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Helpful Advice for First-Years From College Students Who've Been There

What better college advice can you get than from students who've experienced it? None! Here's what first-years need to know to make their lives easier.

It’s no secret: College isn’t easy. It never has been for anyone. So if you’re feeling overwhelmed by it all, don’t stress. Anyone who has been through college has felt the same feelings you are having right now. So who better to get advice from than those people who have been through it? From getting involved to balancing snacking habits to finding your study zone to prioritizing fun, these college students share their essential advice for incoming undergrads so you can make sure you start your first year of college as prepared as possible.

Understand that you'll learn to adapt 

"Don’t stress out about how much extra studying and reading a student has to do in college compared to high school. 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. The first week of entering college, enjoy becoming a college student and get a 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

"Don’t be afraid to be yourself! When I first started college, I was worried about finding the right group of friends who 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

Stick to a personal schedule

"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

"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

“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

Related: How to Manage Your Time Intentionally as a Student

Have an open mind and a good attitude

"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

"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

"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

Get involved and follow your passions

"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

“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

“Get involved, whether through a club sports team, academic club, or entertainment network. It’s 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

“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 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

Related: How to Discover and Pursue Your Passions as a Student

Prioritize your academics

"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

“Sometimes you just have to say no. Whether it is 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

“Take morning classes. You may think you want to steer clear of the pre-11:00 am classes completely, but you’ll be surprised by how much more productive you are when you wake up earlier. To save yourself from total insanity, I’d suggest having a few busier days, preferably at the beginning of the week, and minimizing 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

Be intentional when making friends

“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 you. 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. At 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

"When I started college, I never thought I would lose touch with my best high school friends. The truth is, however, it’s 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

Take care of your mental health and other needs

"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

"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

Related: 5 Great Campus Resources Students Should Know About

Be smart about finances

"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

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. I definitely fell into that category.”  Mike Petro, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology 

"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 the expense." — Rebecca Stewart, George Fox University

Maintain your physical health

"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 arrive feeling great and prepared for class. It’s even better than a cup of coffee." — Ashton Cortright, Baldwin Wallace University

"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

"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

“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

Related: A Helpful Checklist to Manage Your Health in College

Figure out how you work and study best

“Your class schedule is probably one of the biggest changes you’ll notice at college. 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 their own style that works best. You just have to find yours.”  Kristen Lear, Ohio Wesleyan University

"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 learned 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

“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 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

“Find the best study spot for you. The library at my school has a range of 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

"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

Related: Our Best Advice for Homework, Studying, and Tests

Build relationships with your professors

"I email the professor at 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 start good relationships with professors. They want you to talk to them, and they are there to help you succeed." — Amber Thichangthong, Old Dominion University

“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 their office for help if you ever are having trouble later in the semester understanding the material.” — Sarah Cummings, Hobart and William Smith Colleges

“My #1 tip would be to get to know your professors. Not only can it keep you on track, but it helps to develop a sense of security if midterms and finals start to get overwhelming. A lot of people recommend joining college clubs or social groups, but as a fairly introverted individual, I found that task difficult. However, meeting and staying in touch with my peers helped tremendously. 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

Take advantage of networking and special opportunities

"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

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? Because everyone is new. Almost 90% of your classmates who 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: Using Social Media to Connect at College

Ultimately, college is what you choose to make it. No two college experiences are alike, so take all this advice with a grain of salt. But there are a lot of similarities from college to college and from person to person in how students get through their freshman year—so if even one piece of advice from this list resonated with you, then it was worth it! 

For more advice to help you prepare for your first year of college, check out our Student Life section.

Still searching for colleges? Connect with the featured schools mentioned above:

Connect with Texas Christian University! Connect with U of Tampa! Connect with Baldwin Wallace!

Connect with Creighton! Connect with Trevecca Nazarene! Connect with Santa Clara! 

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