Freshman 101: Your First Year of College

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If you’ll be a college-bound freshman in the fall of 2022, there are so many experiences to look forward to on campus. You will create lifelong friendships, join unique clubs and activities, discover your passions, learn to embrace independence, immerse yourself in different points of view, and open your mind to new ideas. You’re embarking on an adventure full of growth and excitement—but the first year is not without its challenges too. 

As a recent survey from The Princeton Review found, the latest incoming class of freshmen could face certain barriers to entry due to the continuing effects of this pandemic. 51 percent of students say that e-learning hurt their grades or extracurriculars; 20 percent say that economic issues make it tough to afford university tuition; 17 percent say that travel restrictions hamper their ability to tour a campus; 5 percent say it’s difficult to take the SAT or ACT. And that’s only the admission process—what about once the semester actually begins?

If you’re not sure what to expect, rest assured: this is completely normal. From learning how best to navigate around campus to balancing academics with a social life, to scoring the cheapest deals on textbooks, to surviving final exams without an emotional meltdown, being a freshman is a crash course in adult responsibility. So, if you have questions, we have answers! Here’s how to hack this first memorable, formative year of college. 

Buy Used Textbooks (or Rent Them Online)

As soon as you’ve registered for classes and receive the list of materials you’ll need, make a beeline to a used textbook retailer or rental website. These options cost a fraction of what you’ll be charged at the university bookstore—online brokers such as Chegg, for instance, offer used or rental textbooks for as much as 90 percent off the retail price.

But you have to rent or order quickly before the supplies run out because other college students across the country have their eye on those same discounts. If you have a tablet or e-reader, you also might be able to save on course materials by downloading a virtual textbook instead of purchasing a hard copy. Just be sure to choose the right edition so your textbook content aligns with the lecture slides you’ll take notes on during class.

Get a Lay of the Land Before Classes Start

If you will be in the dorms this fall (most universities require non-commuter freshman to live in student housing), move-in weekend usually happens several days before the official semester begins. Once you’re all settled in the new digs, use this free time to acclimate to campus. Take a screenshot of your class schedule, then practice walking to each location, so you’ll know the route ahead of time, rather than scrambling to learn it on the first day.

It’s also smart to pay attention to where other important buildings are located too—such as the library, fitness center, student union, career services, dining hall, campus security, medical clinic, and registrar’s office, for instance. You can also look for these addresses online, program them into your phone, and use GPS navigation to help orient yourself until the campus becomes more familiar (and it will after a few weeks of adjustment). 

Cast Your Friendship Net as Wide as Possible

In college, there are numerous ways to meet new friends, so don’t limit yourself to just one or two avenues—seek out as many points of connection as you can. Make an effort to intentionally bond with your roommates. Invite your neighbors across the hall to come over for pizza and a Netflix binge. Join a student organization or intramural sport. Audition for a theater production. Form a study group with some of the other freshmen in your classes. 

The wider you cast this net, the more chances you will have to create a strong, diverse social circle. You’ll meet friends who have similar interests as you, friends who come from different walks of life than you, friends who inspire you to venture outside your comfort zone, and even friends who bring out the wild streak in you. That’s the fun of college—you often find community in the most unexpected or unlikely of places. 

Learn How to Manage Your Time Effectively

Of course, no matter how thriving your friendships are, the main reason you’re here is to earn an education. It’s important to balance social activities with your studies—which is where effective time management skills come in. Whether you need to plow through a chapter, finish writing an essay, review lecture notes for mid-terms, or hold onto sanity during finals week, here are a few tips to manage your time and ace those assignments:

  • Eliminate any unhelpful distractions. Place restrictions on social media, silence text message notifications, mute your email inbox, switch off the TV and remove anything else that will distract you from the task at hand until it’s complete.
  • Take notes based on how you learn. If you are a visual learner, take photos of the lecture slides to memorize. If you are an auditory learner, record the professor talking. If you are a kinesthetic learner, make flashcards to quiz yourself.
  • Reward yourself with study breaks. Organize study time into concentrated bursts of 15- or 20-minute intervals, then decompress with a 5- or 10-minute break after each interval. This will keep your brain focused, sharp and energetic.
  • Beat your mind’s “Forgetting Curve.” Mental recall steeply declines after the first 24 hours of learning new information. In other words, those last-minute cramming sessions don’t work—a more effective method is to cement the information in your brain over a span of days or weeks (not hours), using incremental repetition.
  • Use the resources available to you. Seek help from your professor or teaching assistant during their office hours. Visit the tutoring center on your campus to access studying tips and resources. Use an online exam review platform to generate self-made practice quizzes, memorization games, or virtual flashcards. 
  • Optimize your note-taking technique. Prevent your brain from wandering in the middle of a lecture by switching up how you take notes. Practice writing in shorthand (it’s often quicker than typing on a computer). Designate a section of your notes to bullet point recurring themes. Color-code the main ideas from each lecture, so you can refer back to them easily. Experiment until you find a technique that sticks.

Set Yourself Up for Maximum Success this Freshman Year

The first year of college is a definite learning curve, but it’s nothing you can’t handle with these tips in your arsenal—err, backpack. As you head off to campus in the fall, embrace this new experience for the adventure it is, recognize that it will take some time to fully acclimate, and immerse yourself in all the opportunities and resources available. These next four years will lead to lifelong memories, so set yourself up for success right now.

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