This list began as a way to collect some advice for my sister who is going to enter her first semester of college and it ended up turning into a long list as I started going back and thinking of how every semester has come to reshape my mindset. Although some of these things seem silly and others simple, I genuinely wish I had someone to remind me of these things.
I didn’t learn all of these things at once, and some of these I learned through tears and mistakes. So, while I wouldn’t consider myself an expert on the college experience, I hope one of these tips can resonate with you and make you better prepared, even if you are not a Freshman.
Advice I wish I had known in my first semester at college.
DON’T buy your books from the bookstore
At all! It is such a waste of money and easily the first lesson I learned as a college student. There were very few classes that really required a specific text, but other than that there is no reason to pay full price for a text. Here are some ideas:
- Compare prices online across different websites (my favorites are amazon and campus book rentals).
- Find online coupons
- Consider borrowing the text from a friend
- Check if it is available at the library (free!)
- Purchase older editions
2. DO try out different types of classes
Most majors give you an opportunity to try out different subjects through their electives requirement so take the chance to round out your skills. I don’t regret any of my “weird” electives. They allow you to branch out and as a perk they can be great GPA boosters. Also, if you are still in between majors take an intro class in that subject and see what route you want to continue. It’s okay to not be completely sure about your major. It’s not okay to not do anything about it.
Plus, if you decide to switch majors it is best to decide earlier on to save time.
3. DO get the scoop on the best professors on campus
Regrettably I was the skeptic, and didn’t believe friends when they told me that a certain professor was subpar. I just thought that if you tried hard enough it didn’t matter. Turns out that’s not always true! Your best bet is to use ratemyprofessor.com and talk to people who have taken their class before. If both resources tell you a big “NO!” then choose another professor
4. DON’T pile on too many classes at once
You don’t want to spread yourself too thin and hold yourself back from doing the best that you can. This may be especially true for new college students, but keep that in mind as you continue your college career.
5. DON’T let who you were in high school overshadow your new college experience
You might have been an excellent student in high school or you might not have done as great as you wanted to, just don’t let this be your mindset when starting out college. You are here with a clean slate and along with everyone else, you are in the process of learning and growing. Don’t mentally limit yourself.
6. DO take care of yourself and your health
Being sick can knock out a lot of your valuable time. It goes without fail that a lot of students get sick at the end of the semester when there is simultaneously a lot of stress with exams and slacking on personal health. Make your health a daily ritual. And enjoy some me-time.
7. DON’T forget about safety
Now I don’t meant to sound like a mom, but if you are going out late by yourself always let your roomies or someone else know where you are going and get some pepper spray. It’s heartbreaking to hear about domestic violence cases on campuses. That shouldn’t even be a thing
8. DON’T prioritize anything else over school
This includes your job, shopping and/or your boy/girlfriend. I know there will be a ton going on, but it is all in your best interests to stay focused on what is important. It costs too much time and money to not take your classes seriously the first time around. Make plans around your class schedule, not on top of it. This is one of the tips that I was talking about that involved tears in the process of figuring it out :'(
9. DO set goals
Set some specific goals at the beginning of the semester on how you want to conquer it. Then write them down!
Just thinking about them helps keep me focused and if I don’t obtain them it’s just a chance for me to see what worked and didn’t work for me during the semester.
It is just so much easier to adjust a goal than to start from scratch. and to avoid that unorganized mid-semester scrambling when you realize that maybe your habits are not getting you the grades you want. Been there done that.
10. DO learn about yourself
I remember when I started my first semester, to a point I wasn’t sure what to expect. I think my biggest fear at that time was wondering if my classes would be very difficult and more time consuming than I was used to in high school. Part of that was true, but there is so much more to it.
What I think some people forget to mention is that you do a lot of growing up during college. There gonna be new opportunities, places to explore, days you are going to be tested, and people you will meet.You can also see what kind of stress you can and can’t handle and like or don’t like. During college you can really take steps to becoming the person you ultimately want to become.
