Freshman Year Survival Tips: The Ultimate Collection


From getting involved to balancing snacking habits to finding your study zone and prioritizing fun, these college students and alumni share their essential advice for incoming college freshmen. (PS This is updated as of August 2016! We brought all that sweet, sweet freshman year advice together for ya.) 

So, what’s the #1 tip—the absolute best advice—for crushing it as a college freshman?

Is it bonding with your freshman year professors? Getting enough sleep? Learning how to deal with stress? Balancing your schedule? Subsisting on energy drinks and Doritos? Turns out, it’s a little bit of everything. Except for the living off of energy drinks and Doritos thing. That’s not a good plan.

We asked current college students and alumni to share their best advice for surviving and thriving freshman year. So keep reading if you’re a soon-to-be college freshman—or if you just still feel like one. (And, trust, we all do sometimes.)

Advice for studying

"There are certain places where I have to go to study. I get the most work done in the library or in a computer lab. You need to have an area where you can get the most work or your best work done. You also have to know when to separate time to have fun and time to get your work done. You have to be able to, first of all, know yourself, and then separate yourself from the distractions." — Anthony Brown, Defiance College 

"Don’t stress out about how much extra studying and reading a student has to do in college compared to high school because, yes, in college there is a lot more work that needs to be done, but there is also much more free time in college to do the work. So, the first week of entering college, enjoy becoming a college student and get the feel for what is required for each class by listening to the professor. Let the study habits and techniques come to you." — Jake Sanchez, Texas Christian University 

“Find the best study spot for you. The library at my school has a range of study spaces, from the dim, deathly quiet ‘dungeon’ to the bright, noisy ‘green room,’ and everything in between. I personally need some sort of activity around me to keep me focused, but some of my friends need pin-drop silence. Try a few different places and routines so you figure out what works best.” — Ilana Kruger, Brandeis University

"Freshman year is fun, and you get to make tons of new friends, but don't forget to study and do your homework. Getting an education is the reason you're in college. Whether you're paying for college [or] you've got tons of scholarships, loans, or funds from your parents, remember that you are in college to learn things. Be safe, do your homework, and live a little. Time flies faster than you think." — Sarah Crane, Trevecca Nazarene University 

Related: 7 Pro Tips for Surviving Freshman Year of College

Advice for your social life

"I literally looked for ‘open doors’ in my residence hall, and found that those who left their doors open were among the most friendly and approachable students. I started leaving my own door open, whenever I could, which encouraged people to stop by and say hello.… Just like keeping an open mind is important, I would suggest that a new freshman consider keeping an open door." — Domenique Ciavattone, Stonehill College

"Don’t be afraid to be yourself! When I first started college I was worried about finding the right group of friends that shared similar interests as me. I made a lot of new friends during my orientation days and the very first days of school. Don’t worry about making new friends; there will be a lot of people that share similar interests." — Victor Barcenas, Lewis University

“I wish I had known the difference between the academic and social dynamics of college compared to high school. In college, there is something going on 24/7. It’s a really different environment to adapt to—both for time management and getting enough sleep.” — Kyle Cochran, Texas Christian University

"When I started college, I never thought I would lose touch with my best high school friends. The truth is, however, it is very easy to lose those relationships when you are miles, even states, away from each other…. Stay in touch with the people you love, whether you call or Skype them once a week, or make plans to spend time together when you are all home on break. Don’t let important relationships fade." — Nina Pierino, Hilbert College

“Make as many friends as possible! You will be surprised to see how many people are so similar to you, and even more surprised to see how people are totally different from yourself. I strongly suggest making friends with international students, because they will bring you amazing perspectives about life, and they will definitely enrich your cultural knowledge.” — Elbin Keepanasseril, University of Tampa

“You might not find your closest group of friends on the first day, the first month, or even the first year. Good relationships take time to form, and those are the ones that last. Before coming to school my freshman year, I met a fellow Marist student online. We clicked really well and continued talking throughout the summer. During the beginning of the semester, we were incredibly close. Everyone assumed we were best friends, and for a while it seemed that way. Unfortunately, as time passed, our personalities started to clash. Our interests collided, and we started falling apart. There were no arguments; we just drifted. I actually ended up forming stronger relationships with my roommate and neighbors from down the hall.” — Helen Chang, Marist College

“Your first couple years in college, you're surrounded by kids with all different majors. Once you hit your junior and senior years, you'll be in classes with the same 30 people over and over again. Knowing people throughout campus will help socially but also give you a nice network later in life.” — Kasey Lind, Virginia Commonwealth University

