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How to Ace the Journey from High School to College Life

First of all, congratulations! You got accepted into college. You made it!



The wind blows and a sail is set in a new direction.

Today is a new beginning! A new adventure! A new opportunity to be the person you want to become.

You have a hand paving your own journey.

The best advice I can give you is to just be you. You attract what you are. If you are authentic, people will be drawn to you for this reason. If you aren't, why are you hiding?

Having worked in a university setting for 13 years, I have seen students do well and I have also seen students struggle. What are the challenges that students face when transitioning from high school to college and how can they navigate the path for smooth sailing?

According to the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), 31 million students enrolled in college over the past 20 years. In addition, research shows us that 70% of Americans will study at a 4-year university, however less than 2/3 of those students will actually graduate with a degree. Most importantly is the fact that 30% of those students will drop out during their first year of college. Sadly, those without a college degree are twice as likely to be unemployed than students who graduate with a degree. (

Receiving a 4-year college education can be difficult, between working, going to classes, and studying, in addition to paying for your own education. The cost for a good college education continues to rise, as well as the cost of textbooks.

There are several factors that go into a student not being able to complete their college education. Students have told me that college classes are difficult and they are stressed about homework and class exams. I've also seen students go home because of illness. For some students living on campus is a new world and they may experience culture shock, homesickness, or feel like they do not fit in. Students may also either not be academically prepared or they decide to go surfing, instead of attending class. Students need to weigh the consequences of missed classes when attending a 4-year university, as it could affect their grades with the ongoing academic demands of college life.

Challenges that students may experience during their first year of college could consist of a new level of autonomy they’ve never experienced before. These challenges may include roommate problems, or feelings of culture shock or homesickness, and may even bring about temptations of alcohol abuse and binge drinking, depression, or anxiety. Students that used to get straight A's in high school may now find academics to be more difficult. They may struggle to manage their time wisely; managing their time between academic and social activities.

You might heed this great advice from Uncle Ben, "With power comes great responsibility." (Spiderman)

New Student Orientation

There are a lot of exciting activities and ways to connect and make new friends during your college new student orientation. Take advantage of it! Find out what your college has to offer. Visit departments and find out who your academic advisor and career coaches are so that you can begin to map out your 4-year college goals toward a good educational path to the career of your dreams. If your college offers a summer freshman retreat and you can afford it, take this quest to new adventures and new friends, as well.

Now is the time to be a part of your campus community!

Time Management and Organization

What can you do to prepare for college life? If you are anything like me or my daughter on the first day of school, you’ve bought your textbooks, have a dozen of each: notebooks, pens, highlighters, pencils, study snacks, and your academic planner. Having an academic planner will help you keep track of your assignments and when they are due, upcoming exam dates, work schedule, and social activities. This is a catalyst to help you prioritize and manage your time properly. Don’t forget to schedule your downtime. It’s important to take care of you!

How will you stay organized and find time to study?

Do you have a study plan?

How will you deal with stress associated with college life?

Budget Your Finances

I remember my first year as a staff member at Point Loma Nazarene University. At the end of her freshman year, one of the students came to say goodbye to me. We talked for a while and I asked what her summer plans were. I wished her well and told her to have a nice summer and said, “I look forward to seeing you in the fall.” Her response was, “I am not coming back. I wish there was a class on how to manage your finances while you’re in college.” My heart sank. There is so much financial responsibility that goes into going to college.

The key is to think ahead and be financially responsible now, because six-months after graduation day you will be responsible for paying back your students loans.

  1. Set up a budget

  2. Eat in/learn to cook (I’m still working on this one)

  3. Look for free or cheap activities (check out free things to do in your area)

  4. Pay your bills on time (avoid interest)

  5. Get a job

  6. Start saving today (open up a savings account and use direct deposit for your paychecks)

  7. Get scholarships (if you can)

What are ways students can get support?