11. DO connect with other freshmen + mentors
It’s not much of a secret that connections can give you an upper hand and while there certainly seems to be a push to make connections on campus I think it is important to view these relationships as a way to expand your college experience instead of a chore. Be friendly and helpful and others might just return the favor!
12. DO trust your gut
I mean this in a to trust where your heart is most happy doing. And also knowing when to ask for help when the going gets tough. I look back at my first couple of semesters and I feel as though I did not take advantage of the resources out there. The opportunities and resources are there, you just have to go out and seek them. And don’t be afraid to turn down opportunities if they don’t feel right. I’m being a bit vague here intentionally; trust yourself.
13.DO take advantage of career focus fairs
…and other university hosted events. Great chance to make new connections, but also find new perspectives and ideas. Best of all they are free and usually give out free goodies (Woop!). Sometimes there’s even opportunities for free trips to company tours and other places. Be curious, it doesn’t hurt to try.
14. DON’T overlook the class syllabus
Not all classes are created equal. Avoid surprises! Take advantage of the first week to switch professors if you need to.
15. DO stay as organized as you can
Easier said than done, but believe me! This one is hard when college life is throwing things at you from every angle. Having a way to organize it all lets me breathe though it all. If being organized is not your strongest suit (like me), make the effort to at least stay organized at the beginning of the semester. It makes a huge difference.
16. DO take a few steps out of your comfort zone
Attend university events, make connections, try new lunch spots. make this a fun memorable experience by trying things you wouldn’t normally do. There’s no telling what new things may inspire you or new friendships you may make.
17. DO see your advisor
I’m going to be blunt here: You can’t fly by with the “I didn’t know” excuse since it’s your job to be informed now. If you ever have any doubt or lingering question, make sure to get it answered, they know to read the fine print. You don’t want that question getting answered when it’s “too late”.
On that note don’t stick to a mediocre advisor either. There are the advisors that are dull and dry, and then there are the advisors who are genuinely glad to help you and feel more like a friend. Find that friend!
18. DO search for opportunities (and resources)
College has a lovely way of opening so many opportunities. All you have to do is look and ask around! If you are unsure where to start, look at community postings for your college, check in at the career center or at the advising office and signup for their email newsletter to stay up to date.
19. DON’T slack on your personal finances
In fact now is the time to start (if you haven’t already) to practice good money habits, no matter your financial situation in college. Consider planning out where you want your money to go this month. Why not start saving for a trip or study abroad?
It may be wise to acquire a flexible part time if you can manage it, but first and foremost don’t forget that your education is an investment in yourself that will eventually pay off. And on that note..
20. DON’T spend your money freely
I realize now that the college experience has definitely made me picky on how I spend my money. Flashbacks to freshman Dani when I used to go shopping in my free time between classes… My goodness child..
I don’t know what your goals are, maybe you want to buy a car, go to London, start a business, but don’t be like freshman Dani. What ever your dreams may be pay yourself first by saving money. You owe that to yourself!
I just think about it this way: the more I save now, the sooner I get to see my goals and i’m pretty darn excited about my goals.
Side tip: If you want to make a purchase wait at least a day to decide if you really want it/need it, especially if it is a big purchase. This has helped me soo much in deciding if I just wanted something in the moment.
21. DON’T feel like you need to fit a mold
Another amazing thing about college is that you can have particularly unique hobbies and still find others who share similar interests with you. There is only one of you, and you should feel welcome to embrace that because you have your own talents and points of view to offer and that is valuable!
22. DO follow your best interests
Remember that you are doing this for you. No one else. You’ll have to make difficult decisions at times, but just remember to make the choices that reflect the best for you.
23. DON’T forget how lucky you are…
and have faith. It is a privilege to be attending college and to be able to make such a large investment in yourself. You are smart and so fortunate that your experiences have led you start this new chapter in your life. 🙂
24. And also study hardest for the first test!
Dani & a daisy