1. The weather is your new dress code.
In high school, I was subjected to one of those infamous fingertip-length-shorts kind of dress codes; now I have complete freedom of expression. Where I was fussing over finding a cardigan to conceal my scandalous shoulders in high school, I now see college students wearing anything they want to class, from crop tops to Halloween costumes. Suddenly, I can walk around in a dress without looking over my shoulder every five seconds, worried that a security guard will force me to change into gray sweatpants.
However, college is not in one large, temperature-controlled building like high school is. Even a small school like mine requires walking considerable outdoor distances to class, and this means you’d better dress for the weather. If it is baking hot (even in the winter, which can happen here in the South), leggings and boots are no longer okay. And I learned very quickly that rain boots are an absolute necessity if you don't want wet socks on wet days.
Basically, don’t worry about pushing the limits of fashion, but mind the sky.
2. Curfew disappears.
In college, you can stay out until morning and your parents won't ask where you've been. As a matter of fact, no one will. This was so difficult for me to get used to at the beginning of the semester that I texted my roommate a couple of times to let her know I was going to be out late. Here was the obvious twist: she didn’t care. In college, no one wants a play-by-play anymore. As long as the decisions you make are not life-altering mistakes or drastic GPA-killers, you are expected to make and deal with them on your own.
Side note: call your mom anyway. Or your dad, or your family, or your dog. They may not need to know where you are every second, but they’ll miss you (and worry) if you cut off all contact.
3. Speaking up is a requirement.
This one is more specific to small liberal arts schools, but I’m going to mention it anyway because it was such a huge adjustment for me. In high school, discussion-based classes and participation grades were never a thing. I could haul my introvert self to class and back every day, complete projects and study well at home, and earn my good grades even if I never made friends with a teacher. In college, I was suddenly expected to ruminate aloud on the intricacies of Plato’s Symposium and the meaning of Beckett’s Endgame. Intimidated by what seemed to be an insanely high expectation, I often contributed nothing to class discussions, and my grades suffered for it. Nowadays (and by nowadays of course I mean my second semester), I’m forcing myself to speak more and finding that I don’t sound as dumb as I had feared.
So, I would advise any shy people coming to college to be ready to step out of their comfort zones. Also, keep in mind that some people make the most random, unhelpful, and even strange comments in class. Even if you sound weird, remember that you won't be the only one and that your statement will likely be forgotten by the next class anyways.
4. You can continue your high school activities, but it might be in a new way.
In college, you will be able to continue the activities you like and are good at, with the level of commitment you prefer. Just keep in mind that you’re not going to have the same experience you had in high school. This can be a very good thing! In my case, I switched from being on a competitive dance team to learning to swing dance in a casual, club setting. I got to try something new that's still related to what I was doing in high school.
For you, this might take the form of joining jazz band instead of marching band or taking a running class instead of being on the cross country team. You also have the option of trying something completely new, maybe something you didn't even know existed - what about a club entirely devoted to feeding cats? Look hard for groups you want to be part of, and remember to keep up with the activities you enjoy.
5. You have more time to manage and bigger projects to tackle.
In college, eight hours of class a day becomes three. You can eat and wake up and do homework whenever you want. But never forget that you really don't have more free time; you have more work time. Procrastinating can become more of a problem, since there are fewer assignments, and each is a larger percent of your final grade. Where before you could fail a test and still end up with an A if you worked hard enough, now messing up on one assignment can really cost you. So, if you’re stuck starting a ten-page report the day before it’s due, that might have serious consequences.
In a perfect world, you would manage your time meticulously and get everything done early. I know people who do this and am stunned by their mystical work ethic. You might not be one of those people, and that’s fine. Just do your best, keep on top of most things, and ask for help when you need it. And please, please don't spend entire days in your bed watching Netflix.
6. Having fun is a must!
There are so many opportunities to meet people, to explore, and to learn in college. Take advantage of them! Go to a play, take a class that has nothing to do with your major, drive around your local city or town, and accept free food when it’s offered to you. Enjoy yourself, because I’ve been told this time goes by pretty fast.