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May 12, 2021

Editor's note: This week, we invited Sara Sullivan, a rising senior at Brown University, to share her experience transitioning to college, and the advice that she wished she had known in high school. 

I remember the exact moment I realized my high school habits wouldn’t cut it in college. Advice from my college self to my high school self

It was midterm week freshman year, and I was rushing to the library to finally start studying for my Econ exam (which was the next day… yikes). On my way there, I ran into one of my friends who asked to grab lunch together. At first, I hesitated, but within seconds I had already caved and was on my way to the dining hall. 

“You’ll be fine,” I told myself, “You have the rest of the night to study.”

Amidst my naive rationalization, I completely forgot (or disregarded) the two massive essays and lengthy reading assignments I also had due at the end of the week, as well as the chunks of time I already had forfeited to movie night and a trip to Boston with some friends. But who could blame me? There were so many exciting things I wanted to do with my new college friends that classes seemed like a secondary priority. And besides, I usually waited until the last minute to do assignments in high school with little consequence, so why would it be any different in college?

After what turned out to be a rough week of sleepless nights, writing marathons, and an unhealthy amount of stress, I learned a difficult lesson: those high school habits wouldn’t cut it in college. And although I’m now a rising senior who's outgrown those bad habits (aside from the occasional bouts of procrastination) and found a healthy balance between my school work and social life, I can’t help but wonder: would my transition to college have been easier if I had developed these skills sooner?

Looking back now, I realize that there are many things I could have done beforehand to better prepare myself for the next four years at college. During those last few years of high school, many of us are so focused on getting into college that we completely overlook what we’ll actually have to do once we get there. So for any of you high schoolers out there who are comfortable saving your assignments until the night before or coasting through your classes, listen up - that won’t fly in college. Here are the 4 tips I wish my high school self would have known before college. And trust me - your future self will thank you!

Tip 1: Learn How to Manage Your Time Well & Find a System that Works 

This is something I failed to master (or really even attempt) in high school, and it proved to be a major challenge once I got to college. As you may have already gathered, I was a notorious procrastinator and that unfortunate habit carried over into my first year of college. I convinced myself that I worked well under pressure and needed the extra motivation from being under a time crunch. While there were late nights and missed social outings in high school, I quickly realized that saving everything until the last minute was going to have far more consequences in college. On top of that, losing the structure of a seven-class period day with a scheduled lunch break required me to develop my own daily routine that prioritized academics, but still took my social and emotional well-being into account. 

I had to learn the hard way, but I can now say that I have found a time management system that works for me. I use a combination of a physical planner and Google calendar to keep track of my assignments and exams. At the beginning of each semester, I look over the syllabus and mark out all of the important due dates. For the larger assignments, I break them down into smaller chunks and assign myself personal due dates to hold myself accountable. I could have saved myself a lot of sleep and a lot of stress had I jumped on this sooner. Also, I now know that I am much more productive and focused in the morning so I make sure to devote any free time or breaks between classes in the first half of the day to do schoolwork.  

Building your time management skills in high school will save you a lot of stress and help you more effectively navigate the greater workload in college. Take the time in high school to figure out when you’re most productive during the day as well as the best ways to hold yourself accountable when it comes to completing work in a timely manner. 

Tip 2: Develop Healthy Coping Strategies for Stress & Keep Up with Your Passions

As fun and exciting as college is, it can also be both stressful and overwhelming - especially during your first year. But even once you feel adjusted to all the newness, there will still be continued pressure from academics and extracurriculars that will only get more challenging each semester. Over the past couple of years, I've realized how important it is to have outlets to relieve stress, and coping strategies to manage those emotions. Whether it’s reading a book, going for a walk, or calling a friend whenever I step away from a stressful situation and take time for myself, I come back with a fresh perspective and clear head. 

