Key Academic Advice for Incoming College Freshmen

After the first few weeks of excitement on your college campus, it's time to buckle down on homework and studying. Here is some key academic advice from a sophomore to help you have a successful first semester.

The first week of college as a freshman is great—it’s orientation week and you get to go sightseeing, participate in group activities, and make new friends. You can become more familiar with your university and create lasting friendships.

Fast forward to syllabus week: you will attend lectures, get familiar with your courses, and buy your course materials. There isn’t a lot of time-consuming homework at this point.

However, after these two introductory weeks, it’s time to divert your attention to the central aspects of a college student’s life: homework and studying. If you’re a master procrastinator like me, you probably excel at worrying about things but still saving them for another time. This may have worked for you in high school, but it won’t in college.

Based on my experience, I want to offer some advice on certain aspects of college (planning ahead, studying, etc.) and discuss the importance of minimizing procrastination and maximizing foresight. Keep in mind that the following suggestions may or may not resonate with you depending on how you are as a person, but you should use the time at the beginning of the semester to figure out what works for you.

Related: 10 Things to Do Your First Week of College


In college, you will be given a syllabus for every class with a full schedule of the entire semester, most likely before you even attend your first lecture. This schedule includes homework assignments and exam dates. Look at these ahead of time and plan out your schedule. Create a calendar and write down all important dates and homework assignments. A lot of my friends use Google Calendar because of its simplicity and accessibility, but I prefer a checklist with everything I need to do and the Reminders app on my phone to keep track of things. As my schedule becomes full, I’ll shift to a physical paper calendar to keep all important events organized. You’ll quickly learn that it’s very important to make sure you don’t fall behind in college, so a calendar and schedule will be very beneficial to you.

Related: Why Every College Student Should Keep a Planner


I strongly encourage you to not only plan ahead but also stay ahead in your classes by completing assignments early, whether it’s pre-lecture or post-lecture. This will allow you to become familiar with the material, be able to explain it to others, clear misconceptions, and ask your professor questions. If you’re assigned lecture videos, watch them in advance—do not save them for later. You don’t want to just watch them but truly understand them and be able to explain them to a friend. You can’t do this if you’re crunched on time or just tired, so plan ahead!

Speaking of planning ahead, foresight is a beneficial skill to develop in college. Being able to predict what could happen later will allow you to determine what actions you need to take now in order to reach your goal and prevent any unwanted outcomes.

Office hours and review sessions

One important aspect of keeping on track in college is office hours. As soon as you see your syllabus, jot down your professor’s office hours. They will have specific times that they’re available so students like you can get help outside of class. Whenever you need a detailed explanation on concepts, attending office hours is a great option. Try going to office hours after attempting homework so you can get help with exactly what you don’t understand rather than being explained the entire problem or concept again.

Professors will also hold review sessions, but only attend these if you are already familiar with the material and have completed your assignments. Do not go to a review session expecting to learn everything in an hour by sitting and listening to the professor or teaching assistant. Students tend to ask more detailed questions that will make little to no sense if you haven’t looked at the material in-depth before.

Keep in mind that you can always skip a review session and that they are by no means mandatory. If you need to study by yourself in the time that a review session is held, that’s totally fine. But I’d recommend attending the first review session for your class, seeing how it is, and then determining whether or not it is helpful for you. In addition, your teaching assistants for your various classes will also have their own office hours, which can also be helpful if you have a quick question. You can also email your professors and teacher assistants for general questions, so don’t forget that!

Related: Video: All Things Office Hours


I want to stress the importance of reviewing your lecture notes after class. If you have taken notes, read them over and make sure you understand everything. This is important because you are more likely to remember what you learned right after class and solidify your understanding. If you had a lecture on Monday and wait to review that day’s notes until Sunday, you’ll most likely have forgotten some specific details and will have to review the lectures from Wednesday and Friday as well. On top of this, if you have a homework assignment that addresses material from these lectures and it’s due by midnight on Sunday, you’ll have saved everything for the last day—this can get very frustrating and time consuming, so make sure to review your notes the same day as lecture.

Related: How to Take Better Notes in High School and College

Tests and studying

When should you start studying for an exam? Well, if you have one on Thursday, for example, do not wait until Wednesday to start studying. This may sound pretty simple, but students (myself included) tend to procrastinate. This is why I want to emphasize that it’s best to start studying a week in advance and review a little bit of material each day, as opposed to all the material in one or two days. Splitting up the material is more manageable and a lot less stressful than covering everything in one cram session the night before a test.

If your professor posts a practice exam, don’t wait to take it the day before the exam (unless you procrastinated and have to catch up with learning all the material first. Side note: don’t do that!). If there is a review session, start studying two or three days prior to it. The goal is to learn the material and solidify your understanding before the review session. This might sound like simple advice, but you’ll find that it’s more meaningful in practice.

Related: So You Think You Can Study?

College is a learning experience. You will make mistakes, but the best thing to do is to learn from them, move on, and make a change. What I mean is do something differently than you did before; for example, if you find that you didn’t do well on an exam, make sure you implement different study strategies for the next test rather than the same methods you used for the previous one. Try studying with other students or explaining a concept to others. I’m still learning how to improve how I study, and I’m constantly learning from my mistakes.

Ultimately, these are just a few tips that I think are helpful after reflecting on my freshman year. A lot of these tips will be more relevant to you after you become familiar with how your courses work. Good luck with the beginning of your college journey!

Find more study tips for college students in our Majors and Academics section.

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academic advice academics college academics first week of college first year freshmen homework notes office hours organization procrastination study tips studying tests

About Dev Gandhi

My name is Dev Gandhi and I am currently a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I'm majoring in Biology and I'm on the Pre-med track. I hope to attend medical school and be a doctor one day so I can help people in need. In regards to college, it's not easy! It took me some time to adjust (and I'm still learning something new every day). Some of my hobbies and interests include drawing, reading about technology, history, conspiracy theories, and architecture.


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