  • Seek counseling through the campus counseling services

  • Speak with an academic advisor

  • Talk with your resident assistant or resident director

  • Utilize campus tutorial services

  • Find out if your college offers a writing workshop to help you improve your reading and writing skills

  • Make an appointment with your professor during office hours and ask for help

  • Visit your career service for career coaching and resources to help guide you toward your career goals

  • If you miss a class, get notes from a classmate

  • Get a mentor

Tips for acing the transition to campus life include:

  • Take advantage of new student orientation activities. This is a great time to meet people and begin to make friends.

  • Visit departments so you know where they are

  • Ask questions about the campus clinic's services and costs

  • Make sure to obtain local health insurance coverage, in case you need to see a medical provider while you are away at college

  • Ask questions about your medical benefits so that you understand what is available to you and you can make informed decisions

  • Find out what extracurricular activities your university has to offer and sign up for a sport, get involved in a music group, or join a club

  • Attend campus activities, as well, such as school plays, musicals, sports events, tailgate parties, and networking events

  • Find a local church and participate in a ministry

  • Volunteer at a local organization

  • Weigh your options of getting a job, and if you decide to work, get a job on campus

  • Form study groups and find study partners

  • Look into campus opportunities where you can gain leadership skills, such as becoming a peer educator or student ambassador when you are an upper classmen

Get out of your bubble and meet new people. Don’t be afraid to say hello or talk to new people. Other students feel just like you. Today they may be a stranger, but with one hello they could become a friend for life.

You hear it all the time; don’t be afraid to fail. College academics are difficult. You may not be straight A's, like you did in high school. It's ok. It’s not about the grade, per se, as much as it is about what you’ve learned. Keep shooting for the A, but don’t get discouraged if you are human like the rest of us. You might find that you feel like a little fish in a big pond. That’s ok. Be proud of yourself. I mean, you got accepted into college. You must be doing something right.

College is where you can take initiative, learn, and take responsibility. Consider your options and make good decisions toward becoming the person God created you to be!

Build Your Network

Begin building your network today. Set up your LinkedIn account while you are in college. Don’t wait until you are a senior. Today is the day! Connecting with professors, staff, and classmates now can help you build the right support as you move from college life to career later.


I remember how busy and stressful college life can be. It is challenging to find time to study while working full time and going to classes. I would ask students how they spent their weekends or their holiday breaks. Weekends were usually study, study, study. Holiday breaks were usually vegging by the TV 24/7. Pjs and food was a perfect holiday break. I get it! You need down time. You need time to breathe in between the classes, studying, and finals.

Go ahead, do what you love and love what you do. Dance, sing, or watch TV, just don’t forget to have some downtime for YOU!

Other things you can do during your downtime:

  • Take a nature walk

  • Go to the gym

  • Go hiking

  • Hit the beach

  • Hang out with friends

  • Try something new

  • Try a new food

  • Buy a new outfit

  • Have a bonfire with friends and don’t forget the s’mores

  • Invite someone new into your friendship circle

  • Do something cultural, like going to a play or art festival

  • Dance like no one is watching

  • And most importantly, don’t forget to hug your dog. They’ve missed you! You can tell by their wagging tail!

As you move through college, remember to keep the end in mind. What's your dream after college? What are you passionate about? What are your strengths? Who are the friends that will take this journey with you and be your biggest cheerleaders? They might come in the form of a parent or other family member, a new or old friend, a church pastor or ministry leader, a mentor, or even your dog Snoopy!

Remember, everyone starts out the same on the first day at a new place. They don't know anyone and they don't know the campus community or local establishments. They, like you, are looking for a place to fit in, to feel welcome and accepted. Take a risk, be the first to say, "Hello!"

A new beginning awaits;

with new adventures and quests to take;

you are the author of your journey;

act in a way that will lead you to the best YOU;

God already created you to be a masterpiece;

Now you just have to believe in YOU;

Hang on; you are in for a wonderful ride!

You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Psalm 16:11

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