Transitioning from High School to College: Things to Keep in Mind
by Sarah Tibbitts
In addition to the excitement of exploring your newfound freedom, making the transition from high school to college comes with its fair share of uncertainty. The good news is you’re not alone and there are ways to prepare. From practical advice to communication tips, asking the questions outlined in this blog will help ensure your transition to college goes as smooth as possible.
From academic to social changes, moving from high school to college brings up a host of practical questions and concerns that you may not have had to deal with in the past. Knowing the right questions to ask and preparing as much as possible ahead of time will make the transition feel more manageable once you get there.
Some key questions: What basic needs do you need fulfilled, and do you know how to take care of them?
Food: If you are an entering freshman, chances are that you’ll be required to be on a meal plan. Depending on what school you’re at and which plan you choose, this could look different. Some plans allow unlimited swipes at dining halls only, while other plans combine a mixture of meal swipes with dining dollars. When deciding which option to go with, here are some things to consider: Do you like to eat three meals a day? Do you prefer to have variation in where you get your food? Do you have any dietary restrictions? Does your class schedule allow you time for a sit-down lunch?
Laundry: Good hygiene is a really important part of being successful in a college dorm. Depending on your responsibilities growing up, you may not be used to doing your own laundry. Make sure you have everything you need to do laundry in college—such as a laundry bag and detergent. Then, investigate how it works for your particular dorm. Are there washing machines in each dorm or in more central areas of campus? Do your machines only take quarters (if so, stock up!) or can you pay with your student ID?
Class: More often than not, academics are the main reason you’re going to college, so it stands to reason that getting to class is the most important thing to know how to do. Depending on how big your campus is, it might take some time to get from one class to another or from your dorm to your first class of the day. Once you have your class schedule, take the time to map out your daily route, keeping in mind that it may take longer in bad weather such as rain or snow.
Gym: Exercise is a great way to stay healthy and regulate your mental health. Take a look at what your school has to offer when it comes to the gym and other exercise opportunities. Many schools offer group fitness classes that are included as part of your tuition and fees. Consider checking out if you can schedule a workout class into your day between classes. It can be a fun way to incorporate fitness into your routine and can also be a great way to meet new people.
Whether you’ve shared a room before or not, this will most likely your first experience sharing a room with someone who isn’t your sibling. It can be amazing (take it from someone who lived with her freshman roommate for all four years of college and is now going to be a bridesmaid in her wedding). It can also be overwhelming. No matter how well you get along, sharing a small space with someone takes coordination and communication.
Some key questions: What is already provided by your school? Who is going to bring what? How will you share/pay for them fairly? What do you need to discuss when sharing a space?
Sharing Space: Whether you’re rooming with a friend or have a randomly assigned roommate, sharing a room comes with new challenges to navigate. Your RAs will undoubtedly have you fill out a roommate contract, but take a few minutes before move-in weekend to decide what’s important to you. Being on the same page with your roommate about overnight guests, whether you’re morning or night people, friends sitting on each other's beds, etc. will be helpful in keeping the peace in your dorm room.
Know What’s Provided: Check with your University ahead of time to see what is provided and what is allowed. For example, some schools provide microwaves for each room, while at other schools this is something you might need to bring yourself. Colleges often have specific rules about things that you cannot bring, including anything that could be a fire hazard.
Shared Items: Certain large things that you both can use (or more, if you have multiple roommates) can be shared. For example, you may only need one full-length mirror, one printer, or one welcome mat. Chatting with your roommate ahead of time to coordinate who plans to bring what and how to share expenses fairly can make planning and packing much easier.
AC: Does your dorm have air conditioning? If not, you may want to bring a fan. Coordinate with your roommate ahead of time if possible.
For most students, college is your first time living away from home—and for your parents, it’s their first time not having you under their roof. Depending on where you go to school, you could live around the corner, in a completely different state, or maybe even a different time zone. Making a plan with your parents, guardians, and loved ones to set expectations for how and when you’ll be in touch is important.
Some key questions: How often are you going to be in touch and how? When do you plan to see each other? What are your boundaries?
Grades: It’s important to be on the same page as your parents (and parents, you with your children) about how grades and grade sharing will work now that you’re a college student. In high school, it is typical for many parents to have access to their student’s grades at any time. Some parents—especially if they are helping pay tuition—may expect the same in college. Others may want to use this as an opportunity to give their child more independence. Make sure you’re clear up front on who has access to your grades and when you’re going to check in or share.
Phone Calls: Most high school students live with at least one parent or guardian and are likely in the habit of seeing and talking to them every single day. College can be a big change in this way, so have a conversation about this ahead of time. Some students and parents may opt for a longer call or FaceTime once or twice a week, while others may prefer more frequent but shorter check ins. Understanding what each of your communication needs are can help ensure that you both feel like you’re talking enough while not feeling overburdened.
Visits: It’s also vital that you and your parents are on the same page about visits. If you are living close to home and don’t want any “surprise” visits, be sure to have a respectful conversation about that ahead of time. Both parents and students may find it helpful to know the next time they are going to see one another, so take a look at the academic calendar and consider planning visits in advance. For example, if you both know you’re going to see each other during fall break, that can feel a lot less daunting than just going off to college with “no return in sight.” Some students who live close to home during college like to use that as an opportunity to go home many weekends. While this can be fun—and is important for some people—consider waiting until a few months into the school year to make this a pattern, as this will give you time to get settled into some routines on campus and make new friends.
Keeping in Touch
While keeping in touch with family is crucial, staying connected with friends from home can also really help with the big transition to college.
Some key questions: How do you navigate friends in other time zones? How do you stay connected even if your experiences are different? How do you avoid staying “stuck” in high school?
Staying in Touch: Making time to call, FaceTime, or even just text with friends from back home is an important part of the transition. You’re in a completely new environment with all new people, and staying connected to close friends from home can be incredibly comforting. Try to communicate with your friends about when would be good times to chat (especially if you’re in different time zones) and be open with them about how you’re handling the transition. Friends you’ve grown up with may be able to provide a level of comfort and insight that only those that know you really well can.
Different or Similar: The college experience—especially the transition from high school to college—can look very different from person to person, depending on factors like where you go to school, if you took a gap year, if you are living at home or in a dorm, etc. You may find yourself having very similar experiences to your friends from home. Maybe you’re all liking your classes, making friends easily, and handling the transition well. However, it’s totally possible—and very much okay—if you are adjusting at a different pace than your friends, or enjoying certain elements of your college environment that are different from where your high school friends chose to go. Give yourself time to adjust and recalibrate to your surroundings without trying to constantly compare.
Branching Out: As previously stated, the transition from high school to college can take time. For this reason, freshmen sometimes have a tendency to cling to things or people they know, rather than branching out. This can especially be the case at large state schools, where many people from the same high school all choose to go. To be clear: there is nothing wrong with remaining friends with people from high school while in college. In fact, it can be very rewarding and extremely fun. However, it’s really important to branch out and give yourself a chance to make some new friends in your new college environment. Ask yourself: Have I met everyone on my floor yet? Have I made a new friend in class, or in the dining hall?
Sarah Tibbitts is a 2020 graduate of The Ohio State University and currently works as a Social Justice Fellow at Hillel at Stanford University.