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Surviving College: Tips for Freshman Year & Beyond

There’s no magic formula for college success! Of course, there are a few tried-and-true strategies that everybody knows:

  • Go to class
  • Don’t cram
  • Set realistic goals
  • Befriend professors
  • Join study groups

But college is never that simple. We interviewed three students at different universities across America to share unique tips and tricks that will help you make the most of your undergraduate experience. Find out how to survive college and discover new ways to thrive during the best years of your life below!

Freshman Advice for the First Year of College

Looking for tips for incoming college freshmen? The advice below will help you balance your coursework, make friends in a new city, work a part-time job, and all other aspects of college life you’re now trying to juggle. From smart time management and strategic test-taking skills to adopting the proper mindset for success, check out these ideas to take advantage of your first year of college experience!

Forget High School

Back of High School Graduate with Cap and Gown. Photo by Instagram user @lindseym_98

Photo via @lindseym_98

Consider this new chapter in life a time to start over! Whether you were valedictorian in high school or you struggled to get to class and turn in assignments on time, a new school means you get to reinvent yourself. Don’t coast on old success, and don’t let past failure keep you from giving 100 percent. Leave behind who you were in high school to work hard on your academic, social, and financial goals for freshman year.

Be Aware of Your Habits

Advice is not one-size-fits-all! From what classes to take first semester of college to which professor to take them with, there are going to be a lot of people helping you decide what to do. But when it comes to how to survive freshman year of college, listen to yourself over general recommendations. Dreaming of being a morning person won’t make it magically happen! If you know sleeping in is something you love to do, schedule later classes to decrease your chances of skipping rather than trying to immediately jump into new habits.

Rock Your First Day

Wondering what to bring on the first day of college? Try a pencil, paper, and a positive attitude! The things you’ll need for class will vary, and different professors will have different rules about whether you can bring a laptop or not. Regardless, come as prepared as possible by reviewing the syllabus for each class before the first day.

For Cornell University college senior Jessica Guarnizo, arriving early to find a friend in every class is one of her favorite first day of college tips. “In the first few days of classes, it’s so much easier to ask for phone numbers because you’re both new and willing to have all the resources you can to succeed in the course. It’s great having a friend you can message to ask for information about homework or to lend you their notes if you missed a class.”

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Get to Know the Professors

College Professor Speaking to Students. Photo by Instagram user @universityofga

Photo via @universityofga

You’re not the only one who needs to make a good first impression! The first week of classes is an important time to do research on your educators. Since there’s a limited time frame to add and drop classes, this tip for incoming college freshman is crucial. Be sure to meet all of your instructors during the first week, and consider reaching out to upperclassmen to see what they think about them. You can also check Rate My Professors to discover if your professors will be a good fit for your learning style.

Use the Free Planner

Staying organized is a proven college success strategy, which is why getting a planner is one of the most common tips for incoming students! During the first week of classes, go through each syllabus and mark down major dates for exams and papers. If you’d prefer a digital planner, check your university’s student portal or learning management system to see if there’s a calendar feature that will allow you to highlight big assignments and keep track of tests.

Learn How to Manage Your Finances

Finances can be confusing and hard to navigate, especially if this is your first time paying your own bills. Some of the best advice for college freshmen is to get educated on your finances now! Read up on the details of your student loans, download a budgeting app, and remember that college is a good time to start building credit and saving as much money as you can.

Make the Most of Time Between Classes

When you only have an hour or two between classes, it can be easy to nap, catch up on Netflix, or check social media. But dedicating these small pockets of time to reviewing what you’ve learned is an awesome college study tip for freshmen that can free up your evenings for clubs or a night out with friends.

For Northeastern University student Michelle Lensing, smart time management has been crucial in making sure she can do everything she loves. “I think my biggest tip for being successful in college is to get your studying and work done during the day in between classes. It can be so easy to lose track of time in between classes, but if you actually utilize it in a productive way, you’d be surprised how much you can get done.”

Check Out Other Lectures

Empty College Lecture Hall. Photo by Instagram user @peerless155

Photo via @peerless155

Are you and your roommate both in Algebra 101? Do they rave about their professor while you struggle to connect with yours? Head to class with them! Many 100 and 200 hour lectures have different professors teaching the same material. While you’ll still need to go to your own lecture to get assignments, checking out another teacher approach to the subject can give you a fresh perspective!

Surviving College for All Four Years

Now that you’ve explored freshman advice on making the most of your first year, explore these college tips for the rest of your undergraduate career! Learn how to maximize your resources, level up your study skills, and utilize life hacks that can help you work smarter.

Create a Personalized Study Schedule

College Student on Computer on Couch in Student Union. Photo by Instagram user @nyuniversity

Photo via @nyuniversity

Utilizing a study schedule is a tip for college classes that everyone should try! Between staying involved on campus, studying for pre-med classes, and writing a personal fashion blog, Jessica Guarnizo was no longer able to review notes from all of her classes each day. Instead, she implemented a study schedule that prioritized her more difficult classes during the week.

