50 essential lessons every freshman needs for their first year at college!
This post is all about first year at college advice.
With every new school year comes many new students starting their first year at college, like you, who are feeling both incredibly nervous AND insanely excited.
I was no different, and I remember the feeling all too well.
Thankfully, I now have a couple solid years of college behind me. And I know a thing or two now that I REALLY wish I’d known in my first year at college.
There are tons of things you’ll need to keep in mind, habits you’ll want to create, warnings you should hear ahead of time, and college essentials you’ll need to make sure you have for your first year at college.
I’ve got you covered.
This post is all about first year at college advice.
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll earn a commission if you purchase through my link, at no extra cost to you. Our full disclosure policy is pretty boring, but you can read it here.
FIRST YEAR AT COLLEGE ADVICE:
1. Use student discounts whenever possible.
Maybe this is an obvious tip, but you’d be surprised how many places give student discounts. Always ask before you assume there’s no student discount. Usually, near campus, there are tons of places that offer student discounts specifically because they’re close to your college. So, ask EVERY TIME if there’s a student discount, and keep in mind that at stores near campus, there probably is.
RELATED POST – Ways to Save Money in College [STOP BUYING THESE!]
There’s nothing worse than getting through half a day of long classes and then realizing you forgot your charger and your phone’s almost dead, but you still need it to last 4 more hours.
Honestly, the best thing to do is to invest in as many chargers as will be convenient for you.
I have four! One is for my apartment (or dorm room if you’re living on campus). I keep one in my backpack (so that I always have one on me), one in my car, and an extra one in case I lose or break a charger.
Oh, and get long ones – like, 6-10 feet. You’ll thank me later.
3. Favourite your class schedule
Take a screenshot of your class schedule and favourite it in your photos!
Some people even say to put it as your wallpaper. I personally don’t like the look of that (it really bothers me), but it’s up to you.
The bottom line is, make it accessible because you WILL check it TONS in your first couple weeks. I did NOT do this at the beginning of my freshman year, and it was SO ANNOYING to have to constantly scroll through my photos to find my schedule and see what room I had to be in next.
RELATED POST – Study Tips in College (+ Must-Have Study Essentials)
4. Keep a consistent sleep schedule as much as possible
Trust me, I know firsthand that it’s REALLY HARD to keep a consistent sleep schedule in college.
You might have an 8am class 3 times a week but that doesn’t mean you want to wake up at 7am every single morning! As much as you can, try to at least wake up within the same hour every weekday. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule leaves you so much more energized, productive, and overall it’s healthier. Totally cut yourself some slack on the weekends though, I’m all about late nights and weekend sleep-ins!
RELATED POST – Morning Routine for School: 8 Habits College Students Need
5. Go to every class – and better late than never
It might sound obvious, but there are times when it’s tempting to skip class. Try not to do it. You’re paying lots of good money for the class and if you skip classes, you’ll just end up falling way behind!
6. Thrift all your new outfits
Thrifting your new outfits is a sure way to have unique clothing WHILE saving money. Most of my clothing is thrifted and I get compliments on thrifted items almost every day. So, thrifting all your clothes guarantees that you’ll stand out, look good, have a unique style, and save tons of money by not buying new clothes.
7. Use a digital calendar
I’m not kidding when I tell you that I CANNOT FUNCTION without a digital calendar anymore. Try it for a month and you’ll see what I mean. Put EVERYTHING into it. School, your job, study time, even SOCIAL TIME. It’s a great way to manage your time and see how much of it is accounted for so that you can stay on top of your work and stay organized.
RELATED POST – Time Management for College Students: 21 Success Tips
8. Time batch
Time batching is one of the best productivity hacks, in my opinion.
I’ll be honest and say that it’s hard to get the hang of in college, simply because college life is made up of so many different components. You have classes, studying, clubs, teams, maybe your job, social life, and self care time that you need to account for. But time batching is basically taking tasks that are alike and trying to schedule them into the same day.
