How to Mentally Prepare for College

student preparing for his daily commute
student walking to get mentally prepared for college day

Why Being Mentally Prepared for College Matters

Students across the country experience culture shock during their first year on campus. They’re thrown off by the big changes to their lives and the amount of work they must complete each day. Often, students from less diverse areas are surprised by how diverse most campuses are. On top of dealing with being on their own for the first time, they’re introduced to new cultures, religions, and schools of thought. It’s a lot to handle all at once. Thus, it’s important to mentally prepare for college.

Undoubtedly, college is an important step for many young adults. It helps them break into the field of their dreams, meet new people, get out of their hometown, and become independent adults. Considering the benefits, it’s no surprise that more than half of young adults choose to enroll in a university.

However, freshmen make up 30% of all college dropouts. Some discover that school just wasn’t right for them, and they want to pursue other tracks. But many new students simply weren’t prepared for college life. They back out as they feel stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious. Notably, 37% of first years report having anxiety, and 33% report depressive symptoms. Undeniably, some stress is expected in such a new environment. But you can prepare yourself to deal with it.

5 Tips to Mentally Prepare for College

One of the biggest things you should do to mentally prepare for college is to acquaint yourself with college life as much as possible. Consider talking to friends and family members who currently attend or have graduated college. Specifically, ask them about their first year and if they have any advice for settling in. Or if you plan on commuting, see if you know anyone who has chosen to live off campus.

Staying home or in your own home comes with unique benefits and challenges. You should get to know what your semesters will look like ahead of time to prepare.

Also, if you plan to commute or enroll in virtual classes or programs, try looking up tips for success or join a community of other online students. It’s a completely different world than traditional schooling but comes with great benefits. Notably, since the pandemic, many schools have continued to offer their distance learning programs. This change allows students across the globe to attend previously inaccessible courses.

Ultimately, research is a great first step to mentally prepare for college, but what else can you do? Keep reading to learn our top five tips.

computer set up for working
1. Recognize the Workload

Whether you attend in person or online, you’re going to have a lot of work to do every week. Over the next few years, you’ll complete weekly assigned readings, worksheets, essays, studying, and presentations in addition to attending or watching lectures and labs. Some assignments may only take 15 minutes, while others require hours of attention.

Shows and movies tend to focus on the fun aspects of college – like partying and friends – leaving some new students with unrealistic expectations. You’ll watch characters spend minutes on homework and weeknights and weekends living lavishly. In reality, you’re more likely to spend Saturday night in the 24/7 library doing research and eating fast food. Of course, making friends is still an important and great aspect of college. But it’s not all you’ll do, especially if you want to stay on track.

Students who don’t expect this workload find themselves overwhelmed by the unending assignments and homework. Thus, it’s important to have realistic expectations. Consider looking up syllabi that other schools or students have shared, researching how much time students put into a class, and asking around about the most difficult professors and courses. Knowing the workload that awaits you will help you mentally prepare for college.  

2. Explore Campus Before the Semester Starts

Whether you’re staying on campus or commuting, it’s a good idea to explore campus ahead of time. Drive out at different times of the day to test traffic conditions, find your dorm, and ask about the best food on campus. Also, some schools allow students to spend the night to help them adjust. Consider using the opportunity to mentally prepare for college.

You’ll feel more comfortable, will know your way around, and won’t feel so overwhelmed on your first day. And you may be able to make some friends by helping people who weren’t so well prepared.

Notably, this advice doesn’t just go for physical spaces, like the library and dorms. You should also look into what resources your school offers. Many colleges today offer mental health services, career services, tutors, crisis centers, and more. You can find assistance for a variety of issues, whether health, personal, or study related. Not all of these will have a physical space on campus but will be offered virtually. And many, but not all, of these services are covered by your tuition.

Don’t ignore resources just because you think you won’t need help. Remember, it’s better to know where to get help and not need it than to need help and not know where to get it.  

campus dorm of someone mentally prepared for college
3. Make Sure You Have Everything You Need

A common mistake new students make is that they don’t come to campus with things they’ll need. Obviously, you don’t need to be the person buying 20 notebooks or packing your entire bedroom into your dorm. But you also don’t want to be the person who comes to a lecture with no way to take notes and who has to spend $200 at the store their first night because they forgot everything.

Today, you can find many online guides listing what you should bring to your dorm room. From class materials to comfort items to basic hygiene supplies, you’ll be prepared for your first week. The same can be found for commuter students. Basically, ensuring you feel comfortable and ready for class helps you mentally prepare for college. You’ll have less anxiety and won’t have to worry if you have enough money to buy everything you need last second.

4. Accept that Things May Not Go as Planned

Of course, no amount of planning guarantees what will actually happen. This wisdom is especially true when it comes to grades. Many students who did great in high school expect college to be a breeze. But then they’ll get their first test grade back and find themselves with their first-ever C.

Overachievers are often devastated by lower grades. However, the truth is that high school doesn’t prepare us with the essay writing and study skills we need to succeed in college. Truly, some high schoolers don’t ever study and earn straight A’s. The same is rarely possible in higher education, especially once you get out of the introductory classes. And many English professors’ first goal is to get their students to abandon the traditional high school essay structure. Additionally, you’ll find that some teachers are incredibly strict with their grading, and getting an A may not be doable without hours and hours of work.

It’s almost inevitable that you will see a C or even an occasional F on your papers and quizzes, even if you put all the effort in the world into your work. What’s important is that you don’t take things too personally and you learn to grow from the feedback you receive. Indeed, having realistic expectations helps you mentally prepare for college and set realistic goals.

students mentally prepare for college
5. Decide if You’re Truly Ready

Finally, if you’re still feeling anxious before you even set foot on campus, you may need to reconsider if you’re ready. You can still pursue a college degree after taking a gap year or exploring other options. Taking time away from school can help you mentally prepare for college as you explore the world and live your life without homework for a while.

Many of us jump straight from high school to college without getting a break in between. But studies have shown that a gap year helps students succeed when they do enroll. Notably, they feel better prepared, more mature, and more experienced.

Of course, as with any choice, there are pros and cons. If you planned to attend the same college as your friends, they’ll be a semester or year ahead of you. And if you choose to defer your enrollment, you may lose financial aid. But the reality is that if you get too overwhelmed or burnt out in your first year, you may lose time and money regardless.

Ultimately, make sure you’re ready. You can take extra time to mentally prepare for college before you enroll. Make the best decision for you, your mental health, and your goals.

Final Thoughts

Lakewood University is an accredited online school that offers a variety of degree and certificate programs. We have rolling enrollments and asynchronous courses. In other words, you don’t have to worry about missing a lecture or running late to class. If you plan on enrolling in college while working, Lakewood University offers the flexibility you need to earn your degree.

Don’t hesitate – reach out to our admissions department today to learn more!