Advice for New College Students as you Start Your First Year

You are probably feeling a mix of emotions right now from good excited to petrified. That is perfectly normal. You are about to start something new, and it will be hard. There will be times you think “I got this” and times you want to call a parent to come pick you up and drop out (don’t do that)! I have worked at several colleges, teach a new student transition course and have seen my fair share of first year students thrive and struggle (sometimes both at the same time). Here are some of my tips for doing well your first year academically, socially and mentally.

Things You Need

Buy your books: I know they are expensive but buy them. If they come with a digital copy, get that too. And use them, but we will talk more about that later.

A calendar: If you are good at using a digital calendar, great. But using an old fashioned paper planner can be really helpful. Put everything in it from when you plan to eat meals, work out, club meetings, study time, and assignments. You have a lot of free time in college but you need to use it to be successful.

A meal plan: Even if you are commuting, get a meal plan. You will want to eat with friends or grab a coffee and study with classmates. Having the ability to do this easily will help.


Attend class and sit near the front: You are paying for each class you take, so go to them. Engage with the material, pay attention, take written notes in a notebook not a laptop (it is proven writing things down helps you remember them better than typing them).

Go through ALL of your syllabi: The first day of class your professor will give you a syllabus. It has the course policies (do they accept late work and how many points do you lose), assignments and do dates, reading materials, how to contact your professor and where to find their office. Put all your assignments on the calendar mentioned above, including readings…not just tests or papers.

Go to your professors’ office hours: Don’t be intimidated by your professors. They teach at a college because they like students (at least most of them do). Going to their office hours and introducing yourself could lead to a mentor and a friend. They can explain concepts you didn’t understand in class, give you tips to prepare for exams, review drafts of your paper or suggest books that might help you complete your research, and if you are applying for a job or graduate school–they can be great references. Large colleges/classes may assign you to a graduate student. If that is the case, meet with them. Same results as above can happen. But if you can also meet with the professor, do that.

Seek Help: Everyone struggles in college. The coursework is harder than high school. I got a D in Finite Math at Indiana University. I still went on to graduate school and I’m proud to say I have never used Finite a day in my life. But, I wish I had gotten help. Start with your professor or graduate assistant. It’s helpful to know what you might need help with to give them direction. Are you not getting a specific concept and want them to explain it to you. Are you struggling to do research or write at the college level-most campus have a writing center that can help. Have you never taken lecture notes–there is probably a note writing workshop offered on campus through the Academic Support Center. Need a tutor–that is probably offered as well…check with your advisor. Campuses have all the offices I mentioned above because students struggle. You aren’t the first, you won’t be the last so don’t be embarrassed…ask for help.

Plan Ahead: read assignments before class, it helps you understand the lecture better. Download any notes are materials ahead of time so you can take your own notes on them. If you have a paper due, plan out what you need to do so you turn it on on time (week one–research topic, week two finalize books, week three write first draft and show to professor, week four revise, week 5 its due). Turn things in on time so you get all the points you can. Spend the time doing the work so you don’t need to ask for extra credit! You may have multiple exams in one week, study and stay on up on the work so you don’t have to cram.


In the world of airpods, residence hall suites, door dash and netflix–it is easy to be in your room or walking on campus and engage with no one. Don’t do that!

Go to the Welcome Week events-there are people on your floor that are new just like you. Suck it up, push past that feeling of being a dork and ask your neighbors if they want to go to events. Some schools will have you assigned to a group with a student leader/peer mentor. If they are organizing events or getting a group to go to events, go with them. You will find you have fun and may actually make some friends (and win prizes). If you are commuting, reach out to the commuter student organization or the Office of Student Life (might be called Campus Life or Dean of Students) to see if there is a group you can attend the event with.

Join a club-Colleges have a club for everything, and even let you easily start new clubs. Go to the activity fair, read the flyers on bulletin boards, check your email announcements, read the chalk messages all over campus and attend something. They will become your closest friends and maybe your future spouse is in one of those clubs.

Attend events on campus: Get a group together to go to the basketball game, see a musical performance or play. Campuses offer lots of events regularly, for a variety of interests. It is always hard to work up the courage to ask someone to go to something, but think about how good it feels when you are asked. You can do the same thing and ask someone else.

Study around campus not just in your room: See if classmates want to have a study group, you can learn thing from others. Or hang in the student center, library, a classroom building. You may run into classmates or faculty helping you feel connected.

Get a job on campus-while some campus jobs require workstudy (a form of financial aid) some do not. Ask your career services or student employment office about campus employment. Working in a campus office helps you get to know staff, faculty and other students. You also learn the ins and outs of the college helping you to better connect to resources.


There are many mental health and support services on campus. Make use of them if you are struggling. Talking to a counselor can be incredibly helpful. They can refer you to services and doctors if you need support the university doesn’t offer.

Published by Kate Coffman

Kate has worked in admissions, financial aid, college and career readiness for over twenty years. She most recently served as the Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Franklin College. Kate has also worked in admissions at Butler University and Indiana University. Kate has presented at numerous schools and conferences helping families, educators and those who work with youth understand how to be college and career ready, how to apply to college and how to afford their education.

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