Tips for a Great First Year in College

The first year of college is both exciting and scary, particularly if it is your first extended time away from home. It’s tempting to forget all the rules and just jump into the melee. On the other hand, it may be tempting just to put on blinders and go from class to your room and back again if you are more shy.

Whatever your social style and academic inclinations, a setting yourself some goals and some rules of conduct will help make this important first year go more smoothly.

happy freshman

Dorm or apartment?

Your “home” at school will be important to you. Whether you live in a dorm or in a nearby apartment, choosing the location and your roommates will be one of your first responsibilities.

Do:

  • Check out the place to see if it suits you. Some apartment complexes for students allow pets. If it is important to you to bring along your furry companion, choose one of these.
  • Try to room with someone you know, but if that is not possible, choose an apartment that allows you to lock off your own room for safety and to keep your belongings secure.
  • Make sure the area is secure and well lit at night, and security personnel is available.
  • Keep your room locked.
  • Set rules early one for shared spaces, especially if cooking facilities are available, to avoid conflicts. Make sure everyone knows about the needs for keeping the apartment clean and tidy, not running up a huge electric bill, and respecting study hours.

Don’t:

  • Have too many preconceived notions about what the apartment or dorm will be like. You will need to keep an open mind.
  • Expect your roommate to be your best friend. Sometimes it works out that way, but often it does not.
  • Walk around campus alone at night. Travel with a crowd for safety, or call campus security to get you safely back to your building.
  • Buy equipment to take to a dorm without first checking out what is allowed. The school website should provide this information.

Social Life

Do:

  • Go out and have fun on the weekends.
  • Make friends slowly and choose them well.
  • Join an on-campus club that interests you.

Don’t:

  • Try to make friends with everyone.
  • Trust people too quickly.
  • Lend money to your friends. It’s a good way to wreck a friendship.
  • Hide in your room.

Class Schedule

Do:

  • Meet with your advisor as early as possible to plan your classes.
  • If you know people who are already at the school, ask about the professors and instructors to see whose teaching style would be most appropriate for you.
  • Ask if the degree you plan to pursue is marketable. Check out career sources and keep an eye to the future.
  • Take a moderate load of classes the first semester.

Don’t:

  • Take 18 hours your first semester or jump into a class for which you are unprepared.
  • Wait until the last possible minute to enroll in classes.
  • Take remedial courses you don’t need.
  • Worry too much about what major to declare. Most students will change course at least once.

Work

Do:

  • Work 10 to 20 hours if possible. Experience counts when you are looking for that first job post-college.
  • Be sure your class and work schedules coordinate.
  • If an internship becomes available, grab it! This is one of the best things you can do for your future career.

Don’t:

  • Work more than 20 hours per week.
  • Schedule a job for times that are impractical or will interfere with your class and study schedule.

Studying

Do:

  • Set hours for studying and stay ahead of schedule.
  • Buy a class scheduler and record assignments, scheduling intermediate steps for long-term projects such as term papers.
  • Buy a laptop recommended by the school.
  • Purchase textbooks before the class begins. Used books are fine if you can get them.

Don’t:

  • Get behind on reading and other assignments.
  • Skip classes.
  • Stay up all night cramming before finals. Study ahead of time and get enough sleep so you can perform well.
  • Try to go it alone if you don’t understand what your professor is talking about. Get help from the teacher or a tutor.
  • Wait too long to drop a class if you are struggling.

Health

Do:

  • Choose a good diet and avoid the “twenty freshman pounds” syndrome.
  • Get adequate exercise. Of course, if you walk two miles to class every day, that may be sufficient.
  • Get at least 6-8 hours of sleep most nights.
  • Get your immunizations before heading off to school.
  • Carry adequate insurance, and keep the card in your wallet.

Don’t:

  • Try to carry all your books around with you. It’s bad for your back.
  • Neglect a cold that lasts more than 10 days.
  • Go to class or work when you are sick. Don’t “spread the joy.”
  • Forget to wash your hands often.
  • Neglect to inform the school of health issues you have.
  • Your freshman year is the foundation for your college career. Enjoy it. Remember that you are in charge, and don’t let anyone try to make your decisions for you.