I love doing this with my class schedule as much as I can. For example, I’ll try to take multiple classes on the same day so that I can have one or two days off class every week. On the days I have no class, I try to finish the bulk of my studying on that day. I try to only do hangouts/social events on the weekends if I can help it, so that I’m not running around to a million different places during the week.
Time batching is basically just trying to organize your time as efficiently as possible by grouping like tasks into the same day.
9. Divvy up the exam material between classmates
Get some friends together from each class to divvy up the study notes when midterms or finals come around. It’s more efficient that way and will give you more time to focus on learning the information.
For one of my midterm exams in freshman year, a few friends and I divided the material between a few of us and all took notes on different sections. Then, we put our notes all together at the end. I thought this would result in me being less equipped on the sections they took notes on, but actually, it was the most effective way to study for an exam.
For other exams when I tried to compile all the notes myself, I found it extremely overwhelming and I actually did worse on those exams.
10. Avoid having Friday classes (if you can help it)
It’s SO NICE if you can try to avoid having Friday classes in your schedule (and this will help you with the time batching tip). This leaves you with a longer weekend to get school work done as well as some time to let loose with friends.
Honestly I know some people really don’t care about this one much, so if you don’t care whether you have Friday classes or not, then that’s great! But I’ve known so many students who swear that not having Friday classes made their semester so much more manageable (myself included).
11. Buy a Brita
Especially if you’re living in a dorm, BUY A BRITA. It’s so nice to have a full jug of nicely filtered water on your desk all the time. It’ll save you from having to find a fountain to fill up your water bottle every time you finish it.
12. Carry a water bottle around with you everywhere you go
I honestly don’t know how some people go to classes all day without bringing a water bottle.
Invest in a good Nalgene, Hydro Flask or ThermoFlask. Drinking tons of water is the first and best thing you need to do for your body, especially on a full day of classes. Getting into this habit during your first year at college is ideal!
13. Don’t buy textbooks before class starts
Seriously, DO NOT buy textbooks before class starts. Your professor will tell you at the beginning of the course what textbooks you really need. And even then, sometimes you can get away without them if you show up to class and make good notes.
I really wish that in my first year at college, someone had persuaded me not to buy ANY textbooks before classes start! I heard people say this, but didn’t take it seriously, and then I ended up spending money on a couple textbooks that I never even used.
I’m not telling you not to buy textbooks if you really need them, I’m just saying that for some classes, you really don’t!
14. Try to rent textbooks or buy them used, then resell
Don’t buy textbooks new if you can help it! Especially if you’re only going to use them for one semester.
15. Invest in coffee you’ll love
Make your own coffee and make sure it’s coffee you love!
Listen, I really need high quality coffee, and lots of it. I hate instant coffee and I’m very particular about wanting strong coffee. But even if you’re not as coffee crazy as I am, it’s a great idea to make your own coffee to save the money (also, let’s face it, making coffee is a great life skill). This might be as simple as investing in a kettle and french press, basic espresso machine (this is the one I have and I love it), or even just a Keurig.
16. Track every penny
DO NOT WAIT UNTIL AFTER COLLEGE TO LEARN GOOD BUDGETING!
Your first year at college is probably the most important time to learn budgeting. The habits you form now will stick with you for life. A great way to start learning how to budget and being self-controlled with your finances is to track your spending. It’s life changing!
17. Schedule rest time & self care time
This might sound obvious, but finding rest time is HARD in college. Make it a priority!
RELATED POST – College Student Self Care Ideas: 21 Ideas for Students
18. Get at least a little active
I love working out, but my fitness probably suffered most in my first year at college. You get exhausted really quickly and sometimes working out is the last thing you want to do. But even if it’s a 10-20 minute workout, something is better than nothing.
RELATED POST – Dorm Room Work Out: Valuable Tips for an Effective Routine
19. Mix & match healthy & unhealthy
I know this sounds like a weird tip, but I hate when people say “eat healthy” as a tip. It’s almost impossible to always eat healthy in college, especially in your first year.
So my motto is, eat healthy as much as possible, but recognize that you won’t always be able to. When possible, try to keep a balance of healthy & unhealthy (rather than eating consistently unhealthy for a week straight). Always keep healthy snacks on hand.
