College prep isn’t just about choosing classes and paying tuition. These tips on how to prepare for college will help you go back to school with confidence, security, and ease. I included information about financial loans, textbooks, courses, clubs, living accommodations, and ways to stay healthy at college.
I have two undergraduate degrees (Psychology and Education, from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada) and one graduate degree (a Master of Social Work from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada).
You’d think with all my education and college prep experience, I’d know how to start the school year off right! And you’d be right…except I always make the same huge mistake when I’m thinking about how to prepare for the college year.
The mistake I always make is not buying my textbooks until classes have already started. Then, I have to stand in line for hours at the bookstore – or I order books from Amazon and they don’t arrive until after my first exam has passed. Instead of waiting until you get to class to learn what textbooks you need, download your course syllabi early. This way, you can start preparing for college early.
How to Prepare for College
If you have college prep questions that aren’t covered here, please ask in the comments section below! I love the “going back to school” season (which is why I’m writing these tips on how to prepare for college before September), and I taught middle and high school for three years. I’d love to help you with college prep – especially if this is your first year.
1. Organize your finances – student loans, part-time work, etc
How are you paying for your college courses, textbooks, rent, monthly living expenses, and transportation costs? That’s number one on your college prep agenda. Talk to the college student loans or financial aid office if you’re concerned about money or if your student loan hasn’t been deposited in your account yet. Don’t wait until the last minute, or you’ll be extra stressed as the semester unfolds.
If you aren’t sure how you’re paying for your courses or textbooks yet, read 10 Highest Paying Jobs for College Students.
2. Take care of your living arrangements
Will you be living in the dorm, with your parents, with roommates, or in your car? Get your living accommodations sorted out before classes start. The earlier you can move into your college living accommodations, the better.
If you’re staying where you’re living now, declutter your space. Clean your room of things you don’t need: clothes you no longer wear, high school junk you no longer need, garbage you don’t want to look at. Organize your workspace and desk. Make room for big clunky textbooks, handouts from your professors, and long research articles (unless you read e-textbooks or digital research papers). Successful college prep always involves getting organized.
Learn how to prepare for college by asking other students how they’re getting ready for school in September. You might also learn how to save more money now, before classes start!
3. Prepare for class by shopping early for textbooks
You’ll have a TON of reading and studying for your college courses. Why not start early? (Because there are a million more fun things to do before school starts, I know. I didn’t start reading my university textbooks early until I was in my fourth year. I somehow forgot that this is an excellent tip on how to prepare for college when I went to graduate school a couple years ago).
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Buy used textbooks at your college’s bookstore, or online through Amazon or other textbook sales websites. Make sure you look at your course syllabus, and buy the right edition of the textbook. I’ve made the mistake of buying previous editions of textbooks. It’s often possible to use the older version of the text, but it’s not an ideal way to start your college education. Start preparing now – look at your course schedule, and start researching where you can buy new or used college textbooks.
Look at Amazon’s Used Textbooks and Textbook Rentals, to get an idea of how much textbooks cost and how long it’ll take to get your texts shipped to you.
4. Tour the college campus and attend Orientation Days
Many colleges and universities offer group tours for freshmen and new students, to help them prep for college before classes start. Take advantage of this! I never did, and I regretted it every time I started school. I had no idea where I was going, and I felt like I was already a failure. One of the best tips on how to prepare for college is to plan ahead. Get your schedule and college campus maps organized early, so you don’t feel frantic at the last minute.
Learn how to stay safe on your college campus. Are there emergency phones? Where’s the counseling office? Who can you talk to if you’re struggling academically, emotionally, or financially? Find the answers to these questions before you’re having problems. This is an essential tip for preparing for college in September.
5. Learn how to speed read
In How to Get Good Grades in Graduate School, I describe two ways to speed read. This is an essential college prep tip, because it’ll cut way down on the amount of time you’ll need to spend reading research articles and textbook chapters.
If you don’t know how to type, learn as soon as possible. You’ll be writing research papers, academic essays, and a variety of different type of formal letters (eg, student loan appeals, letters to your landlord, emails to your professors or department heads). Even if you’re studying to be a sports coach, you’ll need to know how to type.
6. Research college groups and clubs
In 10 Ways to Prepare for Your Freshman Year of College, Travis Mitchell encourages students to prep for college by researching how to get involved. “College provides a number of opportunities for students to explore existing interests or embark on new hobbies,” he writes. “Whether it’s playing sports, joining a musical ensemble or getting involved in social issues, many schools make it easy to get involved.”
If you’ve already researched a few ways to get involved in college activities before classes start, you’ll be more likely to join the clubs or groups. And, you won’t miss any important sign-up dates or meetings after school starts.
7. Get emotionally and spiritually healthy
What psychological or emotional issues are you avoiding? Are you struggling with an eating disorder, family problems, unresolved grief or anger, promiscuity, addictions, unhealthy tendencies? Take care of yourself now, before the stress of college makes things worse.
If you haven’t squared your life with God, take time to figure out your spirituality. God loves you deeply, and wants you to have a life of peace, joy, and meaning. His spirit is available to you all the time – even in the dark hours in the middle of the night – and He wants to take care of you! Let Him. Open your heart, and be honest with God about your behaviors, fears, hopes, and dreams. Let Him heal and comfort you, and ask Him for help figuring out how to prepare for college.
If you have trouble concentrating, read How to Study When You Can’t Focus – College Students.
I welcome your thoughts on how to prepare for college! I don’t usually give advice, but it may help you to share your experiences and plans for the upcoming school year.
May your college prep and plans go smoothly, and may you enter the school year with a feeling of peace, joy, and excitement. I pray for an adventurous year, full of challenges and achievements.
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