Here college students share tips they wish they had known when they started off.
1. Study hard, but make time to build your community. Meet as many different kinds of people as you can. Befriend intelligent, thoughtful, ambitious, funny, passionate, and kind people. I spent freshman year getting involved in several campus ministries, volunteering for the Office of Sustainability and an after-school tutoring program, attending gym classes and speakers that came to campus, and going to the plays and musicals that my talented peers put on. Don’t waste freshman year on a significant other, one group of friends, parties, or living in the library! Make your community out of a lot of different, little communities. Go to the occasional house party, but don’t let it become routine. Switch it up: Attend an art opening on Friday and a musical on Saturday. College is exactly what you make it, so make it unique and make it amazing.
College of Charleston
2. Don’t be afraid to reach out in class. In a class with more than 100 people, I was scared to ask questions to my professor or to other students around me. Finally, I got the courage to ask a girl next to me a question on homework. It ended up being best thing ever because through her I met my study group for that semester. For other college freshman or shy students like me, don’t be scared! Put yourself out there in order to see yourself succeed because the best feeling ever is when you successfully finish your freshman year with great grades.
3. Making friends can be really difficult if you don’t look in the right places. Sure, you can make friends through classes, but joining a larger organization like a club, Greek life, or performing group really allows you to connect and make friends. For me it was marching band and choir that opened those doors, but it can be literally any organization. Just find a group that interests you and join it, and I can almost guarantee you will make some great friends that way.
University of North Alabama
4. Always keep an eye on your clothes in the laundry room. One time I walked upstairs to the laundry room to find that someone had used my dryer time and had thrown my soaking wet clothes all over the ground. (That means heaven knows who touched my unmentionables, yikes!) I guess broke college kids can go to desperate measures to get their clothes dry, so go ahead and get yourself a jar of quarters so you don’t end up with a dryer burglar. When you do laundry, go ahead and bring your laptop up there and do homework while you keep a watch on your clothes—it is actually a great time to multi-task and get things done.
University of Alabama
5. Figure out where and when you are going to study. My favorite places to study are local coffee shops and places that are more off the beaten trail. The library is wonderful, but it’s hard for me to not be a social butterfly and actually focus on what I came there to do. Work smarter, not harder. You have a lot more freedom than high school, but with that freedom comes a new level of responsibility.
6. Know that failure is hard but good. During the first two weeks of freshman year, I rushed a capella, which could be compared to sorority rush except everyone is singing. Unfortunately, after making callbacks for a group I really liked, I didn’t get a spot. So I tried out for Glee Club, but after getting to the final round for their tryouts, I didn’t make it either. I also auditioned to play the carillon on Harkness Tower, which is the huge bell tower in the middle of campus. During the eight weeks of lessons preceding auditions, I often found myself climbing the creepy spiral staircase of the tower at 11:30 at night to spend 30 minutes hammering at the wooden pegs that function like piano keys for the carillon. But even after all that work, I still didn’t make it. Failure is tough, but it helped me find out what I really should (and should not) be doing with my time.
7. Study a little every day. Sometimes I would find myself exaggerating, thinking “If I don’t do well on this test, then I won’t get into nursing school, and then I won’t graduate.” The list would go on and on to where I believed one bad grade on a test meant I would end up a homeless cat lady! I now realize how silly that seems. My advice would be to breathe, pray, and start your studying early. I study a little bit every day, to the point where I get to finals week and I’m not stressed at all while everyone else runs around like a madman.
University of Alabama
8. Set boundaries with your roommate on the first day. Make a schedule or system of how you are going to handle things like cleaning the bathroom and taking out the trash, so when the time comes, you don’t have to argue over whose turn it is. Most conflicts come from a lack of communication. Be respectful of your roommates, and don’t let your alarm go off more than a few times. Just because you have to wake up early does not mean they want to!
9. Engage with your professors. Sit in the front of the class so you can see the professor, so he or she knows you want to be there. Ask questions in class, if you do or don’t understand what is being talked about. Because I did this, when I got ill due to my diabetes my freshman year, my professors knew that I wanted to be there, so they would email or call me to check in. But if you don’t have that kind of relationship, they might not contact you.
Auburn University at Montgomery
10. Embrace your freedom.
In college, you can take an astronomy class even though you’re an English major, make friends from all over the world, travel for cheap, pull all-nighters and recover within 48 hours, live in the same building with all of your closest friends, and wear pajamas to class (I wouldn’t make this a regular thing though!). So embrace this freedom while you have it. If you came to college thinking you were going to be pre-med, but you hate biology and chemistry and loved your economics class, switch your major. If you joined a club and don’t like it as much as you thought you would, quit so you can try something else. I joined and quit at least three different groups during freshman fall—it meant that I had to write some awkward emails, but quitting then freed up the time that I spend on activities I love now.
Bonus: Local College Counselors Weigh In
1. Expect a period of adjustment. From the very first moment a student sets foot on campus, everything is new—and new means change. From changes in social activities, to finding new friends, to the new demands of a rigorous academic curriculum, it all requires a lot of mental, physical, and emotional energy to successfully navigate in their collegiate environment.
Director of Counseling Services
2. “Uncomfortable feelings” are not necessarily “bad feelings.” So many times students are quick to label feelings of adjustment as “bad.” As a result, they try to stop, fix, or control these undesirable feelings through many different ways. Unfortunately, unsuccessful attempts to suppress feelings usually lead to a greater sensation of being more out of control. Encouraging students to experience the emotions of adjustment as “uncomfortable, but normal and expected” helps to decrease anxiety and to better cope with their environment.
3. Try to confront problems head on rather than letting things build up. This will lessen your stress level and help you grow in your ability to navigate challenges that will come up in life beyond the college years. Have meaningful conversations with faculty, staff, and roommates/suitemates. Every misunderstanding or disagreement doesn’t mean “confrontation or fight.” Thoughtful dialogue early on when something is bothering you can enhance your relationships with others.
Director of Counseling and Health Services
4. Learn balance. Once you get plugged in, you can easily find something to do every minute of every day. Learn to prioritize what’s important (going to class is always important), and make sure you aren’t overextended. You can miss a social event and still have a lot of friends. You can skip a service opportunity and still graduate with a great resume. Saying “no” to some opportunities doesn’t mean you are lazy.
Director of Counseling Services
University of Montevallo