leave your mind free to tackle more important tasks when college starts.

Related Read: 25+ Studying From Home Tips for Productivity and Success

13. Prepare to Have Fun!

Most importantly, get ready to have a great time! 

Sure, college is all about academic advancement and preparing you for lucrative careers, but these will also be some of the best days of your life. Enjoy them!

You’re about to embark on an exciting adventure, and we wish you the best of luck on your upcoming university journey!

Well, that’s our post on how to prepare for college, and we hope it helps you as you ready yourself for this whole new chapter in your life. Got any questions, feedback, or other important ways to prepare for university that we forgot to mention here? Let us know below in the comments, and thanks for reading!

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Christian Eilers
Written By Christian Eilers
is a writer and expert on the topics of education, entrepreneurship, career advice, travel, and culture. On the Goodwall Blog, he covers topics including self-improvement, social impact, college preparation, career development, climate action, and more. Christian is originally from New York City and now resides in Warsaw, Poland. At his desk, you're sure to find Pickwick, his Devon Rex cat, either attacking his fingers as he types or the monitor as the mouse pointer moves around.

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