Advice for making freshman year awesome

"College is one of those opportunities in life where you can completely start over. I encourage everyone to go into college open minded, whether it comes in the form of meeting different types of people or taking a class that sounds interesting but you know nothing about." — Jake Dodd, Ohio Wesleyan University 

"Don’t be afraid to just dive right into college life. You only have four years and they go very fast." — Danielle Alio, Cabrini College

"Laziness is the deadliest enemy to a college student. This can be applied both towards one’s academics or social life. Energy and motivation are crucial to being successful in most aspects of college life. Whether it is having the energy to go downtown or to a party, or wake up early to meet with a teacher, always do it." — Kyle Glavin, Colgate University

“Explore your interests and be open to new opportunities! Freshman year is the best time to put yourself out there and find what you love to do. Make sure you ask lots of questions and learn from your peers. I also suggest being super organized right from the start to get oriented with your new classes.” — Katie Nunner, Ohio Wesleyan University

"You need to have a strong, positive, forward-thinking attitude to be successful in your college experience. From going to class with an attentive mindset to actively meeting new people to working off some stress at the gym to caring about how you present yourself to the campus community—your attitude matters." — Katie Fritsch, Seton Hill University

"Take full advantage of student services like career advising, free therapy, and tutoring. Your college years are the only time in your life when you are surrounded by people wanting you to succeed and providing all the resources for you to do so." — Amanda Creech, Trevecca Nazarene University

“Network, network, network. I cannot stress this enough. Your first years in college are actually the easiest to network than any other semester in college. Why is that? Everyone is new. Almost 90% of your classmates that are taking general core classes are freshmen as well. So start talking to them… My personal experience is networking almost instantly the minute I got into college. I have a plethora of friends now who are in all different fields. I've realized that the friends that are the hardest to make would be the juniors and seniors because they're already surrounded by friends. I realized that if I caught them younger in their college years, it would've definitely been easier.” — Mark Anthony, CUNY—Hunter College 

“Take advantage of every opportunity presented to you. You can never be sure where your ‘big break’ will come from. Time and time again, opportunities are presented to me to go places or meet people, and I always respond with a yes. This has led to numerous job opportunities and a great network of business associates.” — Patrick Hillard, Paul Quinn College

Related: How to Be Awesome: A Cheat Sheet for College Students

Advice for college classes and academics

“Take morning classes. You may think you want to steer clear of the pre-11 am classes completely, but you’ll be surprised by how much more productive you are when you wake up earlier. So to save yourself from total insanity, I’d suggest having a few busier days, preferably in the beginning of the week, and minimize your Thursday and Friday classes. An added bonus is that the week feels a lot shorter. Even though it’s not a long weekend because you’re ‘doing work,’ it will feel like one. Just make sure to take classes you like, otherwise you won’t want to wake up no matter the time. Trust me.” — Annie Brown, Pitzer College

“Make sure to visit your professors the first week of school during their office hours. You can introduce yourself and get to know your professor so that way you will feel comfortable going to his or her office for help if you ever are having trouble later in the semester understanding the material.” — Sarah Cummings, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

"I e-mail the professor in the beginning of the semester to introduce myself a little. Or if I know their office hours, I go pay them a visit so that I become a person in their eyes. This also helps to start a relationship with the professor. Professors want you to talk to them. They are there to help you succeed." — Amber Thichangthong, Old Dominion University

“Your class schedule is probably one of the biggest changes you’ll notice at college. Instead of having all your classes every day like in high school, you’ll only have a few classes per day, and you’re not in class the whole day. That leaves a lot of extra free time between classes and in the evenings. Surprisingly, it wasn’t too hard to adjust, and as long as you decide that you want to put aside time to study and do homework every day, you should be able to figure out your best study method pretty well. There is no one ‘right’ way to study; everyone has his or her own style that works best…you just have to find yours.” — Kristen Lear, Ohio Wesleyan University

“When you read books and articles for class, don’t just highlight or underline what is important. Make notes to help you remember why that particular sentence or phrase was important to you and how it applies to the topic you are discussing. Even rephrasing and summarizing what the author has written in that sentence may help you to better understand the text. When writing a paper, do more than one draft. Have a friend edit it. Don’t be afraid to tear your first draft apart.” — Theresa Chu, Rollins College

"Academics come first. Sometimes it’s hard to remember why you are really at college—everything seems so fun—but try to manage your time in an efficient way that allows for some work and play." — Shane Miller, Lebanon Valley College

