In my family, higher education seemed like the next step after high school, especially since both my parents had achieved college degrees. My parents made every effort to prepare me intellectually, but on the road to independence, it just makes sense there are some things you have to self-direct. I am now a college senior, graduating in May 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts from Wayland Baptist University. Looking back on the past four years, I have compiled a list of 17 steps, most of which I completed during high school as preparation for college—the rest I created in retrospect. These steps should help prospective and current college students to walk an easier path to and through the higher education experience.

  1. Find a New Church Home
    Even though you are going to college for academics, it is important to look after your spiritual health. An important part of your college search will be to visit churches in the area or to visit your church’s website to find out if there are similar churches near campus. Research this in advance so you have a seamless transition into a new church home away from home.
  2. Know Yourself
    Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses and ask your family and friends to help. While college is a time of self-discovery, it can also be a time of overwhelming peer pressure or hurt. If you have the humility to see your faults and flaws, while also thanking God for the strengths and gifts he has granted you, it will be easier to face the currents of college culture.
  3. Respect Authority
    Your high school years are especially important years in character development. Since home schooling lacks the same hierarchy as a public or private school, it can often be a temptation for home schoolers to simply see their teacher as “mom,’ and their deadlines as optional. If this is something you struggle with, work to train yourself to respect the authority in your life. This will translate to healthy relationships with the faculty and staff at your university and respectful attitudes towards your peers.
  4. Motivate Yourself
    Learn to motivate yourself to do the small things, like waking up in the morning. While it might be easier to roll over and let your mom do the hard work of extracting you from your lair, you are shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to future habits. Many college students miss lectures, projects, labs, and even finals simply because they did not wake up in time.
  5. Expect More
    Instead of viewing yourself as a home school student working on your own timeline, find ways to better your grades, meet deadlines, and develop skills. In other words, take advantage of your flexible schedule while still in home school and discover methods of studying and learning. During high school, I practiced note taking and handwriting, both valuable skills in college and the professional world. On top of that, you can better your grades by taking advantage of online educational video tutorials or by spending extra time outside of your allotted study sessions working with your teacher.
  6. Upgrade Social Media
    What do your social media accounts say about you? Begin to cull immature or possibly offensive content, or delete the accounts and start fresh, in preparation for having college recruiters and maybe even professors friending you. Get LinkedIn, a professional social media site that allows you to connect with people while showcasing your job, educational experience, and proficiencies. Make sure to use professional, appropriate pictures on social media, and always ask yourself what you are communicating to others.
  7. Learn Life Skills
    Inevitably, when you leave home you will be surprised to realize all the things your mom did for you—so learn while you can! If you don’t already know how to cook, clean, grocery shop, and do your laundry, ask your mom or dad to show you how.
  8. Develop Healthy Habits
    The “Freshman 15” is not an urban legend, and without health management skills, it can seriously affect both mindset and grades. A 2013 Purdue University a study showed a direct correlation between usage of the campus gym and a higher GPA, noting that students who used the gym at least 16 times a month consistently had a GPA of 3.1 and higher. Use YouTube for workout videos, create running/walking plans, or download mobile apps such as FitnessPal that track nutrition and exercise.
  9. Manage Time
    Even though you technically have freedom when it comes to the scheduling of your day, make an effort to create to-do lists every day or week, time schedules, and a master calendar. You will be surprised at how much time you waste. While you may not have a full schedule, these time management tools will aid you in writing papers, preparing big projects, and increasing efficiency. Eventually, these time management skills will become second nature—survival nature! One of my favorite tools for scheduling is Google Calendar.
  10. Organize Finances
    I know this all seems very adult, but you will also need to understand the basics of budgeting and creating and maintaining a savings account.
  11. Learn to do Long-distance Relationships
    During the time before you leave for college, talk with your parents, siblings, and close friends about your relationship with them, and ask them what they will need from you to maintain that closeness. Make time for phone calls, texts, and letters while you are away at school. It can be easy to forget about outside relationships, but it is important to acknowledge and maintain the relationships that shaped you into a responsible adult.
  12. Get Connected on Day 1
    When you explore your new college home, find out about campus organizations. Joining a group of like-minded people is important for freshmen, but especially essential when you have been home schooled for most (or all) of your educational experience. Whether you join the debate team or a bible study, you will have made instant connections, and possibly friendships, which will make your college adjustment significantly smoother.
  13. Volunteer Work
    During high school it is important to find volunteer opportunities in non-profit organizations (like your church) to help and serve. Not only can you discover and build skills, but you can also add to your resume (and social media employment profiles like LinkedIn).
  14. Develop a Resume
    Build a resume—you may need it for scholarship applications, part-time employment in college, internships and more. Ad pizzazz with an online resume creator like ResumUp.
  15. Get Your Foot in the Door
    Along the lines of finding a job during your college career, it is also important to research internships you can complete during high school or internships offered by or affiliated with the university you attend. Many jobs require a few years of experience and internships are a great start to that work experience.
  16. Expect Disappointment
    On some exams, you will not make an A, and some nights you may be up all night studying, and still not make an A. Life is not perfect, and you cannot avoid every disappointment. Instead, learn to trust Jesus with your shortcomings.
  17. Seek and Accept Counsel
    Parents and other trusted adults are great sources of information. Do not be afraid to seek and receive counsel from them as well. The advice contained within this article is not all-encompassing, but it was derived from experience and the insights of other weathered, reliable individuals. To be truly prepared for entering college, pursue the guidance of those you trust in tandem with God’s Holy Word.
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Sarah Van Der Linden is a graduate of Wayland Baptist University with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She is a member of Alpha Chi, Sigma Tau Delta, and Alpha Mu Gamma, and serves as a President’s Ambassador. She enjoys postmodern theory, writing poetry, and eating cheese.