College Study Skills to Master During High School

By mid-March, most high school juniors and seniors are in the home stretch of the school year.

There’s a tendency to let things slide, especially once “”senioritis”” kicks in. Before students completely lose their momentum, however, it’s important that they take some time to think about what’s coming next. There’s so much emphasis on the college admissions process during junior and senior year that it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. One of the most important things your student can do before they leave high school is to prepare for actually being in college.

What does being in college require? Primarily, it requires a great set of study skills that students are able to implement independently. College’s greatest gift–freedom–can also be its greatest curse, if a student doesn’t know how to manage their time and energy well.

We’ve boiled our catalog of study tips down to the top skills students need to master before they enter college (And that doesn’t mean they have to start during senior year–junior year is a great time to focus on building up these critical skills!).

Study Skills to Ace Before College

Advance Planning.

Although self-help gurus tell us to be in the moment, being able to plan ahead is a key ingredient in the recipe for success. Students should not only understand their responsibilities for each class and the activities they pursue, but how all those pieces fit together. What needs to happen when? Students should be planning ahead on a daily, weekly, and even semester or year-long basis. After planning ahead, students will be able to take the advice of all those gurus and spend their time and energy enjoying their experiences.


Being able to prioritize starts with students recognizing that they’re never going to learn everything in a course perfectly. What’s important is knowing what’s most important, and focusing their efforts on those areas. Understanding not only key concepts, but also what the professor values, will lead to better performance. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Avoid getting sucked down rabbit holes and spending too much time laser-focused on one small area of study.

Structuring the Day.

One of the biggest differences between college and high school is that in college, students have much more autonomy. The downside is that nobody is telling students exactly when and how to study! Students need to create that structure for themselves. The most effective way to do this is to break projects down into small pieces, set up regular study schedules for each class, and know how to make effective use of an open afternoon. Students will find that even though high school is much more regimented, they will benefit from creating their own structure for studying and coursework.

Consistent Execution.

Intrinsic motivation and self-accountability are what separate the highest achievers from everybody else. Putting in a little bit of effort every day, over time, is so much more effective (and less stressful!) than putting in a lot of effort at the last minute. If students can master the skills of creating routines and sticking to them, they can change the nature of their relationship with studying and work in general. Creating study routines, meeting with study groups at regular times, always attending office hours and review sessions, and even blocking off specific time to work on recurring activities are all great ways to develop consistency!

Asking For Help.

Everyone needs assistance now and then, and knowing who and how to ask for help is critical in the less-structured college environment. While high schoolers get a fair amount of oversight, nobody might notice when a college student is underperforming, which is why students need to be able to take matters into their own hands. The strongest students aren’t the ones who get everything right the first time, but rather the ones who can reach out to get the resources they need and set up relationships that will offer them support. This might mean visiting a professor during office hours, getting a study buddy, joining a review group, or going to see a mental health professional. Most campuses make all of these resources readily accessible to students. If your student needs help with college preparation now, you can always reach out to us, and we’ll get you connected with the proper assistance.

Separate Planning And Doing.

In Signet lingo, this is known as “”plan your work, work your plan.” Students should write out a thorough, deliberate plan for their work sessions which provides an overview of what needs to be done and allows them to see what’s coming next. By scheduling out the whole session, they minimize distractions and avoid spending too much time on items that are not high-priority. Once students have prioritized their work, all that’s left is to do the work according to the order they’ve set up! Students should not second-guess their plan mid-session, but continue to work through the itinerary they’ve created, taking note of anything that was unsuccessful in order to refine the process for the next time.

Own Your Experience.

While it’s easy to blame the snow day or the teacher who didn’t explain the quiz well, students should be prepared to take ownership of their own studies. Blaming others is missing an opportunity for growth. Instead of placing blame elsewhere, students should focus on finding solutions to whatever the problem is, even if it was caused by something beyond their control. Got sick the night before the final? Next time, avoid staying out too late the weekend before the exam, or build a cushion into your study plan so missing one night doesn’t completely derail the process. Got a bad grade on a paper because the professor wasn’t clear about the topic? Next time, clarify any questions before you start writing.

We want to reiterate that students should by all means enjoy their spring: the beautiful weather is refreshing after so many long months indoors. However, it’s a worthwhile investment of your student’s time to learn to manage their college coursework now. It will save them a whole lot of undue stress and pressure later on. By strategically improving their study skills now, students are setting themselves up to be more successful during their college careers.

Picture of Jay B.

Jay B.

Jay Bacrania is the CEO of Signet Education. As a high schooler, Jay won awards for chemistry at the state level in his home state of Florida, and at Harvard, he initially studied physics. After graduating, Jay spent two years studying jazz trumpet at the Berklee College of Music.

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