Transitioning from high school to college is a monumental occasion. After spending an enormous portion of your conscious life in a highly-structured school setting where you know what’s expected of you and every rule you’re supposed to follow — both written and unwritten — college can often feel like stepping into the unknown. You might wonder, “Are the rules different here? Will my professors treat me differently than my high school teachers did? How do I begin to navigate the social life?”
If these and other questions are crowding your mind as you look forward to starting your freshman year of college, then you’re not the only one. Most people feel this way, and the encouraging thought is that almost all of them end up doing just fine. Although this can be a nerve-wracking time, it’s also an incredibly exciting time. And the best way to handle your nerves is just to dive right in.
To help you start college off on the right foot, we’ve compiled a list of advice for college freshmen. Whether you’re more worried about the academic questions or the social ones, we’ve got the answers you need to teach you how to survive freshman year of college.
These tips aren’t just for freshman, and you can benefit from them well into your senior year. For someone who is just starting out, however, and looking to form good habits that will lead to academic success, these tips are a fantastic place to start.
One of the major differences between high school and college is the level of freedom you have surrounding your studies. In college, you are entirely responsible for yourself. Professors will lay out a syllabus and tell you what assignments are due when, but they will not hover over your shoulder and guide you every step of the way. There will be no one to get you out of bed in the morning and tell you to go to class. There will be no one to remind you to do your homework or to get a head start on that paper. It’s up to you to decide when and how much to study, or when to begin an assignment.
Despite this, however, realize that there is help available should you need it. Most professors are delighted to meet with students and welcome visits during office hours if you should have any questions or concerns. Classmates, as well, can often help clarify points you may find confusing. In this way, part of becoming responsible in college is knowing when to seek out the help you need to become your most successful self.
One of the best tips for incoming freshmen is to get organized right away. Class schedules and assignments might start out slowly, but don’t let this lull you into thinking you can put things off. Assignments and projects pile up quickly, and before you know it, you’re already late on multiple fronts.
To cut down on stress later in the semester, start off on the right foot. Your class syllabus will be your guide for the entire semester, and you should treat it as such. Read it carefully and write out all future assignments, projects and tests in a planner. Every day, before you sit down to begin homework or studying, try to have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish in that day. This way, everything gets finished, and you stay on top of all assignments.
We can’t stress this enough. If you do nothing else during your college careers, do not get in the habit of putting things off. While this might start as just being a day late on one assignment, this creates a ripple effect that only grows worse over time.
We recommend plotting out how much time you’ll need for each assignment ahead of time. For example, let’s say you have a large research paper due on Friday. In your day planner, you might plot out that you need to spend significant chunks of time on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday working on this paper to get it finished in time. By doing a little bit of work every day, you’ll avoid the stress of having to write it all the night before, and the paper will be much better for it.
We’ve all spent the night before a test cramming at least once in our life. The undeniable fact, however, is that this is the least effective way to learn your course material. The information might stay in your head long enough to take the test, but you’ll forget it almost immediately afterward, meaning that when you go to take the next course that builds on this material, you won’t truly know the basic concepts you were supposed to learn in the previous classes. On top of this, you’ll be extremely stressed and possibly sleep-deprived on the day of the test due to your late-night cramming.
Our best study tip for college freshmen is to study a little bit every day. Each day during the lecture, take notes on the major concepts covered and later that night, take time to read over or recopy these notes, as well as the notes from the previous days. Work out a schedule or system that works for you, as long as it involves consistent studying during the semester. This way, when the big test comes, there’s no need to put in any extra studying. You’ll have already learned the material and can feel confident in it.
No, you don’t have to be best friends with every single person in your lecture hall. However, it is a good idea to have at least one or two people in every class who you’re friendly with, even if it’s just a person whom you sit next to and introduce yourself to once. If you’re lucky, you may find that you already have friends who happen to be in the same section as you. If not, you’ll want to go out of your way to befriend a classmate or two.
Having a friend or two in each class is important because you can help each other out. If you get sick and miss class, you can text this person and ask to borrow their notes from the day you missed. If there’s a concept that doesn’t quite make sense to you, ask your classmate, and they may be able to clear things up. In return, you can help them out in the same way. You’ll both be far better off than if you choose to go it alone in every single class.
This tip is simple. You can’t learn if you don’t show up. It might be tempting to stay in bed and sleep rather than go to class, especially now there’s no one to make you go, and often no immediate punishment if you choose not to. But resist this urge. You’ll quickly start to fall behind on the material, miss explanations of assignments, and fail to engage with the subject matter. Even if you do still manage to pass the class, you’ll learn far less than if you had actually attended lectures every day.
