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How will I adjust to college life?

In the transition to college, you will encounter many new expectations and challenges. This section highlights some of the major differences between high school and college and offers tips on how to successfully take on these new challenges.


There are several ways college classes differ from high school classes. Depending on the school you choose, your classes may be much larger. As a result, professors tend to lecture rather than interact with students during class time. This creates an environment where it is easy to blend in with the crowd and tune out rather than pay attention to the material covered. To get the most out of class time, come prepared. Just before class, read over notes from the last lecture and from your reading to orient yourself to the subject matter. Sit in the front of the room to minimize distractions. Record main points from the lecture in your notes and request assistance with note taking if you find this difficult. As soon as possible after class, but certainly within twenty-four hours, review your notes to make sure you understand everything that the professor covered.

Aside from the different size and format of your classes, as a college student you will spend significantly less time in class per week. In high school, class time makes up the bulk of your day. In college, rather than six hours of class a day, you may find you will be in class some days for only two to three hours. Without the school dictating the structure of your day, it is important that you impose structure on yourself. Do not assume time outside of class is free time. Set aside time in your day to review notes, complete reading assignments, and work on projects. The independent work you do outside of class is much more crucial than it was in high school.


Time Management
Time management is critical in a successful transition to the college schedule. Calendars are immensely helpful to keep up with your assignments and responsibilities. Make a monthly calendar with assignment deadlines, test dates, holidays and other major events and keep it in a readily visible place. Also keep a weekly calendar and denote class time, study time, co-curricular commitments and other activities that fill up your day. Create To-Do lists of the work you need to accomplish each day, then use your weekly calendar to schedule time to complete this work.

Maintain a regular time and place to study. (Note: This may vary by day to accommodate your class schedule.) In scheduling study time, consider which time of day you are most efficient. If you struggle to study for large blocks of time, schedule frequent, shorter study sessions, breaking them up with non-academic activities. If you are easily distracted, it will be just as important to time your study breaks as it will your study time!

Begin assignments early, allowing yourself plenty of time to seek help if you run into problems. This will reduce stress and enable you to submit your best work. If you find difficulty managing your time independently, seek the help of an academic coach or attend a time management workshop.

Study Resources
A tutor is a great way to receive one-on-one explanations for the material covered in class and can be a great tool in solidifying your understanding of content specific to a particular course. An academic coach, on the other hand, provides students with strategies for organization, time management, note taking, writing and test preparation. Academic coaching, which can be used on its own or in conjunction with tutoring services, sets a student up for long-term success by teaching skills that can be applied to all current and future courses. Both tutoring and academic coaching are tailored to the individual student. Academic workshops can also be helpful in providing strategies for academic success but do not provide personalized support.

Another useful study resource is your fellow students. Study groups and study partners are great ways to create mutually beneficial academic relationships. Both provide an opportunity to learn through teaching others and to gain exposure to different ideas through other students. Study groups may be difficult to coordinate and structure or may not suit your individual needs. If you choose to study with others, make sure you are getting what you need out of the experience. If you are not finding a study group useful, a smaller group, a single study partner, or individual studying may be more appropriate for you.


In college, you are responsible for getting the bulk of course information from a book. A professor will rarely use class time to walk you through assigned reading. This is something you are expected to do independently.

To help yourself wade through difficult texts, first find the major ideas by looking through headings and subheadings. If the text lacks headings, use topic sentences at the beginning of each paragraph to capture the main ideas of the reading. After reading, explain the information out loud or create a chart or other illustration to demonstrate the material. This kind of multi-sensory approach will help you retain what you read. Seek study skills assistance with this if necessary.


In high school, you likely had a test upon the completion of a chapter or small unit of subject matter. In college, you will have fewer tests that cover larger amounts of material. This not only makes each test more significant to your grade, but also more difficult to prepare for. To manage college tests, know the content area that will be covered as well as the test format and prepare accordingly. Seek clarification from your professor if this information is not directly spelled out on the course syllabus. If the test will be multiple-choice, practice with multiple-choice questions. If short answer or essay format, practice likewise. If provided, use some of the professor’s old exams to practice. Review your notes and create summary sheets for quick reference and review class material throughout the semester. This will increase your understanding and prevent the stress associated with “cramming.”

Personal Freedom

One of the best things about college is increased personal freedom. For the most part, you will decide how to schedule your time, what and when you will eat, and when (or even if) you will clean your room. No one will be checking after to you. While this freedom is great, it also creates a great deal of responsibility. These are a few tips to keep yourself on track while you enjoy your newfound freedom.

Keep organized
Keep track of class materials by grouping them together in one place. You may want to use one notebook per subject or you may want to use one large notebook with separate sections for each subject. In any case, find a method to maintain materials for each class in a centralized location and stick to it.

The syllabus is your roadmap for a particular college class. It supplies you with due dates, subject matter to be covered in each class and important deadlines. Upon receiving your syllabus, put it in a safe place with your other class materials so that you can easily and frequently access it.

Lists are helpful not only in grouping together tasks for a day, but they can also help you come prepared to class. Make a list of what you need to bring to class each day and check the list before you leave to ensure you have everything you need.
Designate a place to keep other important study items so they can be easily found when you need them. You don’t want to spend valuable study time looking for your calculator or a course book. By keeping your belongings organized, you will reduce stress and increase efficiency.

Due to the independence that comes with college, it is essential that you become your own motivator. You will be responsible for getting your work done on your own initiative. Professors will not check your notes to ensure you are staying organized and keeping up with your work. This is all up to you. If you struggle with motivation, create a reward system for yourself. After you get through a section in your textbook, reward yourself with a break or treat. It may also be helpful to keep a list of motivational thoughts to read when you feel like slacking off. We all go through slumps, but it is important to be able to pull yourself out of them and continue working towards your goals. If you are really struggling with motivation, don’t hesitate to seek help from a counselor or other service provider at your school.

Personal Care
In college you will be entirely responsible for all aspects of personal care. You alone will be responsible for keeping up with your laundry, cleaning your living space, and making your meals or getting to a dining hall. Students with physical disabilities may need to take this into account when making living arrangements and deciding whether to live on or off campus.

As a result of the personal freedom and accountability that you attain in college, it is of increasing importance that you become your own advocate. It is up to you to seek out the services you need. If you are having trouble in a class, contact your professor during office hours, request a meeting outside of office hours or speak with a TA. Do not hesitate to contact your school’s disabilities services department with an issue you may have. Resources are available to you, but it is your job to seek them out.

Securing Accommodations

The increased importance of self-advocacy in college is emphasized by the method in which college students with disabilities secure accommodations. In high school, parents, teachers, and other administrators take steps to assess disabilities and secure accommodations without the need for much action from the student. Colleges, on the other hand, will consider students as adults, and consequently require students with disabilities to take an active role in securing accommodations for themselves. Students with disabilities are expected to identify themselves as requiring services, to provide current documentation of their disability, and to initiate the process of securing accommodations. While there will certainly be professionals to aid the student in this process, the college student is expected to take a pro-active role in obtaining the accommodations they need to be successful.