I’ve seen the process of ‘growing up’ to mean acceptance, and there’s no situation where you face more demand for acceptance than the transition from high school to college. At the transition point, your mindset has gone from “What do I want to do when I grow up?” to “Oh god, I’m growing up now. What do I do?” My advice for ‘what to do’ is to accept and embrace the changes that occur inside and outside the classroom, and inside and outside yourself.
Accept that learning happens on your own, not in the classroom.
This is the big one. Professors plan class under the assumption that you’ve already done the assignments and readings due for that day. The assignments/readings aren’t the reinforcements for the lecture you learned from in class (like in high school). The lecture is the reinforcement of the assignments/readings you learned from on your own. There’s little class time spent reviewing the previous lesson. You’re expected to have reviewed the previous lesson on your own before coming to class.
Accept it’s not the professor’s fault if you aren’t lecture on all the material.
That’s your job. Don’t be appalled when the end of class finally arrives and your professor says, “We didn’t get to the last third of Chapter 16, so review on your own before next class.” Again, learning happens on your own and, unfortunately, so does reviewing if the clocks don’t run in your favor (which they rarely do in college). Professors rarely offer to leave material off of exams; they have strict standardized curricula to follow, whereas high school teachers have more flexibility in their curricula.
Accept that you, not teachers, are accountable for you keeping up in class.
In high school, teachers would faithfully take attendance and note to themselves to put aside any handouts for absent students when they return. Teacher would tell you what you missed and help you reschedule a test or quiz. In college, you’re expected to email professors in advance if you won’t be making it to class, and when you return, beware. Never ask, “What did we do last time?” or “Did we do anything important?” Professors supply a syllabus so you always know what you’re missing, and of course everything on the syllabus is important: they designed the class. It’s your responsibility to know and make up what you missed and actively catch up on your own time.
Accept you are completely responsible if you want to achieve any academic success.
In high school, if you were falling behind, teachers would notice. They meet with your parents. Counselors may become involved. They’ll try to make a plan in order to make circumstances work for you. They always want you to graduate (and on time). You can ‘skate by’ with minimal effort. In college, you research and execute your graduation requirement plan: what classes to take, how many, when they’re offered, how much credit you’ll receive, internships, research opportunities. You do this by looking through department websites, arranging meetings, outlining a long-term schedule on your own time. My own advisor refuses to meet with students unless they’ve filled out a major requirement plan. If you don’t actively work out a plan for yourself, years of your life (and money) with amount to nothing (except maybe debt).
Accept that your actions have BIG financial consequences.
High school is mostly free. If you fail out of laziness or any other reason, you can try again (and again and again). College can be a parent’s (or parents’) entire life savings. If you fail out of laziness, you have effectively spent an entire life (or lives) of work on nothing.
Accept that your health is completely your responsibility.
In high school, you tell your parents when you’re sick. They bring you to the doctor or send you to school anyway. At school, you get sent to the nurse when your coughing fits get too distracting. In college, you decide to bring yourself to health services. If not, you suffer until the sickness goes away, or gets too severe that you’re brought there in a campus police car. Pro-tip: don’t end up in a campus police car for any reason.
Accept you have control of your own time.
High school has a very structured schedule. Go from class to class all day with lunch in the middle, extracurriculars, home, homework, do as you please, then sleep, wake, and repeat. College is an unstructured and highly irregular schedule. Classes start at ungodly hours and end at more ungodly hours, with random breaks in between. In that time you have to manage academic events outside the classroom; meetings with study groups, advisors, professors; extracurricular activities; eating times (always set aside time to eat); when to do work/study; when to socialize; when to sleep in order to be prepared to do all the same things tomorrow.
It’s a lot to accept and I can assure you, you will probably fail to accept all of these things in your first semester. Maybe your entire first year. To be honest, I don’t think I even realized all of these things until more than halfway through sophomore year. As a junior in my second semester, I’m still learning to fit these acceptances into my life. It will all seem too much to handle at first, but pro-tip: accept that it takes time.