6 Academic Skills You Need Before Starting College

Getting into college is no easy feat. You likely studied incredibly hard, were extensively involved cocurricularly, and perhaps even volunteered and/or worked in your free time.

One of the reasons why you chose to go to college, however, was to up your game. You know you’ll need more education, additional skills, and lots of experiences to have the career — and even the life — that you want for yourself in the future. You want to challenge yourself to grow and learn in ways you might never even have imagined.

No one person, however, automatically adjusts well academically to college. The classes are more difficult, the reading load is substantially heavier, the assignments require deeper thought, and your performance may be determined by one exam, report, or paper. In essence: no matter how well you did in your classes before you start college, you’ll need to make sure you understand some basics so that you can perform well at the college level.

1. Know what kind of learner you are.

Do you learn best by just listening? By taking notes? By doodling? By participating? There are all kinds of learners out there, and knowing what best clicks with your brain is perhaps the most important skill to master, academically speaking, during your time in school. If you know how you learn best, you can cater to that style in all kinds of areas: what kinds of classes you pick, what kinds of professors you pick, which study groups to join, how you spend your time studying, and how you prepare for major assignments and exams.

2. Know what kind of environment you need for studying.

Some students learn best with lots of noise. Others learn best in complete quiet. Some students need a lot of people around or thrive in a study group; others prefer to study alone and find study groups a complete waste of time. There’s no right kind of environment to study in, only what’s right for you and your brain. Know what helps you best understand (and even master) your course material so that you can set yourself up to do well instead of trying to learn in an environment that just isn’t conducive to your unique needs.

3. Know how you best study.

Do you use flashcards? Read through your notes? Talk over key ideas and concepts with your classmates? Write things out? Listen to recordings of lectures or seminar discussions? Because everyone is a unique kind of learner, it’s important to know — before you start your college classes — what your brain needs to remember all that you’re being asked to absorb. If you know that you best study by reviewing notes and making flashcards, for example, you can focus on developing your notetaking skills when you first arrive on campus. That way, you’ll set yourself up to do well in your first semester, on your first set of finals, and even in the rest of your classes throughout your time in school. The earlier you master the skills you need to study efficiently and effectively at the college level, the less time (and energy and money) you’ll waste on systems that don’t work for you.

4. Know what signs indicate that you need help.

True, nearly everyone has a gut feeling in their stomach before they completely bomb an exam. But there are other clues, too, that you should learn to listen to. Are you missing more and more classes because you’re falling further and further behind in the reading? Are you procrastinating on a major assignment because you’re not completely clear on what exactly the assignment requires? Are you worried about an upcoming exam but just assume that things will work themselves out? Because college classes require a higher level of performance, it’s important to know when you’ll need help before things get really bad. Look back on the classes you struggled with to figure out what warning signs you should be on the lookout for.

5. Know where on campus you can go for academic help.

It’s unrealistic to assume you won’t need help during your time in school. Everyone needs some kind of help now and then; college is hard, after all, and when things get hard, people need help with them. It’s not just normal to ask for academic assistance during your time in school; it’s smart. Consequently, know what resources your college offers for students who need a little extra support. Is there a writing center you can go to? A tutoring center? A mentor program? When are your professors’ office hours? Knowing where to go for help can allow you to be proactive about developing your academic skills. You don’t, after all, want to develop the skills one needs for dealing with a failed class, having to repeat a class, or having to ask a professor for an extension on a major assignment because you were too proud to seek assistance.

6. Learn how to let go.

It seems counterintuitive, but knowing when — and how — to let some things go is an important academic skill set. There will be times that you simply cannot get all of your reading done, no matter how far you plan in advance. There will be times when getting an A on every one of your finals is just impossible. Learning how to decide which reading to skim, which final to let be a B, and overall how to let go of unrealistic expectations is difficult but important. You’re in college to learn, after all, not to be perfect — and knowing when and how to focus on the larger picture is part of that learning process. Success comes in a wide range of shapes and sizes, and learning when and how to let go can help ensure that you don’t lose sight of your college experience amidst the details.