top of page
  • Jill Madenberg

20 Tips for Incoming First-Year College Students

While starting college is an exciting prospect it can also be overwhelming. Did you know that 78% of all first-year college students experience feelings of anxiety, homesickness, and loneliness during the first six weeks of school? Just remember that although you may interact with other freshmen who are seemingly put together and have it all figured out, you are not alone. Adjusting to college can be difficult and take time. Based on first-year stories my former students have shared with me, I am able to offer the following tips to assist you in making a positive adjustment in the next chapter of your life.


1. For the first six weeks of college, it’s a good idea to “play it safe” academically. Make work schedules for every day of what you plan to accomplish and stick to those goals. If you achieve the grades you want after the midway point in your first semester, you can modify these work schedules.

2. Find out how to modify your academic schedule as soon as you arrive on campus, preferably before classes begin. Will you need an advisor’s signature? Are you unable to drop a class after a certain deadline? If your course registration website allows you to do so, sign up for one “extra” class for your first semester with the intention of dropping it. This will allow you to be flexible within the first few weeks in determining which classes are best for you.

3. Don’t eat meals alone, even during your first few days. Seek out people who are sitting by themselves (or even people in a welcoming-looking, smaller group). You can learn so much -- and maybe make new friends -- by introducing yourself to people this way, and this can be a way to feel less lonely.

4. Be open-minded and try things that are a little out of your comfort zone. If there’s an interesting lecture, go to it. Attend your college’s club fair and get involved with a few organizations on campus. Especially if you attend a larger school, you will feel overwhelmed with so many people if you do not seek out intentional communities and smaller circles.

5. Leave the door to your dorm room open when you are there. This will contribute to a friendly atmosphere with your neighbors in the hallway, and it will encourage people to approach you and introduce themselves.

6. Before you get to know your roommate, the two of you should establish some guidelines, such as quiet hours and boyfriends/girlfriends in the room. Remember that the goal of you and your roommate should be to live well together, and if you end up becoming best friends, that’s an awesome bonus.

7. Inquire about health services at your school right when you begin so that if you get sick first semester, you know how to deal with it. Where is the health center and what are its hours? Getting sick at school can also make you feel homesick, so it’s important that you are well-equipped with resources to make yourself feel better quickly. You can keep over-the-counter medications in your dorm so it’s not a big deal if you need a Tylenol, for instance.

8. Before you leave for school, have a discussion with your parents about who is paying for what expenses. For example, are you expected to pay for your textbooks or weekend outings? You can open a checking account at the college’s business office or a local bank. If your parents will be contributing spending money for this account, they should have deposit slips ahead of time. Pay your bills on time and keep a record of reasons for all expenditures. This can also serve as a receipt for payment. Don’t forget to check your statements monthly and ensure they are accurate. Save $250 before school begins to be used as an emergency fund such as a lost room key.

9. Identify what you will do when you need extra support. Does going to the gym or attending religious services make you feel at ease? Take these support systems with you to college to make it feel more “homey.” You can still keep a childhood stuffed animal on your bed in school!

10. Exercise at least a few times a week to stay fit and help yourself feel good. Exercising and using the athletic facilities at school is another great way to meet new people.

11. Even if you are permitted, do not bring your car to school for your first semester. While you may enjoy fleeting moments of feeling popular, people may try to use you for your car, and it can be hard to say “no” to pizza-run or other fun activities when you need to study. If you take your car to college in the future, have an answer prepared for when people approach you to chauffeur them.

12. If your financial aid package includes a work-study program, I recommend that you endorse your paycheck as soon as you’re paid. If you have a work-study plan, you must work the hours you are assigned, and your earnings will be an essential component of your college funds.

13. Inquire about office hours during the first two weeks of classes, and get to know your professors early on in the semester. Instructors and TAs will usually hold separate office hours, and you can obtain this information by reading your syllabi or emailing them to ask specifically.

14. Form study groups for each class, even in ones you think will be on the easier side. Get a peer’s phone number for each lecture and discussion section so that you can contact someone if you need help or missed any material.

15. Find out about tutoring facilities that are available on your campus. Many students do not know about or take advantage of some wonderful programs that exist, and as soon as you find yourself falling behind in class (or even before this point to stay proactive), use tutors to your advantage. Make a contingency plan for the possibility of getting a "D" in all of your classes. What will you do?

16. Monitor yourself and your behaviors daily. Watch yourself for excess in any behavior such as apathy, all work and no play, too much sleep, or eating too much or too little. Talk about your issues with a trusted friend, RA, or someone else on campus. Everyone will experience some feelings of self-doubt, and it’s important that you have a go-to person for advice and mentoring support.

17. Date rape occurs most often during a person’s first semester of college, and most of these cases involve binge drinking. Make sure that your roommate or someone else knows where you are at all times and what time you are expected to return to your dorm. Come home with the same group you left with for the night. Do not walk alone in the dark.

18. Handwrite your parents a thank you note when you get to school for sending you to college. This will mean a great deal to them and it’s an easy enough thing to do.

19. Remember that your younger siblings likely idolize you, especially when you come home for a school break. Be a positive role model for them.

20. Request that your parents not remodel your bedroom during your first year at school. It will be comforting to return to exactly the same room you had left.

Up until you go to college, there are adults around to warn you about potential consequences regarding your decisions, but when you leave home, this is not the case. Now is your chance to make good choices -- work hard, have fun, and enjoy your time as a college-student for what many adults remember as the best years of their lives.

bottom of page