How to Prepare For College in 2024: 10 Essential Tips

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn how you can prepare for college now to help ease the transition and get ready to thrive as you prepare for college in 2024.

[Featured Image] Mother and daughter embrace behind their car which is packed with the daughter's belongings as she prepares to go to college.

Attending college for the first time is an exciting next step in life, and being prepared can make it all that more fulfilling. From honing your skills, like time management and empathy, to challenging yourself with advanced classes and extracurricular activities, you'll discover numerous ways to ensure you're mentally and emotionally ready for some of your life's most unique and exciting years. 

This guide contains tips on how to prepare for college in 2024. Let’s explore some of the things you can do now to prepare for your adventures. 

How to prepare for college   

College is a critical time in a learner’s life. For many people, it's your first adult experience. It's the time when you choose a career, build knowledge, gain skills, and set goals for your professional future. Preparing helps you navigate all the changes for a smoother transition. Start planning now with these 10 tips.

1. Learn how to study properly.

Many students go to college and find that they need to learn how to study correctly or that the way they studied in high school doesn't exactly work in postsecondary education. The sooner you change your study habits, the more ready you’ll be to face college requirements. Changing your study habits in high school may even help improve your academic performance so that you can get into the college of your choice.

Study tips

  • Spread it out rather than trying to do it all in one night: Cramming doesn't help you retain material. Spread your study sessions throughout the semester rather than the night before a big test.

  • Form a study group: Working together with other students in your classes means you can quiz each other and help each other out when necessary.

  • Take breaks: You can only learn so much at once. Overdoing it can be counterproductive and increase your stress levels. Make time to rest between study sessions.   

  • Practice active studying: Simply reading your textbook or notes is ineffective. Active studying means creating a study guide, explaining the material as if you were teaching the class, or continuously working out problems until you understand exactly why the answer is what it is.

  • Break away from distractions: Where you study is arguably equally important as how you study. Locate a comfortable spot free of distractions to maximize your ability to focus on the material. 

  • Set a goal and follow through with it: When you start your courses, set a studying goal. It might be something like, "I will study every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 5 p.m. until 6:30 p.m." 

  • Treat yourself: When you do meet those goals, reward yourself. For example, if you're in the middle of binge-watching a great show, allow yourself to watch an episode if you meet your study goals for the day.  

2. Participate in extracurricular activities.

Universities, colleges, and other learning institutions appreciate seeing extracurricular activities on your application. However, you should choose the ones that truly interest you. Pursue your passions and interests. Get involved with sports or clubs at your school. Volunteer in your community. If you have a hobby or talent that you'd like to explore more, like art, writing, or playing a musical instrument, sign up for classes outside of school or take time to improve upon what you can already do. By choosing the ones you're passionate about, you're likely to stick with them, and they can help build your confidence.

You will also likely build important human skills needed to succeed in college and beyond. For example, you might learn time management skills as you attempt to juggle your academic schedule with your sports practices. Participating in activities can be fun to build communication, collaboration, leadership, and organizational skills. Conducting volunteer work can also help you develop your empathy skills.  

3. Start early.  

Giving yourself ample time by preparing sooner rather than later helps ease the transition ahead. Some students make the mistake of thinking they have to wait until their final year of high school. In reality, you can start as a first-year learner and spend the next four years making sure you are actively preparing for college.

Early on, start thinking about what you want to study and the schools you want to attend. Doing so can help you determine which classes to take in high school. It can also help motivate you to improve your grades or take more challenging courses as you work toward your goals.

If you're still deciding on the school you want to attend, research all available options. You may prefer an in-state public school or a private school across the country. You may want to major in a unique subject that only a select few schools offer. You or your parents may have a specific budget in mind. Find out which schools meet your needs and visit their campuses to see if they're a good fit.

4. Focus on your organization and time management skills.

Two critical human skills you'll need for college are organization and time management skills. Perfecting them before you begin your postsecondary education may help you improve your courses and prevent stress and burnout.

You may improve your organization and time management skills by:

  • Writing down important dates and deadlines

  • Creating and sticking to a routine

  • Setting daily or weekly goals

  • Asking for help from others when necessary

  • Making use of productivity apps   

  • Removing unnecessary distractions from your life

  • Making checklists

  • Keeping separate folders for each class 

  • Taking breaks and finding balance to avoid stress and burnout

5. Come up with a financial plan.   

College is expensive. In addition to tuition, you'll need books and other materials, and unless you're staying home with your parents, you'll need a place to stay, food, transportation, and more. Start looking into scholarships or financial aid. Knowing how you'll pay for it before you actually enroll is a good way to prepare for college.

In addition, understanding how to manage money is essential for entering adult life. Consider taking a money management course or a class that teaches you how to read a bank statement. If possible, get a part-time job while you're in high school. You'll learn more about finances, and you can start saving for your college career. It may also look good on your college application.

6. Consider what you want to do with your life.  

You don't have to know what you want to do with your life in high school or even in college, but if you have an idea of a major or career that interests you, this can help you prepare. If your school offers career planning resources, take advantage of them. When choosing your high school classes, take those that may help prepare you for a particular major or career.

For example, if you want to become a nurse or doctor, take as many science classes as possible. If you want to be an engineer, add some additional math classes to your curriculum. Even if you are still deciding on a career, diversifying your high school course load can also help prepare you. You may even discover a new subject that interests you.

7. Get to know your school counselor.

Your high school counselor is usually an excellent source for all things college-related. They know what schools want from applicants and can help you plan ahead. They can guide you regarding which classes you should take, how to improve your academic performance, and which college or postsecondary option suits your needs and goals. Harvard University suggests scheduling a meeting with your counselor during your sophomore year to discuss your options [1].

8. Challenge yourself.

Colleges look at the type of classes you took in high school as much as they do the grades you made in those classes. Taking and doing well in advanced placement (AP), honors classes, and challenging electives can impress an admissions committee. Taking these more challenging courses can also help prepare you for the more rigorous nature of many college courses. 

9. Search for mentors.  

Reach out and ask for help from people who have been there before and want to help you succeed. Admissions counselors, guidance counselors, alumni from the school you wish to attend, people who work in your chosen career field, teachers, and coaches—many of these people can provide you with some guidance and tips for preparing for and applying to college and ensuring your college career flourishes. They may even be able to provide you with letters of recommendation that you can use as part of your application. 

10.  Prepare for standardized testing. 

For many college students, your SAT or ACT scores are an important deciding factor for admissions committees. You'll typically take these standardized tests during your junior year, but you can start preparing for them even sooner. Taking advantage of opportunities like the PSAT can help you better understand how you'll do on the test. 

Try the following tips to prepare for the SAT or ACT: 

  • Take an SAT or ACT prep class

  • Make sure you fully understand the test format

  • Follow a study schedule

  • Enhance your vocabulary

  • Read regularly to improve your comprehension skills 

  • Practice writing essays

  • Take practice tests 

  • Focus on your weaker topics when you study

  • Set a target score based on your college's preferred range

Getting started with Coursera 

In addition to what your high school offers, consider taking college preparatory classes online. On Coursera, you'll find many options from highly-regarded educational institutions across various subjects. For example, you can sharpen your communication and academic skills with English and Academic Preparation—Pre-Collegiate, offered by Rice University. Or you can get more study tips and hone your abilities with Study Skills for University Success from the University of California, Irvine.  

Article sources

  1. Harvard Summer School. "How to Prepare for College in High School," Accessed February 26, 2024.  

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