“On the weekends I would always have a day dedicated to catching up with my other classes and would even read ahead for a class or two in order to lighten up the load the following week,” Guarnizo said. “It made everything less stressful because I still got all the work done for my difficult classes and didn’t feel like I was neglecting the ‘easier’ ones.”

Take a Pass/No Pass Class

Did you know that not every class has to affect your GPA? Many universities will allow you take a certain amount of credit hours as “pass/no pass.” These classes don’t count toward major credit hours, but they can help you achieve college success if you want to take an elective course that isn’t necessary for graduation. Be sure sure to check with your advisor first before changing the status of any class!

C’s Actually Get Degrees

College Diploma and Cap. Photo by Instagram user @onefuturecv

Photo via @onefuturecv

While this might seem like funny advice for college students, there’s a good lesson to be learned here: loosen up! Like everything in life, you’ll experience ups and downs throughout your higher education. And while your GPA will thank you for striving for that A+ in every class, set realistic expectations and know that one bad grade won’t ruin your life.

Utilize All Your Resources

Students Meeting with College Professor During Open Office Hours. Photo by Instagram user @unlincoln

Photo via @unlincoln

Wondering how to survive college for all four years? Take advantage of the experts—and not just when it’s time to register for classes! Your academic advisor is a great person to meet with regularly, but it doesn’t end there. Does your college have study zones? What about the student resources listed below?

  • Math resource center
  • Writing center
  • International study office
  • Career services
  • Student legal services
  • Financial services
  • Health center
  • Counseling and psychological services
  • Services for students with disabilities

Whether your university has a couple of the offices listed or even more than above, don’t let free resources go to waste! Reap the benefits of higher education by taking advantage of all the help you can get.

Make Technology Work for You

College Notebooks with a Tablet. Photo by Instagram user @quizlet

Photo via @quizlet

No matter what you’re struggling with or the goals you’re trying to reach, there’s likely an app that can help you! Have a problem staying off your phone in class? Check if your school has Pocket Points, and start earning discounts and rewards at local business for keeping it locked during lectures. Want to study on the bus or before your shift starts? Download the free Quizlet app to prep for your next test or quiz on-the-go! Can’t organize your notes? Evernote can help you arrange everything in a way that makes sense. You can also keep track of to-do lists, download PDFs, and more. Whether it’s digital flashcards, pre-arranged outlines, or a specific type of calculator, a little research will likely uncover an app to help you excel!

Get Involved on Campus

The benefits of getting (and staying) involved on campus is important for your college career. Staying active on campus doesn’t just look good on a resume. Extracurriculars can help you connect with the people around you and discover a new hobby. Michelle Lensing found an easy way to stay active, meet friends, and pursue a passion when she joined the triathlon club at Northeastern University.

“Whether it’s an academic-related club or just something you enjoy, it’s a great opportunity to meet people who are interested in the same things you are,” Lensing said. “Most colleges have a huge range of choices—from business societies to club sports to outdoor clubs, there’s something for everyone.”

Go Somewhere New

College Student on a Study Abroad Trip in Front of the Colisseum. Photo by Instagram user @nikkipaige1396

Photo via @nikkipaige1396

College is the time to expand your worldview! Changing your address for the summer, a semester, or even a year-long program is a great way to do it! North Carolina State University student Nikki Paige was hesitant to study abroad at first, but then she loved spending time in another country.

“It’s important to learn about the world around you when you have the freedom to do so when you’re in college!” Paige said. “Take as many chances as you can, and don’t just travel every weekend, but get close and personal with people from other countries so that you can become a more well-rounded individual!”

If studying in a new country isn’t in the cards for you, see if your school offers an exchange program in America. Most universities will let you spend a semester at an affiliate school somewhere else in the U.S. Depending on your major, you may have to stay on your home campus for all of your undergraduate years. Even if this is the case, Paige said you can still discover new experiences and perspectives!

“We have so much to learn from people that aren’t like us,”Paige said. “And even if you don’t study abroad, do your best to meet and make meaningful relationships with those who are different from you, and you will learn so much about yourself as well in the process!”

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Enjoy the Moment

College Graduates Tossing Caps in the Air. Photo by Instagram user @beccczy

Photo via @beccczy

College goes by quicker than you think! Make sure you’re planning for what’s next without it consuming all of your time and energy. Remembering to stay present is an important success tip for students! You can schedule time for mock interviews and resume reviews at the career center while still catching student movie night or a late-night sorority or fraternity fundraiser.

Say “Yes”

College Students Seated on the Ground Playing Guitar. Photo by Instragram user @uofwa

Photo via @uofwa

There’s no better time to be spontaneous than in college! This is especially important during your junior and senior years as you might start getting too comfortable in your old routine and habits! In order to grow and learn as much as possible, Nikki Paige found herself trying as many new things as she could.

“Always say ‘yes’ when you’re asked to go and do something new—within reason,” Paige said. “Our college years bring up a whole new world that you didn’t have previously, and you can’t really find yourself until you create new memories and meet new people that help you to see the world in a new way!”

Remember that the foundation you establish during your freshman year can help you be a successful college student all four years! Looking for more tips to make university life go smoothly? Check out these tips for decorating your dorm room and keeping everything organized!

Tips for Surviving College

Four college students walking down hallway.
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