“Looking back, I was so stressed out about which classes I should be taking and which major I should be pursuing. I wish I had known to just be calm in my freshman year. It’s all about trying new experiences and new classes to find out what’s best for you. Don’t worry too much about your major at first. You have three more years to figure out which major you should have.” — Diana Oregon, University of Denver

Advice for balancing your schedule and dealing with stress

"My key to a balanced life and academic success isn’t so much ‘time management’ as it is ‘place management.’ I can get more done in a library in 15 minutes than I can in my residence hall in two hours. When you’re distracted, you lose what you learn recently and have to start all over again. So, find that special place where you can study and you’ll be more effective, more successful, and much, much less stressed!" — Ryan Price, Drake University

"Try to set a schedule for yourself with everything you do during the day. Include your class schedule, when you want to eat, breaks, everything! It takes discipline at first, but it keeps you organized and soon it will become a routine." — Isaiah Moore, Morehouse College

“Sometimes you just have to say no. Whether it is to an invitation for dinner at the dining commons, getting coffee, or a trip to Target, these time-consuming excursions will take a toll on both your schoolwork and your wallet. While socializing during freshman year can seem especially important to establish friendships, remember that there will be more opportunities to bond with your fellow freshmen after your research paper is turned in. And guard yourself against your [social media] use. If you have an essay to complete or an exam to prep for, have a friend change your account password until you are finished. This will both eliminate the ability to procrastinate…and give you an incentive to finish your work.” — Kari Vandraiss, University of Puget Sound

“Learn how to properly manage time. In college, you might not be in class for that long, but you will have far more work and many more responsibilities. It is important to be organized and always know what you have to do so you can properly allot time for each task. Planning things out ahead of time or creating a schedule can be very helpful. Proper time management will lead to less stress and allow more time for fun things like hanging out with friends or extracurricular activities.” — Andrew Hoing, Trinity University

“During my first year in college, I found that I was trying to do too much. In addition to regularly participating in two student organizations on campus (the Black Student Alliance and the Excelling Leaders Institute) and sporadically joining others, I was trying to juggle a full course load and also work 25–30 hours per week. These activities, along with balancing my social life and dealing with family struggles, just left me feeling exhausted and often terribly stressed. I often had little or no free time to maintain a regular study schedule because I was trying to fit work hours into any free time that I had. In retrospect, I would’ve worked far less, even if it meant making financial sacrifices, because I am sure that this was the root of my imbalance.” — Joe Borrego, University of Denver

“Stress is a common symptom among college students. Stress in college may be caused by a surplus of homework, final exams, procrastination, lack of sleep, or personal dilemmas. It’s important to take a deep breath and take things one step at a time. Relieving stress will allow you to enjoy your overall college life. I was able to relieve stress by prioritizing things and avoiding procrastination. I got my homework done in a timely manner, which allowed me to get enough hours of sleep. Also, I set the proper amount of time for family, friends, school, and work, which allowed me to have a successful and fun freshman year.” — Victor Barcenas, Lewis University

Related: Time Management and Study Skills 

Advice for extracurricular activities

"Definitely get involved on campus! Looking back on my college experience, the major aspect that helped me with the transition to college from high school was getting involved in campus activities. By getting engaged in various clubs, activities, and volunteer opportunities within the campus community, many doors opened for me as a student." — Jessica Szumski, Misericordia University

"Join those organizations as a freshman that you are passionate about, especially those that have a direct connection to academics. If you have declared a major, or have a specific academic discipline in mind, look for those clubs, groups, and organizations that are linked to your field of study." — Erica Tomaszewski, Franklin Pierce University

“Get involved, whether through a club sports team, academic club, or an entertainment network. It is the best way to meet new people. Not only will you have more things to do around campus, but you’ll also feel more a part of your college as a whole. I first got involved by joining the swim team at my school, which helped me meet a ton of new friends. I was extremely intimidated to go out for the team, but after talking to some upperclassmen prior to trying out, I felt so much more comfortable. Contrary to popular belief, upperclassmen are not out to pick on freshmen. If anything, they want them to get involved in their clubs and are there to help.” — Sarah Beron, Roger Williams University

"If your college is organizing any program or event during the summer and you live close by, definitely go. For instance, during the summer, an international affairs program I’m part of sponsored a day trip to a nature conservatory. I went and, because of it, I already had a few friends when the semester officially began." — Michelle Consorte, Adelphi University

