10 Essential Tips for Thriving Your Freshman Year in College

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Tips for Surviving Freshman Year in College

Don’t Just Survive Your Freshman Year, Slay It

Congratulations, you made it out of prison…I mean high school. No more 7:30am class or principles breathing down your neck for being 3 minutes late.

But now you’re going to college, and though college is an incredible time filled with lots of opportunities and freedom, your freshman year is also really challenging. From doing your laundry to managing your time and even dealing with professors you can’t understand, there’s a lot to figure out!  Whether you’re just starting to pack for move-in day or you’re already on campus, here’s your ultimate guide to making the most of your first year; the top ten ways to thrive freshman year in college.

1. Prepare to Be on Your Own

Moving away from home for the first time can be both exciting and a little scary. Take some time before you start your freshman year to learn basic life skills. Learn how to do your laundry (correctly), cook a few simple meals that don’t involve cereal or ramen, and take a look at your finances. Being prepared will make the transition smoother and give you more confidence to tackle college life head-on.

One of the biggest challenges you’ll face is managing your newfound independence. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you don’t have your parents around to wake you up, remind you to do your homework, or clean your room for you. Start practicing self-discipline NOW by setting up a daily routine that includes chores, study time, and relaxation. Keep it simple and short; 20 minutes of study, or picking up one area of your room after breakfast, or just clearing off your desk every day. This way, you’ll be better prepared to handle the consistent responsibilities of college life.

Additionally, familiarize yourself with basic budgeting. Understanding how to manage your money is crucial. Create a simple budget that includes all your income and regular expenses, then stick to it! Apps like Goodbudget or YNAB (You Need A Budget) can be incredibly helpful in keeping track of your finances.

2. Get Organized and Scheduled

The freedom in college is incredible, but going from having everything scheduled for you to complete freedom sends most college students reeling their freshman year. Most of us don’t know what to do with all that freedom and quickly find ourselves behind on assignments, late for work, and sleeping through class. Start by investing in a good planner or use a scheduling app to keep track of classes, assignments, test dates, personal commitments, and social activities. Staying organized helps you manage your time effectively and reduces stress. Trust me, you’ll thank yourself when finals week rolls around.

Start by listing all your classes and their corresponding assignments and exams. Put them in your calendar with reminders days or even weeks in advance. Break down big projects into smaller tasks and set deadlines for each one. This will make large assignments feel less overwhelming and more manageable. And remember, 30 minutes a day working on assignments or studying is WAY more effective than waiting till the night before and trying to cram it all in at once. You won’t perform as well and your mental health will suffer because of it.

Also, try creating a daily and weekly routine that includes not just academic responsibilities, but also time for exercise, social activities, and self-care. Block of the SAME time each day or week for these activities so you get in a rhythm and getting it all done becomes easier. Plus, having a balanced schedule ensures that you’re not neglecting any important aspect of your life.

3. Get Involved on Campus and Meet People

One of the best parts of college is the opportunity to meet new and diverse groups of people. Join clubs, attend campus events, and get involved in activities that interest you. This might feel terrifying at first—especially for my introverts—but force yourself to do it, at least at the beginning of the year. A little bit of discomfort is way better than four years of loneliness, so get out there! Not only will you make friends, but you’ll also build a network that can support you throughout your college journey and beyond.

Participating in campus organizations helps you develop skills that will be valuable in your future career, such as leadership, teamwork, and communication. Plus, it’s a great way to explore new interests and hobbies that may help you find your passion and career path going forward!

Don’t limit yourself to just one group—try out a few different organizations to see which ones you enjoy the most. And don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and attend events or join clubs that you wouldn’t normally consider. One of our students was SUPER shy and unathletic, but she tried out the paintball club at her university and fell in love with it! She got to use her skills of strategy, gained confidence in herself, and made lifelong friends.

4. Take Advantage of Campus Resources and Support Services

Every college offers a wealth of resources that are literally there to help you succeed. From tutoring centers and writing labs to counseling services and career advice, these services are there to support you. There are even success specialists who can help you get involved and make friends! Don’t hesitate to use them—they’re included in your tuition, after all.

One resource you should definitely utilize is the library. It’s not just a place to find books; many libraries offer study rooms, computer labs, and research assistance. Librarians can help you find the materials you need for your assignments and teach you how to use academic databases effectively.

Another valuable resource is the career services office. They can help you with everything from resume writing and interview preparation to finding internships and job opportunities. Start building a relationship with them early on; they can provide guidance throughout your college career and even after graduation.

And don’t forget to check out the mental health services offered. Most colleges have counselors you can see for free—and counselors are expensive—and some have wellness centers with massage chairs, meditation rooms, and other forms of stress relief. Don’t hesitate to try things out, you’ll likely be much better off than your peers if you do!

5. Learn to Live in the Dorm and Enjoy It

Dorm life is a quintessential part of the freshman year college experience. Embrace it! Get to know your roommate and neighbors, and create a living environment that feels like home. Communal living teaches valuable skills like communication, compromise, and cooperation. Plus, it’s where some of the best college memories are made.

Living in a dorm means learning to coexist with others in close quarters. Establish open communication with your roommate from the start. Discuss your schedules, habits, and any potential issues that might arise. Set clear boundaries and expectations can prevent conflicts down the line. And WRITE THEM DOWN!

My roommate and I agreed that if there was an issue we would talk about it, but then we never did and the tension started to rise. Talk through every potential annoyance, agree upon a rule, and write it down so you both see it regularly. That way when someone breaks a rule all the other one has to say is “Hey, remember rule 5. Could you please keep your stuff on your side of the room?”