RELATED POST – 25 Healthy College Meals That Are Quick & Easy to Make
20. Find a favourite study place
Your dorm room, a library, a park bench, a cafe — so many choices!
21. Your social life is important!
College isn’t just about the studying. Your social life is important, so give time to it and don’t feel guilty about it!
22. Have the hard conversations with your roommates
It sucks to have a roommate you have to walk on eggshells around. So be prepared to ask your roommate questions and be honest with them. There’s no way around it; at least not if you want a good relationship with your roommate.
Check out my post on questions to ask your roommate for ideas on how to get off to a good start your first year at college!
23. Ergonomics matter
You’ll be studying long hours often, so make sure you’re comfortable! Buy a mouse, a keyboard, a lap desk, a laptop stand, or whatever you need in order to feel comfortable on those long study nights. If you don’t, I can guarantee you’ll get stiff and sore, and nobody wants that.
24. Become friends with your R.A.
Trust me, your R.A. wants to get to know you! That’s what they’re there for. So, talk to them. It’s great to know you’ve always got someone to go to.
25. Keep your laptop files organized!!!
I can’t stress this enough. Make folders for different semesters. Folders for different classes. For different assignments. Make your file names as specific and descriptive as possible. You don’t want to be stuck at 11:59PM trying to find the essay that’s due at 12AM, but you can’t remember what folder it’s in or what you named it.
In my post on Note Taking in College Tricks That Make Studying Less Stressful I break down how to organize your files in a super quick & simple way!!
26. Intentionally stay away from your phone sometimes
I don’t just mean when studying.
It’s really refreshing to intentionally put the phone away sometimes just to live. Maybe it’s while you’re working out, maybe it’s for the first 30 minutes of your day, or something else. But take breaks from it, it’s good for your wellbeing.
27. Keep hand sanitizer on you
Whenever you’re living communally you have a higher chance of getting sick, and trust me, being sick in college is the last thing you want to go through!
Keeping sanitizer on you is always a great idea because you never know when you’ll need it.
28. Keep disinfecting wipes in your dorm
29. Carry a filling and healthy snack with you at all times
I always make sure my backpack is stocked with 1-2 healthy snacks when I go anywhere. It’s always better to pull that out when you need a bite than to grab fries on the way to your next class. Not only is that unhealthy, but also a waste of money!
30. Bring power bars for your outlet
A lot of dorm rooms only have two outlets, and we all know that’s not enough. Bring a power bar or two so that you’ll have more plug-in options!
31. Carry safety items with you and make sure they’re accessible
Sadly, this one goes out to the ladies especially. It can be as simple as keeping your phone, keys, and a whistle and making sure they’re all accessible. But having safety items is so important.
32. Pack light
Remember that you can bring warmer clothes after winter break. It’ll obviously depend on where you live, but if you’re like me and your area gets coldest in December, January and February, then you could pack light for first semester and bring more stuff later so that you don’t have tons of unneeded, heavy clothes filling up your space for the fall.
33. Wear slippers everywhere
Communal living can be gross.
You don’t know what’s been on those floors today… Just wear slippers or flip flops in your dorm.
I love these Nike slides because they’re easy to clean and super comfy. I know they’re on the pricy side, but in my opinion they’re worth it. They will last you for years!
34. You can be in a relationship & still get good grades!
Obviously everyone’s different and some people would rather focus on school than be in a relationship, and that’s totally fine! But there are also many people who are already in relationships and get stressed about how it’s going to affect their schoolwork or their time.
Of course, everyone handles these things differently, and I’m not here to tell you how your relationship should look in college. I just don’t like seeing people stressed about school simply because they’re in a relationship.
You can get great grades, and a relationship can actually be a really healthy aspect of your life during school! You just have to put your mind to it and be prepared that some days you will have to prioritize studying above all else, and other days you’ll have to prioritize your relationship.