“I was so busy questioning myself during my freshman year at college that I missed out on opportunities to meet people and learn more about my university. I never joined an organization or a club and didn’t bother getting involved because I didn’t have the confidence that I have now. I was afraid of failure. Had I let my fear paralyze me my sophomore year as it did my freshman year, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have a passion for politics and a passion for being a leader. I wouldn’t have discovered the importance of social justice, and I certainly wouldn’t have learned about teamwork, relationships, and how to inspire people. The important thing I learned is that you have to trust yourself and your instincts and seize the moment. One small decision could lead to bigger and better things.” — Chris Mosier, Santa Clara University

“My tip for freshmen would be to get involved in as many activities as they can! Also, focus on academics and do well the first year, because classes only get harder after the freshman year. Finally, I would also tell freshmen not to be scared to ask for help if they need it.” — Nihar Suthar, Cornell University 

Advice for money and budgeting

“Be careful with your money. Personal finances weren’t initially an issue for me, but they caught up with me later in the year. I was able to borrow most of my books from other students, saving me some money. I had money in my bank account for going out and having fun, but that account drained more quickly than I expected. I had to pick and choose whom I wanted to go out to eat with or go to the movies with, and I couldn’t go out on a very regular basis. Near the end of the year, most people were staying in and trying to conserve what little funds they had left until the end of the year. I definitely fell into that category.” — Mike Petro, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology 

"Here’s a scholarship hint: keep a copy of every application that you fill out. Lots of scholarships ask the same types of questions, so you can re-use your answers. All it takes is a little change here and there, and you’ve got a solid, thought-out answer, but with half the work!" — Chelsey Meluch, Purdue University

"I used CLEP tests to get a year of college credit prior to graduating high school. Now I’ll graduate college in three years instead of four. Three years at a private college is a lot more affordable than four, especially since tuition tends to climb every year, so graduating early can be a solution to help curb expense." — Rebecca Stewart, George Fox University

Related: Find scholarships that fit you here

Advice for staying healthy

"Instead of bringing a car or relying on others for transportation or depending entirely on your feet to get around, having a bicycle for transportation, exercise, and fun, right from the start, is a really smart move…. Frankly, there’s no better way to wake up in the morning and to arrive feeling great and prepared for class. It’s even better than a cup of coffee." — Ashton Cortright, Baldwin-Wallace College

"Cutting sugars and sweets out of your midnight snack options when studying for tests is a major way to keep the pounds off. Choosing to eat healthy will help you concentrate better on exams and have an active college lifestyle." — Michele Drago, Misericordia University

"Taking advantage of health and counseling services can be extremely beneficial, especially for time management, stress relief, or organization concerns. I realized about halfway through my freshman year that I was on top of my homework every night, but I missed out on relaxing with friends, calling my parents, or going on a run to clear my head. Grades are important, but your well-being is much more important in the long run." — Kate Branstetter, Creighton University

“The freshman 30?! Don’t let this happen to you. Tell yourself right now…‘this isn’t going to be me.’ Exercising and eating right is critical to your success. When school or the roommates start to stress you out, that’s the time to bust out some push-ups, go for a run, or really just do something active. Stress is an insane force. It can take over your life. Don’t let it. Eat right, exercise, and get plenty of sleep.” — Damien Lazzari, Hawaii Pacific University

“Invest in a good sleep mask. I never really understood the purpose of those silly-looking eye covers that high-maintenance girls in movies wore. If anything, I thought they looked ridiculous and uncomfortable. Oh, how wrong I was. When you’re in college, chances are that you and your roommate won’t have the same schedules or sleeping habits. I tend to need more sleep than usual to function and always wanted to go to bed early, whereas my roommate was the typical night owl and would stay up until the wee hours of the morning. It would be really hard for me to fall asleep while the lights in our room were on, but I wasn’t about to force my roommate to go elsewhere or work by candlelight. Even though I felt stupid wearing it at first, it really did help. It blocked out all the light, allowing me to fall asleep by 11:00 pm while my roommate stayed up until 2:00 am.” — Lexie Beach, Butler University

“Keep your room stocked with healthy, inexpensive snacks like nuts, granola bars, yogurt, fruit, or crackers with peanut butter. Eating more often, as opposed to heavily, will help keep your energy levels and metabolism high!” — Alex Ragland, Austin College

Okay, even though this is the MOST FRESHMAN YEAR ADVICE EVER, we still want to know if there's anything we missed. Got a tip for incoming college freshmen? Let us know in the comments or get in touch over social

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