Also, get involved in your dorm’s community. Attend floor meetings, participate in events, and be friendly with your neighbors. Building a positive relationship with those around you can make your living situation much more enjoyable. I connected with most of the people on my floor, and one night when an intoxicated guy came looking to fight me for a dumb reason, my whole dorm floor stepped in front of me and de-escalated the whole situation!

6. Stay Healthy and Prioritize Self-Care

Your health is crucial to your success in college and freshman year is a challenge for almost everyone. There’s a reason it’s called the “freshman 15.” Make sure to eat balanced meals, get 7-8 hours of sleep, and find time for exercise, even if “exercise” is just going for a walk every now and then. Mental health is just as important, so practice self-care and seek support if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Remember, it’s okay to take a break and recharge.

College can be stressful, and it’s easy to neglect your health when you’re juggling classes, homework, and social commitments. Make it a priority to take care of your body because nothing affects your mood and your mind like your physical health. The less healthy you get, the worse you will do in school. So plan your meals to include a variety of nutrients, and try to avoid the temptation of too much fast food or sugary snacks.

Regular exercise is also important. Whether it’s hitting the gym, joining an intramural sports team, or simply going for a walk, staying active helps reduce stress and keeps you healthy.

Don’t forget about your mental health. College can be a major adjustment, and it’s normal to feel homesick, anxious, or overwhelmed at times. Practice self-care by taking breaks, doing activities you enjoy, and talking to friends and family. If you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out to campus support services for guidance.

7. Set Realistic Goals and Manage Expectations

College is a time for growth, and that means setting goals. However, it’s important to keep them realistic. Maybe a 4.0 is doable for you, but getting a 4.0 in 7 classes while working a job, having a social life, and getting 8 hours of sleep isn’t doable for ANYBODY! Decide what is most important and what should get the most attention, but try to keep it somewhat balanced so you don’t burn up or flame out.

When setting goals, make sure they are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For example, instead of saying “I want to get good grades,” set a goal like “I want to achieve a 3.5 GPA this semester by studying for two hours every day.” Break larger goals into manageable steps and celebrate your progress along the way. Understand that setbacks happen, and they’re a natural part of the learning process.

Remember that it’s okay to adjust your goals as you go. If you find that you’re struggling with a particular class or activity, reevaluate and make necessary changes. The important thing is to keep moving forward and not get discouraged by setbacks.

8. Seek Help When Needed and Ask for Support

You don’t have to go through freshman year alone. Whether it’s academic challenges or personal issues, don’t hesitate to seek help. Reach out to professors, advisors, and campus counselors. You might consider a dedicated college life coach like our College Success Program. The worst thing you can do is try to strive through college on your own. There are people here to help you and asking for support is always a sign of strength, not weakness.

If you’re struggling with a class, don’t wait until it’s too late to ask for help. Visit your professor during office hours or join a study group. Most professors are more than willing to help you if you show that you’re making an effort. I even had one let me take a makeup test in his office, unsupervised, WITH MY NOTES just because he knew me and trusted me by the end of the semester.

Harvard Medical School has proven that the most important thing for success and happiness is connection to others. So get connected and ask for help! Remember, EVERYONE needs help sometimes. Reaching out for support shows that you’re proactive and committed to your well-being.

9. Embrace New Experiences and Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

College is a time to explore and try new things. Take that class that intrigues you, even if it’s outside your major. Study abroad if you have the chance. Attend events that challenge your perspectives and try to make friends with people who are different than you. Stepping out of your comfort zone leads to personal growth and new opportunities, and your freshman year sets the tone for the rest of your college life.

Don’t be afraid to take risks and try new activities. Join a club that interests you, even if you’ve never done anything like it before. Attend lectures or workshops on topics you know little about. I once went to something I had never heard of called a “poetry slam” and two years later was writing poetry and running the slams myself! These experiences can broaden your horizons and help you discover new passions, so don’t be afraid to try them out once or twice.

10. Focus on Growth Rather Than Perfection or Achievements

It’s easy to get caught up in grades and accolades, but college is about more than just academic success. In fact, I always tell my college coaching students that academics is only about 30% of the learning done in college. Focus on your personal growth and the experiences that shape you. Learn from your mistakes and embrace the journey. The person you become is far more important than a perfect GPA and will have a lot more impact on your future success in life.

Instead of striving for perfection, aim for progress. This is just your freshman year so there’s always time to correct and change course. For now, celebrate your achievements, no matter how small, and use setbacks as learning opportunities. Understand that everyone’s college journey is different, and comparing yourself to others can be counterproductive.

Reflect on your experiences and think about how they’ve helped you grow. What skills have you developed? How have your perspectives changed? By focusing on growth, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of yourself and what you want to achieve in life.

Final Thoughts

Your freshman year is wild time of new experiences, challenges, and growth. By getting involved, staying organized, and taking care of yourself, you’ll set the foundation for a successful college career. Embrace every moment, learn from your mistakes, and make memories that will last a lifetime. Here’s to an amazing freshman year!


If this was helpful for you, check out our other college tips and advice on our College Success Coaching Blog. We have dozens of hacks and tricks for making the most of your college experience like How to Find Your Passion: A Guide for High School Graduates


Tips for Surviving Freshman Year in College

Tips for Surviving Freshman Year in College


Kurtis Vanderpool


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