Mistakes First-Year College Students Make (and How to Avoid Them)

by
Freelance Writer

The transition from high school to college is filled with many emotions: some students are excited to finally be away from home for what may be the first time, while others may be nervous and feel apprehensive about whether or not they’ll find their niche.

Whatever your feelings are, every concern or wave of excitement is valid. While no one can have the perfect first-year experience in college, there are some things that you can do to maximize your time and create good habits for the future.

Not attending college events

Most colleges have a variety of school-sponsored events. Club meetings, guest speakers, and dorm-bonding programs are perfect opportunities to meet new friends and/or learn about possible new interests.

As a first-year student, it can be intimidating to enter a new circle, or it may seem like a waste of time if the event isn’t related to your direct interests. But attending campus events is a great way to maximize your short time in college. Additionally, most events are free and have food!

Related: Exploring Extracurricular Activities in College

Not knowing how to communicate with professors professionally

Unlike high school, you’ll most likely need to communicate with your professors outside the classroom. Because this skill isn’t always necessary before college, many students struggle with basic professionalism and may inadvertently create a bad impression.

For example, professors should always be addressed as “Professor X” or “Doctor X” unless they’ve told you otherwise. In high school, it’s common to address a teacher by their last name when mentioning them in conversation with your peers, but you should break this habit before you start college.

Having a poor work-life balance

College is a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of work. It seems like you have more free time in college because you generally only take four or five classes at a time instead of six or seven for seven hours a day.

With this free time comes the responsibility of having a strong work-life balance—being able to juggle part-time jobs, studying, socializing, exercising, etc. While this may be overwhelming, making a schedule and planning ahead of time can help you avoid stress!

Related: How to Balance School Work and Social Life as a Freshman in College

Not taking advantage of on-campus learning resources

There are so many resources on campus that are underutilized either because students are unaware of their existence or they feel they’re able to get by without them.

Part of being a college student is learning that it’s okay to ask for help. And help will be right at your fingertips, including a professor’s office hours, peer tutoring, writing centers, and library research aides. Find out what resources are available at your school so you’ll be supported throughout your college experience.

Failing to research future academic paths

While first-years should be in no rush to declare a major, it’s wise to research potential academic paths by seeing which classes are necessary to graduate on time.

College is the perfect time to take various courses even if they don’t directly relate to your planned major, but taking too many “random” classes can cause problems later. Upperclassmen who don’t plan ahead may scramble to put together a major using credits from too many departments that might not be related.

Related: 3 Steps to Choosing a College Major by the Process of Elimination

Locking yourself to one path

On the other hand, locking yourself to one academic or career path also has its downsides. Many people come into college thinking they have to stick to the major they applied with so they can get a certain job.

The reality is people change academic paths, even careers, all the time! Additionally, your major in no way locks you to a specific job; many employers look at a candidate’s experience and ability to learn rather than their major. First-years should find a balance between experiencing different disciplines while still researching potential goals.

Not using free or discounted student services

Believe it or not, there are so many free or discounted services students can receive just by showing their student ID or using their college email address. For example, students can get a free copy of the Microsoft Office Suite with their college email.

Many local businesses may offer college student discounts as well. Museums or other tourist attractions sometimes give discounts if you show your ID upon entering. Take advantage of these opportunities before you have to pay full price after you graduate.

Related: The Best Student Discounts: Food, Clothes, and More

Lack of relationships with faculty

Professors and faculty may seem like “real adults” who are unapproachable. But the fact is that they wouldn’t have a job without students. Because professors and other faculty are likely to interact with you several times throughout your college career, it’s wise to develop solid relationships with a few of them.

For example, try to develop a strong relationship with a professor who engages in research you’re interested in. They’ll be a great resource for learning more academically but also for letters of recommendation or learning about relevant post-grad opportunities. Networking in college isn’t just limited to off-campus sources!

Poor roommate communication

For some students, college will be the first time living with someone in the same space, let alone living with a complete stranger. Many first-year resident advisors provide seminars and/or roommate agreements. If your dorm doesn’t, you should discuss such things with your roommate(s) at the beginning of the school year.

What time do you both like to sleep at night? Are you okay with music being played during study time? What about overnight guests? Many roommates don’t establish clear communication and boundaries at the beginning of the relationship, which can lead to problems later on.

Related: Q&A With Emily: How to Talk to Your New College Roommate

Bringing too many things from home

When packing for college, it’s common to want to take all the comforts of home to your dorm, but you won’t end up needing most of the stuff you think you’ll need. You can survive with less than everything in your room at home. Having a crowded dorm room can end up being overwhelming (and troublesome for your roommates) and create unnecessary stress during the move-in process. To avoid this, think honestly about how many times a school year you’ll actually use an item to see if it’s really worth bringing.   

For more advice on making college go right, check out our Student Life page!

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