Starting out as a college freshman can be an intimidating time. Throughout my life people liked to exaggerate the changes that take place when moving from high school and into college. Teachers talked about how they’re trying to “prep you for college” as if college is somehow dramatically more challenging than high school. In reality, as I found out, that’s usually not the case. Friends talked about their brother or sister that flunked out. The seriousness of college was all around me.
Yes… it’s true that a lot of students going into college end up flaming out and not sticking it out until graduation. That being said, the problems these students have are rarely academic. Sure, they may be saying that failing their classes is the problem but it usually has more to do with not showing up, partying too much, or not even trying. Most “academic problems” in college are not because class is hard. It’s because life is hard…
Most college freshmen that struggle struggle because they fail to balance their own life properly. As long as you maintain the same discipline as you have through high school, college is usually a breeze.
1. Schedule Classes Together
One of the biggest surprises that come to most college freshman is how much life there is outside of actual classes. Considering a huge percentage of college students are moving out of their parents homes for the first time, this makes sense. Little things like washing laundry, going shopping, and dealing with emergencies suddenly become a much more important burden for the students.
This isn’t ideal to every student but, in general, students should be scheduling their classes as close to each other as possible. A relaxed schedule of one or two classes a day may be nice but it often becomes an unpredictable burden. That’s because those one or two classes being sporadically located throughout the week need tons of time to worry about. The student is forced to always be on or around campus.
Scheduling classes within a few days every week allows the student to have a long weekend. That may not seem all that important when you only have a class or two a day as the alternative but having 2 or 3 days without classes is a huge convenience when problems come up. It’s particularly good when you want to get off campus for a few days without falling behind in class.
2. Keep Up With Life
Keeping up with life is the number one challenge new college students have.
This college freshman tip is important because of how much its effect is underestimated. Classes will likely be the least of the average student’s problems. Most college students that struggle are struggling because they don’t take any time to manage their own personal life. Those problems turn into major problems in their academics.
For example, if you skip a meal you’ll get distracted and hungry in class. That likely only has a tiny impact on your grade but day after day it becomes a bigger problem. Some of the more common and more serious problems students suffer from come down to staying out too late or drinking too much. Combining all these little inconveniences creates a huge problem long term.
3. Keep Up In Class
Keeping up in class is the most important factor for surviving academically.
If you got accepted to a particular college then you’re likely well qualified to survive their classes intellectually. If you end up failing in a class it’s likely going to be because you fell behind and failed to catch back up by the end of the semester. Despite being perfectly capable of passing, falling behind can cause major problems.
Keeping up in class is mostly a matter of showing up and doing the work you’re supposed to do. “Supposed to do” is a complicated idea. You don’t need to do all your work but you need to make damn sure to do all your high value work for class. If you can keep up on your high value work then it takes some serious work (or lack thereof) to fail.
4. Know What You’re Getting In For
When you go to college, you need to know what you’re setting yourself up for. College may offer you more freedoms but if you’re doing it right, you’ll probably not be more free than high school. Freedom in college is mostly an illusion. Sure, you’re free to skip class but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to fail (and waste the money you paid for it.) If you’ve decided to go to college then you need to be ready for a similar commitment to the one you make in high school.
Theoretically, you should be willing to invest at least the amount of time you spent in high school working on college work. There are ways to reduce that time investment dramatically but those strategies aren’t magic. This brings up one of the most important factors when it comes to freshman college tips.
5. Know Why You’re There
Are you going to college for fun or as an investment in your future?
Colleges suck for fun. Sure, this is just my personal opinion. College parties are fun but you usually don’t even have to be in college to get into those. If you want college parties then skip college loans and just have fun. Enrolling in college will just cost you money and burden your schedule with annoying classes. I would not recommend going to college for fun unless you had a huge bankroll you were looking to waste. (In that case I might recommend Amsterdam or Vegas more.)
Too many students graduate with no job prospects, no return on investment, and tens of thousands of dollars of debt. They get the privilege of paying all those party debts with minimum wage jobs they could have gotten without their degree. If you’re going to be scared of something, be scared of that.
If you’re going to college as an investment then making the right decisions should be easy. When you stay up late, you’re directly destroying the value of your investment. Your ROI is going down because the next day you’ll learn less, score less, and likely enjoy the process less. That is a stupid move when it comes to investing. Sure, having fun once in awhile isn’t too bad but whenever you start pushing too far in the direction of fun, you need to remember why you’re really there.
Investments don’t need fun. They can be fun but as soon as that becomes a detriment on your investment you need to fix your course.
6. Don’t Compete
College freshmen should not be trying to compete with other students.
This applies to academics and the student’s personal life.
(It applies less to actual competitions like sports.)
Getting caught up in the competition can be a quick way to lose sight of what’s important when looking at college like an investment. (A smart person making 10% ROI doesn’t look at envy towards the person making 20% ROI. They tend to, instead, wonder if the person is doing something that’s stupid in the long term.)
When it comes to academics, there is rarely a good reason to be competitive. The only time to worry about competing academically is if you’re naturally near the top of your class in a super competitive college and field. If you’re in MIT and naturally scoring high then perhaps pushing a little harder can be worth the investment. If you’re an average student looking to crush your roommates grade then you’re likely distracting yourself from what’s important.
Employers rarely look at grades when they’re considering hiring a person with a degree. The degree is generally just a binary constraint. If you have the degree then they’ll put you in competition for the job. If you interview well then you’ll crush the average A+ student.
