College is the assumed next step after graduating high school, but the transition should not be taken lightly. The earlier you prepare yourself the smoother this transition will feel and the more success you will have in your first steps towards independent adulting. Keep in mind too that having a plan in place before you even begin your first class is going to be a great reference for you when you find yourself in challenging situations. Being able to refer to information you have already gathered, and call on connections and resource you have already established will take the panic out of the hurdles you will inevitably have to jump over.
Understand Your Finances
Money can be uncomfortable to talk about, but you must. Have candid conversations with your parents or other trust adults in your life about the plans for the financial commitments of an undergraduate education. Not all parents are able to help monetarily, but most any parent will be willing to have conversations with you about tuition, loans, and spending money. If the financial burden is falling solely on your shoulders, you can take out student loans from a private lender to pay for your education.
Dedicate a significant chunk of time and energy to the loan research process, because student loans, and the terms associated, will be a part of your life long after college is over, so you need to make sure that you are comfortable with the expectations. Prepare a mock budget for yourself and determine a monthly allowance for the items you will need to pay for that are not specifically tuition. Budget categories like housing, transportation, social, and food all need to be considered and planned for. Doing your best to map this out will also highlight for you what you will, and will not, need a student loan to help cover and prevent you from borrowing too much or too little.
Practice Life Skills
Independence is a tricky blessing. One on hand, being on your own schedule and making your own life rules can be liberating, but if you throw all caution to the wind, that freedom can quickly turn into a burden. Banking, cooking, cleaning, and time management are all things that you are going to be responsible for so spend some time preceding your freshman year practicing these skills while you are still at home and have the help so you can learn the habits and lessons associated with them with the safety net of home still available.
Compare and Research Options
Spending your junior and senior years of high school focusing on your freshman year of college might seem like overkill, but the gift of time is never overkill. Using these last few years of high school to schedule campus tours, and research academic programs at the colleges you can see yourself attending is going to give you a lot on insight as to whether or not they are a good fit. The best part of these tours is they are often facilitated by current students, so you will get the opportunity to ask any questions that you have related to the college experience as a whole, straight from the source. Walking these campuses will also give you a feel for the size of the school, and help you to determine the environments you will most likely thrive best in.