20 Things Every New College Student Should Know

group of college students chatting on the quad

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Lorelei Yang
Lorelei Yang718
Wonky consultant with a passion for words

The college years are four of the most exciting years of a young adult’s life. College is a time to grow, learn more about yourself and the world around you and begin committing to a professional path. All in all, it’s an exciting time! However, getting ready for college and navigating your first year on your own can be a scary time. Don't worry — here's some helpful advice that can put you on a path towards success in and beyond your first year of college.

1. Attend classes.

In college, unlike in high school, most instructors won’t take attendance, so there aren’t any immediate consequences for skipping class. If you don’t show up for your 9 a.m. lecture, no one will call your parents to ask where you were. Given this lack of immediate consequences, it may be tempting to skip class every once in a while. This is a bad idea! Even if you aren’t immediately penalized for failing to attend class, not going to lectures will set you up to struggle academically. If you don’t attend lectures, you’re nearly guaranteed to miss important information that you’ll need to successfully complete assignments or ace exams.

2. Get enough sleep.

For many students, the freedom of college may lead to some seriously late nights spent out with friends, exploring their new campus or even just staying up late bingeing Netflix. This is all understandable and perfectly normal, but it’s still important to get enough sleep. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, sufficient sleep is crucial for a number of brain functions and one’s overall health.

3. Eat a well-balanced diet.

In addition to getting enough sleep, it’s also important to get a well-balanced, healthy diet. While it may be fun to load up on sugar at every meal (who among us isn’t tempted by sugary cereals and waffles, after all?), subsisting on sugar and caffeine is a good way to deprive your body of the nutrition it needs to stay healthy. Eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits, veggies, fiber and lean proteins is the best way to ensure you’re putting clean fuel into your body. This will keep you operating at tip-top shape so you can pursue your studies, extracurricular activities and social life with ample energy.

4. Make an effort to make new friends.

Making new friends is one of the best parts of college. No matter where you’re going to school, you’ll find interesting, diverse people from all over the country — and likely the world — around you. Your first year of college is the best time to make new friends, as everyone’s in the same boat and just as eager as you are to make new connections.

5. Join a club or two.

College is a great time to develop your interests. No matter what you’re interested in, it’s likely that there’s a student-run club or organization to help you explore it. Passionate about singing? Try auditioning for an acapella group; many colleges even boast multiple acapella groups. Interested in the outdoors? See if there are any hiking groups or college-sponsored excursions; odds are, there are both.

6. Explore new academic interests.

Even if you arrive on campus with your heart set on a particular major, take the time to explore new academic interests throughout your college career but particularly in your first year. You never know — a programming or studio art class could inspire you to rethink your planned major choice or future career goals. Exploring your interests early on in your college career is ideal, as it allows you time (and class credits) to adjust your academic plans if you decide you want to do so.

7. Be realistic about your ability to take on multiple commitments.

This is an important corollary to the above: be realistic about how much you can handle, and plan accordingly. While it may be tempting to be involved in a million clubs, take every course under the sun and work part-time to earn a little extra cash, it may not be realistic to stretch yourself that thin. As a student, your academic success and academic obligations should always come first. Everything else should be fitted in around, not at the expense of, your success in the classroom.

8. Seek opportunities to conduct research with a professor.

Opportunities to produce original research with professors are one of the coolest things about college. If you’re interested in a particular topic, see if there are ways to get involved in research in those fields. It’s very likely that you can find a professor doing research in your field of interest. If you find a professor whose work you’re interested in, it’s never too early to send them an email and ask if they’re open to hiring undergraduates.

9. Stay in touch with your family.

The transition to college is tough on parents as well as first-year college students themselves. Odds are, your parents miss you just as much as you miss them. No matter how busy things get, remember to make time to catch up with your parents and keep them in the loop about what’s going on in your life.

