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How to be better prepared for college

College is a major transition for graduating high school seniors. It is a time when teenagers become young adults who take on more responsibility and become independent. This, of course, doesn’t come without stressors: managing financial well-being, heavy loads of work, maintaining a social life while balancing work and academics. I, myself, am no qualified advisor or college counselor, but I believe the recommendations and resources below will propel college-bound students to better navigate their way through college. 

  1. Find alternatives to pay for college instead of taking out loans: 

Loans have been a traditional way to pay one’s way through college. With high costs of college tuition, many succumb to borrowing money and paying it back at a later time. However, students may take years to fulfill what they owe. According to Education Data, “The average student borrower takes 20 years to pay off their student loan debt.” Sometimes, by the time students graduate, their debt could be so high that they may not be able to pay it back. Instead of walking into this trap and facing possibilities of a damaged credit score, wage garnishment, or late fees, apply for a part-time job, whether on campus (which could be a federal work-study) or outside of campus. By all means, these alternatives may not cover all of your tuition so student loans may still be an option. But they should be considered as a last resort. 

Other suggestions: Spend less money on unnecessary stuff like Starbucks and shopping (I am guilty of this myself), apply for scholarships (local/state or those offered by the college), and definitely apply for FAFSA. 

  1. Take summer courses and join a program for academic support/guidance: 

Taking summer courses, particularly degree/major requirements, are not only a great way to give you a stronger foundation for the major you’re studying, but they also give you more room to focus on other courses during the school year. Although these courses cost money, they may be worth it in the long run. 

Joining a program during the school year, such as a First Year Program (FYP), comes with great benefits and opportunities. First of all, it’s free to join, you can receive peer mentorship where upperclassmen will offer study tips, share campus resources, and talk about other helpful information to help you acclimate to college life and move towards success. Additionally, since this program is typically a small cohort and you will be grouped with those who share the same major, you will be able to connect with others easier as you may find common interests or goals. There’s nothing to lose so try it out! 

  1. How to maintain a social life and high performance in academics:

Balancing schoolwork and a social life is a common dilemma in college. Students often experience burnout and poor well-being if they put too much focus on one of these areas more than the other. If you put too much focus on academics, your relationships may fall apart and you will have a lesser sense of support, which can lead to decline in academic performance, since general health and well-being are critical to optimal academic functioning. If you spend too much time partying or hanging out with friends, your academic performance will naturally decline. 

Although I don’t have the “right” solution or answer to this, here are my suggestions:

  1. Manage your time – Create a daily and weekly schedule, set goals and deadlines (this will prevent disorganization, procrastination, burnout and stress)
  2. Prioritize your health – Academics are important, but what’s more important is taking care of yourself. Otherwise, how else can you perform well in school? Make sure to get enough sleep (doctors recommend nine hours of sleep, but in college, seven is more realistic at the least), exercise daily, eat nutritious foods, and treat yourself to something nice. 
  3. Talk to academic advisors/counselors, other staff members, or your friends for support and advice. 

College can be overwhelming and stressful, and that’s normal. You’re being exposed to a whole new world and you will have to adapt to a new lifestyle. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to minimize stress. If you prioritize what’s most important, manage your time well, or even search for guidance from college counselors or friends, there is much room for enjoying your college experience. 

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