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College Survival Guide for Freshman Year & Beyond

Transitioning to college life? Whether you’re going for an undergraduate or graduate degree, there’s no magic formula for college success. And with the pressure to balance your coursework on top of moving to a new city, living away from your parents, and possibly working a part-time job, the college experience can seem overwhelming. Here are some ways to thrive during your university career, from freshman year to graduation!

Prep for Classes Early

College can be a stressful time, even before your first day of classes. Ease your nerves by registering for college classes on or ahead of time. If you get waitlisted, don’t worry! Email the professor and see if they’ll still let you attend class while you wait for an opening, or you can schedule another class as a backup. Another college success tip for scheduling classes is balancing your course load. Try not to cram all your hard classes into one semester—if you mix in general education requirements, you’re less likely to get academic burnout. And before the first day, visit campus and map out your classes—what buildings they’re in, how far away they are from each other, and if necessary, where you need to park—so you know where you’re going and how long it’ll take you to get there.

Go to Class

Two students working with laptops. Photo by Instagram user @simiinstitute

Photo via @simiinstitute

It may seem like a no-brainer, but make a point to attend all of your college classes during the semester. It can be easy to fall into the habit of skipping a class or two during the week if you want to sleep in or use the time to finish assignments from other classes. However, attending class is a college success tip to help you stay up-to-date on material, create a better relationship with your professors and classmates, and add structure to your day. If you know you’re a night owl or you don’t like waking up early, schedule classes in the afternoons and evenings to decrease your chances of oversleeping and skipping class.

Participate in Discussions

A professor at the front of a class calling on a student with her hand raised. Photo by Instagram user @fm_college

Photo via @fm_college

Once you’re in class, it’s essential to stay present, since many lectures are the place to learn the information you need—especially in most intro courses. When you’re in class, sitting at or near the front of your classroom encourages participation and boosts your grades. You may also practice effective note-taking strategies like using your own words and including color to help you retain what you’ve learned. Participating in discussions and asking questions not only keeps you engaged to better learn the material, but also helps you get to know your professors and classmates! Plus, if you miss a day, knowing your classmates makes it easier to ask if they can send you that lesson’s notes.

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Don’t Stress About Your First Day

Wondering what to bring on the first day of college? Try a pencil, paper, and a positive attitude! The best way to prepare for your first day of college is to review the syllabus for each of your classes and take notes on what you might need—particularly on technology use and required school supplies. As you get further in your college career, you may find more is expected on your first day of classes, like pre-semester readings or assignments, so get in the habit of reading the syllabus in advance.

Get to Know Your Professors

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

Photo via @universityofga

The first week of classes is an excellent time to get to know your educators. Throughout your college experience, they can be helpful resources for internships, job recommendations, or research opportunities. This college success tip is also good for incoming college freshmen who are unsure about the classes and professors they’ve chosen. You can always check Rate My Professors to discover if your professor will be a good fit for your learning style.

Set Expectations with Your Roommates

Two girls sitting on a dorm room bed smiling at each other. Photo by Instagram user @willamette_u

Photo via @willamette_u

Living on campus? Unless you were fortunate enough to get a room to yourself, chances are you’ll live with a roommate your freshman year and possibly beyond. Sharing a room may be a completely new concept for some, so a useful tip for college students is to set boundaries and communicate effectively with your roommates. So, while you and your roommates can decorate your dorm together and hang out, it’s still important to set rules for dorm organization and expected noise levels throughout the day. If you want an extra pair of ears, ask your RA or other residence hall staff to sit in and guide the chat.

Keep Track of Important Dates

Staying organized is a proven college success strategy, which is why getting a planner is one of the most common tips for college students! During the first week of classes, go through each syllabus and write 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 digitally highlight big assignments and keep track of tests. You can also use mobile planners or calendar apps to set up reminder notifications to keep you on track!

