How to succeed in your first year of college


Your student is facing a lot of unknowns as they prepare to go to college. One thing is certain — it’s going to be a big change. But there are things your student can do to prepare for their new life as a college student — things that will make being successful in college more likely.

Understand that everyone is in the same boat

Your student may feel confused, lost, overwhelmed and as though they made the wrong decision during their first days or weeks of college. But it’s important for them to understand that everyone — yes, everyone — starting college for the first time feels this way in the beginning (even if they don’t show it). And it may help your student to know that they will get used to it and it will get better.

Brush up on their people skills

Your student is going to have a lot of interactions with all different types of people during college — professors, administrators, roommates, classmates, coworkers and friends. If they’ve really only interacted with their family, friends and teachers in high school, they may want to brush up on talking to a variety of people so they can get used to tailoring their conversation for the situation and person they’re speaking with. How can they do that? Start conversations with adults and peers at places they go such as get-togethers, church, restaurants or when volunteering.

Prepare to stay ahead of things

Getting behind in college is easy and it can happen fast. Your student will want to do all they can to stay on top of things. First, a good calendar, whether digital or analog, will help them keep assignments and commitments in check. Making a habit of thinking about the week ahead every Sunday evening will also help them keep the things that they have to do at the top of their mind. And whenever they can complete something early, such as a homework assignment, they should do it. They never know what is going to come up — an illness, a family obligation, a spontaneous night out with friends — but they can attend to it without feeling too much stress if they are already ahead of things.

Understand that adults want to help them and see them succeed

Your student might feel like they are annoying a professor by asking too many questions, or they might avoid asking a staff member a financial aid question because they don’t want to bother them. But they should know that the adults in their life — professors, staff members, supervisors — understand that it's their job to help your student, and most of them really enjoy doing it. They get a lot of satisfaction from watching students succeed and knowing they played a small part in that success.

Realize that making quality friends takes time

Your student will probably be in a hurry to establish their friend group as soon as they start college. After all, no one wants to sit around alone on the weekends during the first weeks of college. But your student should know that making good friends can take time. Maybe their roommate is cool, but they just don’t have anything in common. Perhaps your student won’t click with anyone from their classes until spring semester. That’s OK, and though it can feel like they’ll never make a friend, rest assured that they will. The key is to keep getting out there: join student clubs, go to lectures and events, talk to a variety of classmates. Soon enough they’ll meet a few people who become good friends, and the wait will have been worth it.

Take the initiative

College can be an amazing time where your student becomes interested in things they never knew about before — where they try all sorts of new ideas, foods, schedules, habits — and where entirely new worlds open up to them. Or, it can be a time where they just go to class, study and sleep. In other words, college is what your student makes of it. If they want to make it something that positively changes their life, they need to take the initiative. Because things won’t just happen to them, they need to make things happen. They should stay after class to talk with the professor. Join the student club. Initiate a study group. Talk to that classmate reading the novel by their favorite author. Get out there. Take the reins. Make it happen!

There will be ups and downs

College life is just that — life. And as with everything in life, there are ups and downs. If your student knows this going in, the downs won’t be so bad because they’ll know there is an up just around the corner. While the ups are always great, the downs can be challenging. But your student should know that their college has all sorts of student resources to support them with whatever they’re dealing with. If your student doesn’t know where to turn, all they need to do is ask a professor or staff member and they will guide them on where to go for support.

Do what they’re interested in

Your student will likely have to take some (or maybe even lots) of classes that don’t interest them all that much during college. They can’t really change that, but to counter it, they should also be sure to do things that they love or are interested in. For starters, they should have room in their schedule to take a class or two that interests them but that may have nothing to do with their major. They might also consider joining a club dedicated to something they love, or something they’ve never done but want to try. College is a time of exploration, and while they should definitely explore classes and ideas they aren’t familiar with, they should also further explore the things that call to them.

They may change emotionally and physically

Your student should be aware that college could bring out feelings they’ve never experienced before, or make feelings they are familiar with more pronounced. If they are prone to feeling down or anxious, certain times of year (e.g., finals week) could bring those feelings to the forefront. Or maybe they’ve never struggled with anxiety or depression, but they could find both of those presenting themselves for the first time when they get to college. Your student’s college likely offers counseling services, so your student should know how to get that support if they ever need it. On the flip side, your student might have always thought they never wanted to leave home, but when they get to college they find they love the newfound independence and are thriving on their own. Either way, it’s likely your student will experience new emotions. On the physical side, the “Freshman 15” is real. That’s the tendency for new college students to gain a little weight now that they are on their own, eating as much as they want in the dining halls, snacking during late-night study sessions and spending more time studying than being active. There’s nothing wrong with a little weight gain, but if your student wants to avoid it, they should become a regular at their school’s gym.

Don’t waste money or time

It can be easy for students to spend more money than they have in college. Their friends might be going on a Starbucks run or checking out a concert that’s a little out of your student’s price range. That’s why it’s important for your student to create a budget and stick to it. Same goes with time. They’ll definitely want to make time for social activities, but too much fun can cut into their study time, and then their grades may begin to suffer. As with most things in life, moderation is key. They should budget a little time and money to go out and do things, but not every night.

If your student follows these tips, they should feel confident that they’ll be successful as they start their new college life.