35. Ask higher year students about professors
You’ll find out how the professor is anyways, and ratemyprofessors.com can give you some insight for sure, but talking directly to other students about their experiences with the professors you have can be comforting. Or, a fair warning if they’re a bad professor!
36. Talk to your professors consistently
Most professors honestly love hearing about your career goals or cool opportunities you’ve gotten, especially if you develop a good relationship with the professor from when you first meet them.
So, when career-related events and opportunities happen in your life, don’t be afraid to keep them updated!
37. Get to morning classes early
Maybe it’s just because I’m not a morning person, but I find it refreshing to get to a morning class early, get a good sleep, enjoy a cup of coffee and wake up my brain slowly.
Getting to morning classes a bit early so that you’re not in a rush or awkwardly walking in late will just get your day off to a better start, every time.
RELATED POST – How to Wake Up On Time for Your Morning Class
38. Don’t drink energy drinks
Drinking energy drinks is not a good habit to create. Drink coffee or caffeinated tea instead. Do jumping jacks if you’re really falling asleep. Energy drinks every once in a while aren’t totally bad, but just don’t make a habit of it.
39. Taking naps can make you super productive
Seriously, don’t feel bad about taking 20 minute midday naps!
If you’re afraid you won’t be able to wake up, text a friend and tell them to call you in 20 minutes to wake you up and then make sure they stay on the phone with you until you get out of bed and get started with studying. Having accountability is everything!
40. Read for pleasure
If you like reading for pleasure but find you have no time or energy, try making a habit of reading for pleasure for at least 10 minutes before bed to unwind. Don’t feel guilty about doing this if you haven’t gotten your class readings done; sometimes our minds just need a non-guilt break to indulge in something we love.
41. Find a really good show to get you through
On that same note, sometimes you’ve just got to take your mind off school. So, find a great show that will get you through. Reward your studying with episodes of that show or watch it while you’re eating to give yourself a mindless break from school stuff.
42. Keep a gratitude list
Write down 3 things every day when you wake up or before you go to sleep. This is a mindset changer and a life changer, trust me. Just 3 things a day.
43. Watch motivating videos
Find a YouTube channel that motivates you and watch a couple videos whenever you feel like it!
44. If you think you’ve got free time, you’re wrong
You don’t. Take me seriously, or you’ll learn the hard way.
45. Go to orientation
If your school has a fun orientation, I’m jealous. My school’s orientation was lame, to be honest, but I would still recommend any freshman at my school should go for their first year at college. I made friends in my program and got more acquainted with the campus and student life environment.
46. Changing your major or even transferring schools is normal
Don’t worry if you end up changing your major or even transferring schools. You’re young, and you’re not supposed to have everything figured out. Transferring is totally normal, as long as you’re transferring to a program you truly want to try!
47. Create a post-graduation game plan
I know, it’s only your first year at college. But this is still important because I promise you, your degree will fly by.
This doesn’t have to be anything specific or extensive. Obviously, you don’t know exactly what job you’re going to get when you graduate or how long it’s going to take. But at least set goals.
What career do you want to pursue?
Are there specific organizations you’d love to be hired at?
What’s the role you ultimately want to get to? What I mean by this is, maybe you’ll need to start lower, but where do you ultimately want to be promoted to?
Sort out the answers to questions like this and have a specific idea of where you want to be in 4-5 years.
48. Learn to meal prep
Yes, you will have to learn the ropes a little bit. Meal prep is something that you’ve got to get good at in order for it to be truly efficient.
So, learn how to create a meal prep system that works for you. If you have a meal plan on campus, you might not have to worry about this as much, but you’ll still want to do some meal prep for healthy snacks, even if it’s as simple as going to the grocery store every weekend to make sure your dorm room is stocked with healthy snacks.
49. Keep tabs on your syllabus
The worst thing is suddenly realizing that you have a deadline the week that it’s due!
It’s a lot easier now that most syllabuses are online. But you definitely want to check out your syllabus for each class once a week and make sure you know what’s coming up.
50. Live your best life
College is about enjoying yourself, having fun, meeting people, and zoning in on your goals. Have fun in the midst of all the chaos!