Surviving and Thriving in the First Year of College

Advice, Tips and the Steps to Having a Great Year for Freshman Students

Meet the Expert

Lauren Herskovic Read bio

Written by

Shannon Lee Read bio

Freshmen face academic challenges and levels of independence they may have never experienced. Combine the importance of doing well in college for the sake of their professional futures and the fact that freshmen are usually further away from home and for a longer period than they have ever encountered before, and it’s no wonder the first year of college can be overwhelming. This guide provides advice and tips to not only survive the first year of college, but make the most of it.

5 Steps to Preparing for Freshman Year

Being accepted to college is a big step towards adulthood. Before classes begin, be sure to complete the following steps to start the freshman year off right.

Valuable Campus Resources for First-Year College Students

  • The Advising Office

    Students are well served to check in early and often with their college’s advising office. Advisors help with schedule planning, academic changes, career exploration, graduation preparation and more. Even freshmen who are busy getting core requirements out of the way are smart to check in with the advising office during their first semester.

  • Tutoring

    Campus tutoring centers provide walk-in help, and students who need help longer term can set up regular meetings with a campus tutor, usually free of charge. Guided study groups are also available at some tutoring centers.

  • Writing Center

    The writing center can help with the volumes of writing most college students are expected to do. Writers at any level can always use an extra set of eyes on their writing projects, and the writing center provides this along with more in-depth help with formulating topics, developing outlines and more.

  • Health Center

    Campus health centers provide care for many acute and chronic illnesses along with preventive and routine health care. Whether a student gets sick with the flu, needs to be seen because of asthma, or requires sexual health screenings or immunizations, the campus health center is typically staffed with doctors and nurses who can help with these issues.

  • Campus Escort/Student Safety

    Campus escort services and shuttles offer a safe way for students to get around campus at night. The service is available to men and women, and can be used to go to and from classes or any other campus activities that take place after hours.

Finding Support for College Freshmen

College educators from around the country recognize the challenges many first-year students face when entering college for the first time. As a result, a variety of programs and initiatives have been established for students, both on campus and off.

Bottom Line

A non-profit organization that encourages and assists low-income and first-generation college students. Bottom Line offers several programs, including its College Success Program which provides students personalized advice and mentorship in all aspects of college life, including career, academic, financial and personal concerns.

Great Lakes Education Philanthropy

A non-profit organization whose goal is to help individuals get into and thrive in college. One of their philanthropic efforts includes providing emergency grants to students who face financial emergencies that threaten their college careers. Many schools have their own similar financial emergency programs.

Below are some examples of programs offered by colleges for first-year students. Check to see if your school offers a similar program.

Lake Superior College – Pathway to College Success

This program is an alliance between Lake Superior College and Duluth Adult Learning Center to help any student transition to college life. Each student receives a personalized study plan to help them meet their academic goals.

Michigan State – Live-Learning Communities

Michigan State University is just one of many colleges that offer live-learning communities where students live and attend class with the same group of students. This additional contact creates added familiarity with others and helps facilitate learning and living among college students, especially freshmen.

University of Maine – College Success Programs

The University of Maine offers a number of student support services to help them succeed in college. The specific programs available include TRIO Students Support Services, CLEP Testing Services and the Tutor Program.

13 Things Every Freshman College Student Should Know

Before leaving for college, you will hear nonstop advice from friends and family members on enjoying the adventure. The following list includes both sage advice that bears repeating and offbeat suggestions that may just change your life.

You’ve heard this before, but it’s true. You might even be surprised by just how many students don’t actually like to drink alcohol. You’ll also be surprised how many people respect another student’s decision not to drink when socializing. Just don’t be self-righteous about it and you’ll be fine.

College professors have a large amount of freedom in how to present their materials and test their students. If a professor has a reputation for being a tough grader and poor teacher, it’s probably not an exaggeration.

Keep track of how much money you have available in your bank account to avoid overdraft fees and be extra careful on opening a new credit card. If you do open a credit card, one way to make sure you use your credit card wisely is to have your statements mailed to your home address where mom and dad can see it. If you’re about to make a purchase on your credit card you can’t explain to your parents, you probably don’t need to make it.

