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10 Things Successful College Freshmen Do

Lily appeared in front of my office door, beaming with the joy and pride of a college freshman who hadn’t started classes yet. A dance major, she had traveled to visit me from her dorm room by scooter, a transportation mode that many students use to navigate around campus. It was two days before the start of the Fall semester, and she proudly told me that she had scootered the route for all of her classes to make sure she knew how long it would take and so she wouldn’t get lost on this sprawling campus that is the size of a city with an undergraduate student population of 50,000.

“But where are the cookies?” Already, she knew to be on the hunt for free food at all times. I said, “You’re two days early!” and wandered into the staff kitchen to give this deserving, prepared student the cookies of her choice.

While we munched on cookies, she filled me in on how she'd spent her summer since I first met her at orientation back in June. 

The first year of college is a crucial stepping stone in your academic journey. It sets the tone for the rest of your college career and can significantly impact your future opportunities. A strong start not only boosts your confidence and motivation but also opens doors to honors programs and graduate school applications. While a low GPA is recoverable, it's best to start strong and maintain a steady pace.

For 20 years, I've watched first-year college students flourish and flounder. Here are my 10 tips for you to land in the flourish category:

  1. Ask for help - if I gave you only ONE tip, it would be this one! Successful students are the ones who know they don't know it all and aren't too afraid to ask for help when they need it. If you have a question, ask. I promise you, you are NOT the only one wondering about something or struggling. If you are not sure who to ask, go to your academic advisor. They know a little about everything (and a lot about some things), and if they can't answer your question, they will know who can.

  2. Time management (planning ahead) - if I had only two tips for you, it would be to ask for help and learn how to manage your time effectively. Before college, your life was probably very structured: Go here, do this. In college, the rules of time are much more free, and that can be a steep learning curve. You can download my free e-book, Time Management for College Students, to get started on this important skill now.

  3. Eat and sleep well - psychological theory and common sense suggest that we need to take care of our basic needs before anything else. However, college students are famous for skipping sleep and meals, much to their detriment. The importance of eating well and sleeping enough cannot be overstated. Taking care of yourself in these ways gives your body the fuel it needs to do everything else.

  4. Get out of the dorm - COVID didn't do anyone any favors when it comes to developing social skills. It can be very tempting to stay in your dorm room instead of putting yourself out there. Resist - and GO! Isolating is a recipe for depression and demotivation. Even if all you do is take a walk and get some fresh air, that's a great first step.

  5. Attend classes - The newfound independence of college life can make skipping classes seem tempting. However, it's important to remember that the main purpose of college is to gain an education. Falling behind can happen quicker than you might expect. Besides the obvious benefit of a higher grade, attending class can lead to other great opportunities. You might discover a new academic interest, form relationships with professors who can become mentors and write recommendation letters, and make friends with peers who share your interests. The benefits of attending class extend far beyond the classroom.

  6. Try new things - this is the time to explore! Try new foods, new activities, and courses outside of your major. As with getting out of the dorm, this can require some vulnerability, but it's worth it!

  7. Use campus resources - this goes along with asking for help. People at your college WANT to help you! Learn about the different resources on your campus and take advantage of them. Trouble in a class? Go to office hours, tutoring, or the Writing or Learning Center. Trouble with a roommate? Talk to your Resident Assistant. Unsure how to get involved? Visit the Student Activities office to learn about different clubs and organizations.

  8. Use accommodations (if applicable) - for students who have physical, mental, or emotional diagnosed disabilities and conditions, you should always check with the disabilities services office on your campus. It can ONLY help you if you are eligible for accommodations. If you are eligible, you choose who you disclose to and if/when you use your accommodations. Professors only know if you tell them. Campus staff only know if you tell them. I've seen accommodations make a 180 turnaround for students so it's important you explore this option.

  9. Set goals - I have mentioned the importance of SMART goals in a few previous blog posts and will mention it again here. That's how important it is for success in college. You MUST have Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound goals to stay on track. College students who do well know what they are moving towards. They are also able to adjust and modify those goals as needed. Set aside time on a regular basis (weekly for short-term goals and monthly for long-term goals) to reflect on your progress.

  10. Balance - the college experience has academic, social, personal, and professional aspects, and being successful requires balancing them all, which is no easy task. Doing the first nine things on this list will help you balance as you try new things, go to classes, manage your time effectively, eat and sleep well, and set SMART goals.

Believe in yourself - you can do this! And when you face challenges, remember the first and most important thing successful students do - ASK FOR HELP!

One final tip: to ensure the smoothest transition possible to college, sign up for 1-1 transition coaching with me this summer! Click below for more information or to get started!


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