By Caroline Duda




One of the most difficult aspects of the high school to university transition is adapting to college-level reading assignments. Every major has them, and students are typically expected to read more pages in a shorter period of time than they were given in high school – all while maintaining solid comprehension of the assigned text.

The question, then, is what steps can current high school students take to prepare for the reading assignments in their near future? We spoke via email to several college students and recent graduates about their best strategies for succeeding on even the toughest college-level reading assignments.

Take notes, both on and alongside the text. 

College students will often have reading assignments in multiple classes, which can compound the challenges briefly outlined above. For Caitlin Grove, a 2016 graduate of Southern Illinois University—Edwardsville, one struggle was “really absorbing the information I was reading. I often found myself reading the full length of the assignment, only to forget details by class time.”

This is a common issue, but both Grove and Anna Booman, a first-year graduate student at Harvard University, found taking notes helped.

“I would read the article once and highlight any sentences that seemed to be especially important, and then I would re-read those highlighted sentences to try to understand the main idea(s) and write my understanding in the margins or on a separate piece of paper,” Booman says, adding she also recorded any questions she had about the reading.

Grove says she “outlined the main ideas and parts that most stood out to me” as she read. High school students can begin to employ these techniques now, testing and refining them on current assignments to figure out what techniques work best for them, she suggests.

Broaden your horizons – for reading material and assistance. 

According to Alexandra Denault, a first-year graduate student at Brenau University, one of the most challenging aspects of college-level reading assignments is “when you simply cannot understand the reading, no matter how many times you re-read the chapter.” Even current high school students who are accustomed to earning top grades in English class may find themselves in this position from time to time, especially as college aims to stretch and hone skills like reading comprehension.

So how can students prepare for such a complication prior to high school graduation? The answer is two-fold. First, Denault’s sister Catherine Floyd, a dual-enrollment freshman at Georgia Gwinnett College, recommends “reading genres that you wouldn’t normally read for fun.” Whether this genre is fantasy in preparation for a 100-level literature class or a scientific article for a 100-level biology course, Floyd says expanding your reference base can help to limit confusion due to genre-specific text features you may be unfamiliar with.

Denault says she was “blessed to have students in my class willing to help me understand.” While still in high school, consider who you might turn to in a similar situation. Is your answer a friend or a peer tutor? How can you ask for assistance, and what questions will best address your concerns or confusions? Particularly if you are uncomfortable asking for help, practice in advance.

College-level reading assignments, while challenging at times and unavoidable for every major, can be conquered. Using the suggestions outlined above, high school students can begin readying themselves now and start college with their best foot forward.