Learn to Manage Your Finances

Finances can be confusing to navigate, especially if it’s your first time paying your own bills. Some of the best advice for college freshmen is to get educated on your finances now! Understand 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. Opt to rent your textbooks when possible, and stick to your college meal plan instead of going out to eat every night—or limit your meals out to once a week. When your situation allows, consider getting a part-time job, full-time job, or paid internship within your field of study to build up your resume and pay for your rent and groceries.

Study Smarter, Not Harder

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

Photo via @nyuniversity

Essential advice for college students is to schedule study time and follow healthy study strategies. Spending all night cramming for a big test can affect your health, and it’s likely that you won’t retain the information from your hurried study session. Creating a study schedule based around your college classes and the times you’re most productive can help you prioritize work from harder classes, so you can get it done more efficiently. Try adding your extracurricular activities to your study schedule, too, so you know when to plan your ideal study time.

Take a Pass/Fail Class

Did you know not every class has to affect your college GPA? Many universities will allow you to take a certain amount of university 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 or if you want to explore new subjects. Just be sure to check with your college advisor before changing the status of any classes!

Utilize All Your Resources

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

Photo via @unlincoln

One of the best pieces of advice for college success is to take advantage of the offices and services provided by your university! Your academic advisor is a great resource to meet with at least once a semester to provide guidance during your academic experience, but it doesn’t end there. Visit your university career center, financial aid office, study center, or library and meet with the staff to see if they can connect you with recent college graduates, review your resume, or help to maximize your college success. Your university also has a student resource center for different majors, which can offer you specialized help with subjects like math or writing. If you need more personal support, check out your school’s health center and counseling services. Another tip for college students is to show up to free campus events throughout the year for fun student activities, extra school supplies, free shirts, meals, and other goodies!

Make Technology Work for You

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

Photo via @quizlet

Subject giving you a hard time? No matter your academic goals, there’s likely an app that can help you on your way to college success! Or, can’t stay off your phone during class? Check if your school has Pocket Points and start earning discounts or rewards at local businesses for keeping it locked during class lectures. For easy note-taking, college students can try using speech-to-text software like the voice-typing function in Google Docs or the built-in Siri Dictation on iOS devices. Many universities also provide students with a free Microsoft OneDrive account and Office 365 Education suite, which can allow you to access your notes or tools from any internet. Whether it’s digital flashcards, pre-arranged outlines, or a specific type of calculator, a little research will likely uncover a mobile app to help you survive your college experience!

Get Involved on Campus

There are so many benefits of getting involved on your college campus. Fun activities like college tailgating can help you unwind on the weekends and meet new friends. Specialized university clubs can expand your skill set, provide networking opportunities, and look fantastic on your resume. University extracurriculars can even help you continue to pursue a passion, hobby, or sport without needing to pay for a class or try out for a team. Professional organizations and nonprofits are also good ways to get involved in your chosen job field. If you’re worried about keeping up with your studies while getting involved on campus, an easy college success tip is to start small! Choose an activity that meets once a week, and add more college extracurricular activities if you find yourself with extra time.

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, whether you commit to attending university out of your home state, change your address temporarily for a study program, or just do things to get yourself out of your comfort zone! Putting yourself out there is an awesome way to meet new people and experience new opportunities. Branching out can make you happier and help build your confidence. On a larger scale, studying abroad or participating in an exchange program lets you experience a different perspective or culture—plus, you can earn credits toward your degree through your travels.

Enjoy the Moment

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

Photo via @beccczy

Your college experience will go by quicker than you think! One of the best college success tips is to make sure you’re spending your time and energy on the things that matter to you and your education, while also taking time for yourself. You can set up mock interviews and resume reviews at your university career center, but still catch student activities like movie nights, concerts, or late-night Greek life fundraisers. If you feel like you’re stretched too thin, it’s okay to stay in for a night or lighten your course load the following semester so you can get the right amount of sleep. College may seem like a daunting few years, but if you make a point to stay present and challenge yourself, while still prioritizing your mental and physical health, surviving college will be a cinch!


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