05/20/2012 11:14 am ET

College Advice: 'Remember That Time When You Couldn't Pay For School?'

By Allison Prang

Allison is a college sophomore at University of Missouri. She’s a college contributor for The Mash, a weekly teen publication distributed to Chicagoland high schools.

So you got accepted, huh? That’s great, but you’re still nowhere near ready to be a college student yet.

Anyone who has ever been a college freshman can tell you: The entire experience of first semester can be summed up in a variety of “that awkward moment when ...” stories. College is full of awkward moments, but they can be avoided if you take the last few months of high school to prepare yourself.

That awkward moment when you get the bill

For those of you whose college expenses will be footed by the folks back home, hats off to you. But if you need to figure out your own creative ways to pay for college, do it as soon as possible. This applies to basic college financial aid information such as FAFSA, but you should also seek out private scholarships. Find them through the school, online and organizations you’re involved in around town. Go the extra mile and talk to your local chamber of commerce, Lions or Rotary clubs and other similar organizations that may offer scholarships. It’s going to be worth it down the line when you don’t have to worry about much more than making it to class on time.

That awkward moment when you don’t know how to take notes

It’s surprising how many college students never learned how to take good notes in high school. A professor goes through a slideshow presentation? You don’t need to write down word-for-word what it says. Translate what your professors are saying into your own words that you’ll understand and remember later. You’ll be able to study more effectively, better understand the material and best of all, not get carpal tunnel. Effective note-taking can start in high school classes—that way, you’ll know exactly what you’re doing in that 500-person lecture hall. It also doesn’t hurt to record lectures to listen again later or find a buddy to compare notes with in case you miss anything.

That awkward moment when you’re unemployed

Again, if you’re paying for school alone, you’re going to need that part-time job. Start looking for opportunities before you get to campus. It’ll help pay for your books for the upcoming semester and will keep you from eating ramen noodles too often, which you’ll appreciate during those late-night study sessions. A job will also give you some extra money to put toward tuition and to have cash to go out with friends.

That awkward moment when you can’t pay for year 2

Year 1 of college is expensive enough, no matter where you go, and that’s only the first year. What about the next three? Don’t stop scholarship-shopping after high school, because that tuition bill isn’t going away. Make sure you’re looking at private scholarships from your college or even back home. There are a variety of organizations that give scholarships to continuing college students and not just freshmen. You don’t want to be the student who has to leave at the end of the year or semester because you didn’t do your homework on how to keep paying for your education.