25 Things Every Student Needs to Know Before Starting College

The transition into college from high school, from another college, or from work — if you’re an adult student — can be stressful. For younger students, the stress and excitement often comes from leaving home for the first time. For older students, the stress is more financial, as you doubt whether or not you can afford to expand your college experience. You may not know which college is best for you, or if you need to attend a college campus or take on an online degree. In all cases, you can take certain steps to ease that leap into the classroom. You can make that step easier to take if you are prepared to learn more about yourself, about what you want from your college experience, and about your resources.

Know Yourself


  1. What is your learning style? Are you a visual, auditory, or tactile learner? Are you a concrete thinker or do you use your intuition? If you know your learning style, you can adjust your study habits to be most productive and build on your strengths. The Paragon Learning Style Inventory (PLSI) is a self-administered survey that provides a very reliable indication of your learning style and cognitive preference.
  2. Assess your skills and interests. If you know what you like to do, how can you integrate that experience into a career? At Mapping Your Future, you can learn more about how to assess those activities and how you can use that knowledge to create your goals.
  3. Know your goals. Why are you going to college? Every profession, from firefighting to CEO, can benefit from higher education. The wages are better for those who attend college, and the chance of advancement in your profession becomes higher, too.
  4. Prepare yourself academically. If you’re in high school, enroll in the classes that can support your future goals. Practice good study habits, and work on your writing skills. Contact your guidance counselor to learn more, and talk about the recommendations provided by ACT, The College Board (SAT), and the U.S. Department of Education. These sites can help you determine the best courses to take for your goals.
  5. Don’t let disabilities stop you. Although you may not have the same access to the same opportunities as your non-disabled peers, improvements to campuses and the addition of online courses and degrees can help you achieve your goals. You can do it!
  6. Obtain a high school diploma or a GED. Adult students can look into getting a General Educational Development (GED) certificate if you don’t have a high school diploma; try searching online for “GED certificate” and your state’s name.
  7. Take stock of your personal inventory. If you are in high school, don’t forget to include all your extracurricular activities. If you are an adult, your experiences may count as credits at some colleges. Learn more about College Credit for Life Experience (CLEP).
  8. Start preparing now. If you are in middle school, high school, or in college and thinking of a higher degree, learn what you can do to smooth your path. College.gov offers a road map for students to prepare for going to college.

Financial Issues

College Class

  1. Save for college if you can. Some of the resources you have available for funding college are listed below; however, it’s good to have a cushion for unforeseen expenses.
  2. Assess your financial situation. If you’re younger, sit down with your parents to talk about college and learn how they can help you. If you’re an adult, you also can learn more about how you can receive aid. In all situations, learn more about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The questions on this document can help you prepare for what you need to know.
  3. Use calculators to help determine your approximate college costs. FAFSA4caster can provide you with an estimate of your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is an index that colleges use to determine what types of student aid you may receive. Using your EFC, FAFSA4caster will determine what types of federal grants, loans, and work-study you might qualify for and will provide you an estimated award amount for each.
  4. Learn about grants and scholarships. No matter what course of study you choose, the government and other organizations have money available for students. Usually, you must have financial need, or you must have excellent grades to obtain any funds. Grants and scholarships are important, because — in most instances — you do not need to repay this money if you meet the funding requirements.
  5. Check out all financial resources. The government provides a list of all the resources you can use to find scholarships, grants, and funds for college.

Select Your School

Theological School

  1. Get to know different types of schools. You may have choices among public, private, professional and technical schools, theological or other professional schools, and distance learning. Choose what fits you.
  2. Begin to choose your colleges. When you do, learn more about the financial aid they can offer to you. Do they have scholarship or payment plans? Can you get a job on campus? Talk to the financial aid administrator at every school to learn all the requirements you must follow.
  3. Check your choice’s accreditation. If you attend a school that is accredited, your degree is worth more. You can use those credits to obtain more education down the road. Use Peterson’s to learn more about your choices.
  4. It’s never too early to choose college. In order to turn students’ college dreams into action-oriented goals, the American Council on Education, Lumina Foundation for Education and the Ad Council launched the KnowHow2GO campaign in January 2007. This multiyear, multimedia effort encourages 8th through 10th graders to prepare for college using four simple steps.
  5. It’s never too late to choose college. But, you might want to ask yourself some questions about your goals, finances, and support. About.com has some great questions with links to help adult students.
  6. Use credible sites to learn more about colleges and your lifestyle. One site, BrainTrack, is recommended as a great resource to learn about education, schools, and careers. School data comes from governments, colleges, and other publicly available sources, as well as BrainTrack’s own research staff.

Achieve Success

College Grad

  1. Learn how you might obstruct your own success. Choosing college can be stressful, and you might construct roadblocks to your own success out of fear of failure. Find someone to talk to. A counselor is a great resource, and so are family, friends, and older students who have been through your experiences.
  2. Learn how to manage your time. Through organization, keeping your eye on your goal, and knowing how much you can handle and when you can handle it, you can learn how to manage your time.
  3. Catch up on technology. If you’ve avoided computers or software programs because they seem too difficult, now’s the time to take some basic computer classes. Many libraries offer these classes free of charge. Other resources can include friends and family members who can help you learn how to handle computers for college. You also can find many online resources that are free and informative.
  4. Be wise about the number of credits you take, especially the first quarter when it is easy to be overwhelmed. But, be aware of the credits you’ll need to earn your degree…make sure you can earn them all within the time you’ve allotted to earn that degree (often two-four years).
  5. Ask for help. Your professors are there to help you learn. Additionally, they can help point you to tutors who might be of assistance if you feel overwhelmed by any given subject. Check with your college counselors, too; for instance, The University of Chicago has a tutor program just for students, available to students who wish to have additional assistance in chemistry, economics, mathematics, physics, biology, and writing.
  6. Take time for yourself! If you’re experiencing burnout, look back at all the successes you have had and all the roadblocks you’ve conquered. Take a deep breath and imagine what it would be like to finish college and accomplish your goals. Take some time for yourself and socialize to relax. Making friends is part of the college experience.
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