Developing healthy strategies before college to manage stress will not only make the transition to college smoother, but it will also make your college experience more enjoyable overall. Your high school years are the perfect time to lay the foundation for your stress management and find hobbies and passions that genuinely make you happy. It can be difficult to prioritize your mental health in college when balancing social and academic responsibilities, which can lead students to stop doing their passions and hobbies. However, it's only when you've stopped for a while that you truly realize how much they helped you in high school. Think about the things that you enjoy the most now in your week and commit to continuing those activities. Making time for your old passions, as well as developing new ones, will help make college feel much more manageable  - and you'll feel more fulfilled overall, too! 

Tip 3: Use the Resources Provided to You

There are countless resources offered to students in college. From tutoring services to counseling to career advising, there are endless opportunities to enhance your college experience. I didn’t take advantage of the resources offered to me in high school, both those that were optional and required. I wish I could have seen how helpful these services areas I would have been more inclined to use them in college as well. Instead, I had to wait until I heard about how helpful they were from friends and classmates. Now, each meeting I have with an academic advisor during class selections or an on-campus tutor before a big exam proves to be immensely beneficial. While our parents or teachers in high school will determine for us when we need additional support, the same is not true in college - you have to seek support yourself. Understanding the importance of additional resources and the best ways to use them in high school will put you one step ahead in college. 

On that list of resources, do not forget to include your professors. No one understands the course content better than they do. Additionally, professors can offer input on different opportunities on campus that align with your interests, possible career paths, the best studying techniques, and so much more. Similarly, your teachers in high school can help you master the content, find a new hobby, get involved in the community and apply to colleges. Forming relationships with your teachers in high school will not only provide you with a connection to home, no matter how far away college may take you, but it will also make you feel more comfortable interacting with your college professors. While professors would love to get to know each of their students, the larger class sizes can make that difficult. Taking the time to introduce yourself and go to office hours will go a long way for your success in their class as well as others.

Tip 4: Be Willing to Ask Questions and Advocate for Yourself

You will inevitably find yourself with a million questions throughout your time in college - whether it be clarification of a concept in class, directions to a building, or advice in navigating the social scene. Be sure to ask them.

This doesn’t just apply to your professors or advisors, but upperclassmen as well. They have been in your shoes and can give some great advice on feeling homesick, adjusting to the dorm lifestyle, joining clubs, and more. This is something I failed to do, but really wish I had done. Now any time I meet with a new freshman or high school senior interested in Brown University, I’m always eager to share the advice I’ve picked up along the way, understanding how beneficial that would have been for my first-year self. 

Asking questions is not always easy and definitely comes more naturally to some than others. I was never the one to ask questions in high school or willingly speak up in class, which made it that much more difficult to do so in college. My fear of saying something wrong or asking a “stupid” question held me back during my first year. I expressed these concerns during a meeting with my professor towards the end of my freshmen year. While I can’t remember exactly what she said, it was something along the lines of “How are you supposed to learn if you don’t ask questions? Everyone’s here to learn. Isn’t that the point of college?” From then on I made a more concerted effort to actively participate in class. As a result of this extra effort, I’ve found that at the end of each semester I feel like I have a more complete understanding of the course content. It can be daunting to raise your hand in a college class, but getting in the habit of asking questions and participating in class discussions during high school will ultimately make that transition easier. And best of all? Self-advocacy is a skill that you’ll find has benefits well beyond the classroom.

The Takeaway

It’s easy to overlook how our high school habits (both good and bad) will persist into college, but even so, that doesn’t mean we should. Taking the time before college to self-reflect on our own habits and work towards improving our weak spots will facilitate a smoother and more manageable transition to college life. Understand what systems you have in place that already work and where you have room to grow. Of course, there will always be a learning curve in the first year of college, but with these tips, students have the potential to have a pretty incredible (and successful) college experience - and who doesn't want that? 

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels


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About the Author

Sara Sullivan

Sara Sullivan is an intern at Beyond Booksmart and an Education Studies major at Brown University where she's currently a senior. Over the past several months, Sara has enjoyed working with a number of departments at BBS where she's had the opportunity to learn from many talented and dedicated individuals.

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