Leaving for college marks a major transition in most students’ lives: leaving high school; for many, leaving home; freeing yourself from parental control; and leaving old friends, activities, and ways of being. Arriving at college signifies equally momentous changes: exploring a new place, becoming independent, making new friends, learning new things, making your own decisions, and establishing your own priorities.

Amidst all the excitement, many students overlook the stress involved in making so many big transitions in such a brief period of time. In anticipation of these changes, we recommend thinking through as many of the particulars as you can in advance. The more prepared you are for college, the more ready you will be to confront new pressures with a minimum of panic, frustration, or depression.

Here are some things to consider as you head off to college:

College is hard.

Courses are at a higher level than high-school classes; the material is presented at a faster pace; and professors are likely to assign more reading, writing, and problem sets than you may be used to. The harder work is something all first-year college students contend with, so don’t think having to struggle to keep up is somehow a failing on your part. In order to give yourself an opportunity to adjust gradually to the new academic demands, choose a course load that includes some classes that will be harder for you and others that will be less intense. For example, if you took an introductory calculus course or a second-year French class your senior year of high school and don’t feel like you quite mastered the subject, consider repeating the course your first year of college rather than moving on to a more advanced math or French class. The very fact that the course is at the college level will mean you’ll encounter new material.


College life is unstructured.

No more curfews, no more concerned questions from parents about whether you’ve done your homework or where you were until 3 a.m. This may sound like the definition of freedom, but freedom itself can be stressful. You are responsible for managing your time in college. If you cut classes and don’t do your assignments, no one will scold you that evening, but you may wish they had when it comes time for the final and you don’t know the material. Buy a calendar and make sure you write down when and where your classes meet, when assignments are due, and when tests will take place. Give yourself ample time to study rather than waiting until the last minute and pulling an all-nighter. This may sound like obvious advice, but as a former college instructor, I have had students come to me in tears because, they claim, they didn’t know what room the test was in; or they didn’t know there was a test because they’d lost the syllabus; or they slept through the test because they were up late studying and didn’t hear their alarm.

College requires personal responsibility.

You are responsible for managing your money and for taking care of your health. Credit card companies bombard college students with offers, preying on most college students’ lack of funds and urge to spend. While having a credit card can be an asset, living on credit poses the risk of adding to the debt incurred through school loans. And while partying all night sounds tempting to numerous students, the lifestyle quickly catches up with many, who end up with mono or the flu and, consequently, miss more classes. Getting enough sleep, eating well, and generally taking care of yourself will give you more energy to enjoy all that college has to offer, without burning out.


A new social scene is part of the college experience.

Suddenly, you can recreate yourself in any way you want. No one at college knows what you were like in high school. While forming new friendships can be exhilarating, true friendships are formed slowly, and the beginning of college can consequently be a lonely time. Moreover, college is full of all sorts of new social pressures. If you are unsure about participating in certain social scenes or activities, don’t hesitate to seek guidance about the best ways to resist these pressures. Talk to parents, trusted friends from high school, and college counselors.


College is full of resources — professors with office hours to explain ideas that weren’t clear in class, tutors to help you when you feel you still don’t understand new material, counselors with whom to discuss personal concerns, and often resident advisors. The difference is that whereas in high school these roles were often filled by parents and others who sought you out, in college it is up to you to initiate getting help. The good news is that once you do adjust to college life, it opens new doors to all sorts of learning — and living.