Imagine you’re a goldfish in a 10-gallon tank. You’re the master of all you survey, from the waving greenery to the faux ancient ruins. One day, you’re moved to an 80-gallon tank with far more room to swim and lots of new fish species and decorations. How would you feel?
Obviously, you’re not a goldfish. But you’re going to experience something similar when you get to college. You’ll be transported to a world quite foreign from high school. So much to explore on campus, so many people to meet, plenty of diverse cultures to investigate — and you need to be ready to dive in. Even if it’s still a few years away, your goal should be to make the high school-to-college transition as smooth as possible.
Prepping for Challenges Outside the Classroom
High school prepares college-bound students for the academic rigors of the college classroom, but it can’t fully replicate the intensity of the increased freedom of campus life.
Gone are the days of having Mom check in with you about homework every night or Dad getting you out of bed so you won’t be late for your part-time job. You’re on your own, discovering how to do your own laundry, which social events to attend, how to forge new friendships, and what to do when you’re faced with a cafeteria filled with “bad” options. And this doesn’t even address the workload or the expectations of self-responsibility.
See why the transition can get intense? That’s not to say it isn’t exciting — it really is. You just have to make sure you prepare yourself for the challenge so you keep yourself emotionally balanced and manage your time like a boss.
Can you plan for everything? Unfortunately, no. But you can do a few things during high school to ease your move to the college world.
4 Ways Teens Can Prepare for Campus Life
1. Attend a pre-college summer program.
Most high schoolers spend summers socializing or working. However, you can get ahead of your college changeover by attending a pre-college summer camp or program that simulates the college experience by taking place on a campus. You’ll see what the environment is like and get a taste of your preferred field, major, or interests. Plus, you might even have the opportunity to earn college credit.
2. Consider an internship — they’re not just for college students.
How better to train for a field than to actually do it? Internships allow you to explore a profession and perhaps gain a valuable mentor. Working in a business environment as an intern will give you a leg up on socializing with a diverse group of people, integrating what you already know with a new role, and connecting all the dots from high school. You’ll also keep learning throughout the warmer months, even if it isn’t formal learning.
3. Use travel as a way to exercise independence.
Talk with your parents about opportunities for independent travel. Maybe this is a day trip with a trusted friend to the next town over, or maybe you plan a day alone on your next vacation together. This type of experience will stretch you beyond your comfort zone, especially if you’ve relied on your parents as your sole guiding force (as most teens have). Just be sure to keep Mom and Dad in the loop — they’ll want to make sure you’re staying safe.
4. Discuss college with Mom, Dad, your siblings, and family friends.
Your family members who have been to college can give you insights you might never have considered. Get in touch with them for advice about living on a campus. What were their biggest diversions from getting the workload done on time? How did they manage all the “noise” of opportunities left and right? Did they ever change their majors midstream? Why? Chances are strong that you’ll get some amazing feedback.
What you do in the classroom these four years may get you on campus, but it’s up to you to expose yourself to ideas and adventures that will make the change less jarring. Unlike a pet goldfish, you have a say over where you go and what you do. Get the feel for campus life before you drop in, and you’ll set the course for a successful college experience.
Steve Robertson is the CEO of Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs, an organization specializing in youth-to-adult programming that turns curiosity into passion and skill. Steve has been with the company for 18 years. In this role, his primary responsibility is to cultivate a culture that results in memories lasting a lifetime.