Most of the classroom material you learned in college won’t be applicable for your post-college plans, whether it’s working or continuing your education. College is as much about what you learn in class as it is what you learn outside of class. Then there’s the fact that that one of college’s most valuable features is that it teaches you how to think, not what think.

When choosing your class schedule your freshman year, it’s almost a rite of passage to request a class that’s completely full. When planning out your class schedule, you’ll need to be flexible on the classes you’ll actually be able to enroll in. Create several schedule scenarios before it’s time to register.

Have a good anti-virus and anti-malware program on your computer to protect it from unsavory programs. One wrong click can mean you lose your data or your laptop becomes a brick until the operating system is reinstalled on your hard drive. Oh, and always back up your school work. USB thumb drives and email accounts are great ways to protect your term papers and class projects.

Your professors are real people, with personalities, hobbies, dreams, fears and feelings. Allow yourself to get to know a handful during your college career. Not only will you have some interesting and informative conversations, but when you need a great letter of recommendation, you’ll be glad you got to know your professors.

You will study most effectively when you have a regular place to study. When you have your special spot, every time you sit down, your brain will be ready to learn. It might be a particular study carrel in the library, or an empty desk in an always open classroom. Wherever it is, find it and stick to it.

If not already required, take a public speaking or writing class to hone your ability to communicate. These skills will serve you well no matter what your future holds.

You should be doing something constructive every summer. It can include taking summer classes, working, studying abroad or having an internship. Whatever it is, make the most of that time.

It can be tempting, especially knowing that nine times out of ten, you won’t miss anything you can’t make up. But all it takes is one missed class to lose out on an opportunity to get extra credit or make your professor remember you (and not in a good way).

Getting the flu in a dorm room is one of the worst things that can happen to you in college. To keep your immune system as strong as possible, get exercise, eat right and get as much sleep as realistically possible.

Mom, dad and your siblings miss you and they probably worked hard to help you get where you are. Give them a call and talk about how college life is going. They really do want to know.

Expert Advice for First-Year Students

Lauren Herskovic has been guiding students through the college transition since she herded her hallmates to a weird party their first night on campus. Upon graduating, she went pro, first as the Editor in Chief of CollegeCandy.com, an online magazine for college women, and now as the Chief Operating Officer at Admissionado, an admissions consulting and mentoring company based in Chicago. 

Give us your top three best pieces of advice to help freshmen survive and thrive that first year. 

Don’t be shy! Talk to anyone and everyone you meet. Never again will you be in a position where there are hundreds or thousands of other (smart, potentially awesome!) people who are in the same exact spot as you: brand new and looking to find friends. You have nothing to lose by introducing yourself to all of the people around you, and only some amazing, lifelong friends to make.

Go to class. I know that one of the best things about college is the total autonomy that it offers. No one takes attendance in lecture so why go, right? Wrong. GO TO THAT CLASS. Go to all of your classes. Yes, you have total control over yourself and your schedule – you’re an adult, after all – but the more structure you give yourself from the start, the more successful you’ll be.

Give yourself a break. It’s so easy trade in sleep for the millions of other things going on all the time in the dorms, on campus, off campus, in student groups/Greek life/etc. But it’s also so easy to get really sick, which makes it all too easy to fall behind in classes and end up missing out on a whole lot more. Freshman year is a marathon, not a sprint, and you don’t want to burn out before Thanksgiving!

Any tips on what students can do if they find themselves stuck in a bad place, such as being really homesick or lacking in friends? 

First things first, you gotta know that you’re not alone. Trust me. I went to college 45 minutes from home with 100 people from my high school and even I felt homesick and lonely during the first few weeks of college. This is more common than you think so you shouldn’t be afraid to chat about your feelings with your roommate, your R.A., your friends, etc. 

And after that? As hard as it is, just keep on chugging. Sit next to new people in class and strike up a conversation. Form a study group with people in your classes. Invite people out to dinner in your hall. Join one of the one billion student groups on campus. And just by the nature of dorms and college life, friendships build really quickly, so you can go from “hey, wanna grab dinner in the caf tonight?” to BFF status faster than you can even imagine.