Most colleges offer on-campus tutoring centers or tutoring programs. If you're struggling in a class, or even if you're doing well but feel that you could do better, we encourage you to seek out these options. Too busy to go to tutoring? Maybe your school doesn't offer such an option? There are plenty of online options as well. It doesn't matter where you find your outside study help. The important thing is that if you want or need additional help with your academics, you're willing to seek it out.
While academics are a major part of your college life, it’s unrealistic to plan to spend your whole time in class or in the library studying. We all have to have a life, and we all want to make friends and have fun. Here are our best tips regarding what to expect your freshman year of college outside of the classroom.
When entering college, it can all feel a bit overwhelming at first. You may feel the urge to hang back a bit and get a feel for how things work before you get involved in campus social life. Despite this temptation, we recommend diving in right away. Waiting until later often does nothing but make you more nervous in the long run. Even if you do join in later, your hesitance can put you in the awkward position of being the only new person in a group of people who have all spent the last six months getting to know one another.
Worried you’re going to mess things up and join the wrong club during orientation week? Remember that just because you join an organization or start hanging out with a group of people during your first week of college, you don’t have to stick with them forever. Start out by being friendly to everyone and joining as many organizations and clubs as catch your interest. As time goes on, you can start to whittle down to the things you enjoy and the people you connect with. But it’s hard to do that if you don’t put yourself out there in the first place.
If you can’t afford to live on campus or if there is some other barrier preventing you from doing so, then there’s no need to beat yourself up about it. If you possibly can live on campus, however, we absolutely recommend it. This allows you to immerse yourself in college culture much more successfully than if you’re commuting. You’ll make friends more easily, since you’ll be around all weekend, and you’ll find it’s easier to be involved in more things if you aren’t spending time commuting to and from your home.
Coming to campus for the first time can leave even the most outgoing of us feeling shy. When you're feeling this way, your first instinct may be to leave your dorm-room door shut and to hide out by yourself, emerging only for scheduled activities and responsibilities. But we recommend you fight this instinct and challenge yourself to leave the door open. You'd be surprised what a difference this can make in helping you meet people and seamlessly integrate yourself into dorm life. More people will pop in randomly, more people will introduce themselves to you, and you'll learn more about the people who live around you. Most importantly, people will see you as someone who's open, inviting and willing to make friends.
One of the greatest gifts college has to offer is the opportunity to re-invent yourself. For perhaps the first time in your life, you’re surrounded by people who haven’t known you and your family since you were a baby. This is your chance to look critically at yourself and your life and make your own choices about the way you want to live and the kind of person you want to be.
Are your friends inviting you to come with them to a local amateur comedy night, and you’re tempted to say no because you don’t know if you’ll like it? Try saying yes instead. Has your professor asked you to submit your paper to a local publication? Say yes, even though you might feel nervous. Who knows what you might discover you enjoy if you give it a chance? College is a fantastic opportunity to explore new sides of yourself and let yourself evolve into the person you truly want to be.
The prospect of living with random roommates can be downright terrifying. Most of us have heard at least one horror story of a friend or family member whose living situation ended poorly. But try not to let these deter you. For every bad situation, there are so many more good ones. A random roommate is a built-in opportunity to make a new friend right from your very first day of college. On top of this, colleges try to match people they think will be compatible with one another, so the odds of you ending up with someone you like are quite good.
As tempting as it can be to shoot for a single room, especially if you’re an introvert, or to room with your friend from high school, we think it’s worth it to go for a random roommate. Living in a single room can be a lonely and isolating experience — although it can work for some. And while your high school friends are delightful, why not take the chance to branch out and meet new people instead? We’re willing to bet you’ll still see your old friends plenty anyway.
College offers up nearly endless opportunities to have fun and distract yourself from the stress of academics. From campus-sponsored events like dances, parties, sporting events, club gathering and college traditions to things you do with your friends, there will always be something exciting to see and do. And you should participate in these things. Throw yourself into the campus social life, make friends, and enjoy yourself. After all, you’ll only be in college once.
However, it can be easy to let all the excitement of college life distract you from the real reason you’re all here in the first place — to learn. It’s up to you to strike a balance between these two halves of college life. Sometimes, that means leaving the party a little early to get to bed so you can show up for class the next morning. Or it might mean showing up to the big game a little late because you wanted to finish writing a paper. With the right balance, you can have both a healthy social life and good grades. It just takes a little planning and effort.
College can be tough, and navigating it for the first time can be tougher. It’s a lot of responsibility but remember — you don’t have to go it alone. Part of being a responsible and independent student is knowing when to reach out to get the help you need. Are you struggling over a piece of homework? Type your question and upload your homework into our easy-to-navigate form, and we’ll pair you with one of our tutors who will help you work through the problem you’re trying to solve. The process couldn’t be easier, so why wait? Get started by telling us about your question today.