For most American teenagers, college in some form is considered an inevitable step after high school. Sometimes it can feel like you’re on a train chugging ceaselessly towards four years of higher education, and beyond that (hopefully) a job. But wait, you might feel like saying. I never asked for this! Stop the train, I want to get off!

What do you do if you don’t feel that you’re ready for college?

The first thing to know is that you’re not alone. There’s something called ‘pluralistic ignorance,’ where the group norms make everyone think that everyone else wants something, when in reality things are difficult and confusing for many. Just because everyone’s acting excited and carefree about these upcoming changes doesn’t mean they’re not as scared as you are. Reach out to people. Talk about how you’re feeling. You might be surprised that others are feeling similar things.

In a more concrete sense, there are many things you can do if you don’t feel that you’re ready for college. The first one is to take a gap year. We’ve written about gap years in the past, but it bears repeating: Gap years are perfectly valid courses of action for anyone who feels unready for college, or anyone who wants to work or travel beforehand. Sometimes colleges even force you to take a gap year before attending. Regardless, check with the college to make sure that deferring for a year is all right with them.

Gap years can give you some time to reflect before entering college. They can be a good way to slow down between the hectic final year of high school and the disorienting first year of college, a way to ensure you’re as refreshed and ready to go as you possibly can be before jumping into college. As long as you find something to do with your time—see the world, work, volunteer, or whatever else—gap years can be good. Be warned, though: If you’re just using this time to loaf around in your basement and play video games, chances are your good study habits and time management skills built up over the course of high school are going to dissipate fairly quickly.

But gap years aren’t for everyone. Some don’t want to be left behind and end up a year later than their friends. Some don’t realize they’re not ready until they’ve already started their first year. So what do you do then?

First off, make use of on-campus counseling services and support networks! There are likely more resources in college than there were in high school, and they’re there for you to use. Talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Don’t put pressure on yourself to have everything figured out immediately. It’s a learning curve, and all you can do is take things one day at a time, keep an open mind, and be kind.

Overall, remember this: Nobody’s ever truly ready, and everybody has the capacity to thrive in college. As Marcus Aurelius said: “Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”

Good luck, and go kick college’s butt. We’re all rooting for you.


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