How to Prepare for College/University as a Senior: 5 Prep Tips

By Nancy Schatz Alton of Your Teen Magazine


Recalling my subpar first college report card, I ponder how to help my daughter adjust to freshman year. While my senior seems equipped for dorm life, I wonder if she is prepared for new educational realities.

It’s not unusual for students to struggle academically during their first year of college/university, says W. Houston Dougharty, the vice president for student affairs at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York.

“The first year is not 13th grade—with students easily stepping up to a new grade level that’s very similar to the previous year,” says Dougharty, who has worked in higher education for almost 40 years. “There are many new realities that students might not have thought about ahead of time. The responsibility for academics now falls on the student, not the faculty member.”

But parents can help their teenagers prepare for this responsibility shift by sharing Dougharty’s top 5 tips to help students achieve academic success in college:

1. Practice personal responsibility.

Let your senior run his or her own life leading up to orientation. That means your teen needs to lock in his or her school choice (if this hasn’t been done already) by contacting the school by the deadline to let them know the final decision. Your teen will need to stay on top of when the deadline is and what materials need to be sent in, such as the acceptance letter, deposit, financial aid documents and any other required documents specified by the college.

Once all the information is submitted, your teen’s chosen school may be putting him or her in touch with current students, academic advisers, etc. He or she can practice responsibility by staying on top of completing that process before school begins! Parents can ask questions instead of offering solutions. It’s a lot easier for the shift to total personal responsibility to happen before the first year of college when everything else is new, too.

2. Learn strengths and challenges.

Senior year is a terrific time to look at oneself as a learner. Suggest that your teenager ask two teachers, including one they get along with well and one they didn’t hit it off with so well, the following questions: What did I do well in your classroom? What do I need to learn how to do better?

If your student needs academic help to prepare for college/university, now is the time to find that help, too. Many Sylvan Learning Centers offer Advancement Programs like Advanced Reading, Advanced Writing, and Advanced Study Skills to help teens get ready for college.

3. Forge new relationships.

During the first two weeks of classes, try to sit in first two rows, go to professors’ office hours, and introduce yourself to the dean of students. Practice an elevator speech to introduce yourself to people. That way, when you need help, you’ll have already begun building those important relationships.

4. Open yourself up to new successes.

At every college, there are so many brand-new experiences available to you. You can take courses in Swahili, the international political economy, and geography—at the same time! A year ago, Dougharty’s son never would have imagined that his favorite class freshman year would be Television and Mass Communications. Don’t focus on choosing a major right away. Instead, explore possible new interests through your class schedule.

5. Ask for insider tips.

When you arrive on campus, ask questions of your Resident Assistant and of the students who are helping run orientation. These students are in these positions because they’ve figured out how to be successful at your college. Also make yourself known to your academic adviser, since it’s their job to help you succeed, too.

Learn more about Sylvan’s Advancement Programs like Advanced Reading, Advanced Writing, and Advanced Study Skills to help teens get ready for college.  


Seattleite Nancy Schatz Alton is an author, teacher, poet and frequent contributor to Your Teen magazine at