10. Stay in touch with your high school friends.

Even if you and your high school friends don’t end up attending college together (which is highly likely), you should make an effort to stay in touch. Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with people over long distances. Harness the power of technology to keep your high school friends in your life. When you’re home for the holidays, make time to see them and catch up.

11. Embrace new experiences.

Above all, college is a time for growth and expanding your horizons. Throughout your first year, remain open to trying new things. Whether that means trying a cuisine you haven’t tried before, attending a lecture on a topic that’s unknown to you or trying your hand at something you’ve never done before, say yes to chances to potentially find a new passion or interest.

12. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If you find yourself struggling academically, socially or emotionally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your first-year advisor, dean, residential advisor, professors and others all want to see you succeed. If you find yourself struggling, reach out to them. Odds are, they can work with you to develop a plan to right the ship. Even if the first person you reach out to can’t help you, they’ll likely be able to point you to the right resources to access the help you need.

13. Stay on top of your work in classes.

In college, just as in high school, it doesn’t pay to procrastinate. Sure, you probably can finish a month’s worth of readings the week of an exam if you really have to, but you’ll learn the material more effectively if you finish the readings as assigned. You’ll probably also feel less stressed on exam day and perform better as a result.

14. Turn assignments in on time.

To the extent that you can, try to never hand work in late. If there’s truly an emergency or extenuating circumstance, you can — and should — ask for accommodations from your professor, but as a general rule, try as hard as you can to complete assignments by their deadline.

15. If they’re needed, ask for accommodations in advance.

If you know that you’ll need accommodations for an assignment, try to ask for them as early as possible. For example, if you’re on a sports team and know you’ll be traveling for away games at certain points in the year, inform your professor as soon as possible so you can schedule makeup exams. Similarly, if you know you won’t be able to complete an assignment on time due to illness or other legitimate reasons, email your professor asking for an extension as soon as possible. Asking for accommodations as soon as you know you’ll need them will benefit you in two ways: first, the earlier you ask for an accommodation, the more likely it is that your professor will grant it. Second, odds are good that your professors will be impressed by your responsibility.

16. Attend your professors’ office hours.

No matter where they teach, all professors are required to offer “office hours.” These are reserved blocks of time during which they meet with students on a drop-in basis. Make a point of attending each of your professors’ office hours at least once each semester or trimester. Office hours are the best time to seek help with topics you’re struggling with, discuss assignments, go over an essay or even discuss your professor’s field of study with them.

17. Turn your phone off in class.

Nothing is more likely to aggravate a professor than a ringing phone. Don’t let yourself be the hapless victim of a lecturer’s displeasure if your phone goes off in class. Silence your phone and put it away before class. Even in a large lecture-based class, it’s still evident to professors when you’re texting away instead of listening to the knowledge they’re trying to impart upon you.

18. Back your files up.

Given that most college students produce work for classes electronically, it can be a major disaster if their technology fails. To protect yourself against a technology meltdown torpedoing your progress on an assignment, make sure that your work is always backed up. It’s easy to sync your laptop to an external hard drive, use a cloud storage solution like Dropbox to save all your files or produce all your work in Google Drive. It’s up to you to decide which of these solutions you want to use; regardless of which you choose, you should use one of them.

19. Wear flip-flops in the dorm showers.

Unless you’re lucky enough to have a private bathroom, odds are good that you’ll be sharing your shower with a dozen or more people. In this situation, you need to wear flip-flops in the shower! Otherwise, you’re putting yourself at risk of athlete’s foot, HPV, staph infections and other issues.

20. Register for classes as soon as possible.

This advice is especially important if you’re at a relatively large school. It’s often the case that classes are capped; this means that only a certain number of students can register for them. Once a capped class hits its cap, students who want to register for it are often out of luck unless the professor is willing to make an exception and let them in (and they aren’t always willing to do so). To avoid finding yourself in this situation, register for classes as soon as registration opens.

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Lorelei Yang is a New York-based consultant and freelance writer/researcher. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.