When it comes to personal life, this non-competition mindset is also very useful. You don’t need to be the coolest person. You don’t need a ton of friends. Sure, you can try really hard at this but it is usually not worth the amount of time it requires. Making a few good friends that appreciate you for who you are is better than making everyone in the school love you for what you’re not.
When you start trying to compete for personal things you’re creating a standard that you’re going to feel guilty if you ever have to stop living up to. It’s better to just be yourself and accept that you won’t be the best at many things in your life.
7. Sleep More Than You Need
There are going to be times when you fail to get enough sleep. This should be expected. Yea… on this blog we try to teach you ways you never have to stay up late cramming but someday you’re going to screw up your sleeping for something. They key is to be willing to correct the course when you start going off it.
This certainly isn’t a recommendation to sleep 12 hours a night because there is such a thing as oversleeping. It’s just to be suspicious of the typical 8 hours of sleep a night. That number is wildly unscientific. It’s also irrelevant for most individual cases.
If you’re the kind of person that stays up late in bed thinking instead of falling asleep fast, you might need closer to 11 hours a night in bed. If you tend to fall asleep fast you might be safer around 9. Many college freshmen suffer excessively because they get in a pattern of sleeping dramatically less than what they’re used to. They’ll stay up until 3 AM and wake up at 8 AM saying that they’re just not a morning person. That night at midnight they’ll be saying, “yea… I only need a few hours a night.” This is crap.
Sleep patterns are one of the most important things that you should try to keep control of. This is particularly true during major life changes like your first year in college. Sure, no one is perfect but if you’re screwing up your sleep every single night then it’s time to get back on track.
8. Study In Short Bursts
The vast majority of effective study routines are difficult. This is a more important point than most people recognize.
Sure, there are painless ways to study but most of those painless ways to study are more painless than a way to study. They’re so ineffective that they require significantly more time to study than a more direct and challenging way of studying.
When you’re studying effectively, most people aren’t mentally strong enough to study for more than a half hour straight. Think of your brain like a muscle. Sure, working it out is a good thing but if you work it out too hard you’re going to end up with an injury. Sure, the studying too much injury isn’t as obvious as a painful muscle but it exists. It will regularly limp your studying ability if you’re not keeping an eye out for it.
Study hard and study fast. This is the most efficient way to study for class. When you’re making a major life change like going to college, one of the most important tips you can take is to make your life more efficient. Studying better is a college freshman strategy that will actually earn you time to enjoy your new phase in life.
9. Make Studying A Habit
Habits are easy. Discipline is hard. Remember that…
It’s easy to follow through with a habit because you do it without even thinking about it. When you’re used to studying whenever you get home, it doesn’t take a long drawn out plan to get it done, it just happens. When you sit down to watch TV then think, “I should probably study” while watching one stupid show after the next (or more likely clicking link after link on your computer,) it becomes a serious challenge to study.
Don’t make yourself suffer through making the decision to study every night. Set yourself up with a habit that gets you studying before you even think about it. By the time you wonder if you should be studying or not, you’ll already have your textbook out. At that point, more times than not you’ll make the right decision.
10. Know Why Others Are There
Yea… you need to know why you’re in college but it goes farther than that. Everyone is in college for a different reason. Every person around you as their own personal set of goals to worry about. This can lead to some major conflicts when you’re trying to make your decisions.
Some students go to college for a social experience. While I don’t recommend it, I certainly can’t say it isn’t alright for that. (I just think it costs a little too much for it.) That being said, if you’re going to school as an investment in your future, you can’t get caught up trying to make your decisions based on the behaviors they exhibit.
Your friend may be able to go out and party all night. That is likely because their goals aren’t in line with your own goals. Heck, some people can stay out all night while still scoring good grades. The sad truth is, while many students try to score high while staying out late, the vast majority of those students embarrass themselves. If it’s not in line with your goals then you can’t worry about why someone else is doing what they’re doing.
You’ll have many chances to deal with the students around you. If you surround yourself with students who don’t share your goals, don’t be surprised if you never reach your goal. If you surround yourself with students who have a similar goal then you’re much more likely to achieve it.
11. Start Mellow
Freshman year in college is a problem just waiting to happen.
Students are moving out of their parent’s house. They’re getting good access to alcohol. They’re given tons of freedom that they’ve never had before. They’re grouped together with other young people in the same situation. It’s like no one has ever read The Lord Of The Flies. (Kidding… Sorry. Don’t fight on the age difference. I know…)
Screw ups are to be expected at a time like this but so many students go into freshman year with crazy expectations. They suddenly think they’re going to be the social center of their group while scoring near the top with their grades in their class (and maybe even head of their sports team.)
Now… there is nothing wrong with holding yourself to a high standard but don’t go too overboard with your expectations. There are a lot of things that can go wrong in freshman year. Be ready for it and try to take it easy. You’ll have four years to get your grades where you want them. Instead of focusing on crushing everything, try to focus on not completely screwing anything up.
Your biggest problems won’t come from the problems you manage poorly, they’ll come from the problems you made the mistake of not even trying to manage. You’re going to run into hiccups but just let yourself manage them one by one and you’ll do fine.
With these 11 college freshman tips, you can make sure that your college life starts right. Focus on balancing your life out first. After you get the hang of that you’ll have plenty of time to take over the campus.
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