Tips for College Freshmen From an Upperclassman

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Student Success
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Julia Simonyan is a junior at San Jose State University


Starting college fresh out of high school can seem scary and nerve-wracking. It’s okay for students to feel that way because college life can be confusing to navigate. As a young freshman back in 2019, I wasn’t exactly prepared for what I was getting myself into—nor did I have a plan on what exactly I wanted to get out of my education. It took time, patience and hope. Soon enough, I got myself on the path to success by taking the time to develop a college mindset. This involved developing my organization skills, leaning on my support system and thinking about what I want, and how I can achieve it through college. In this post, I’ll offer my tips for college freshmen that you can share with your first-year students to help them start on the right track.


Looking into the future

Looking into your future before entering college (without any person next to you to influence your decision) is the first step in being independent and figuring out what you want to do with your life. It’s okay if you don’t get a clear answer right away. Sometimes it takes going into college as an undeclared major and taking down your GE requirements first while experiencing a bit of each major. I would recommend volunteering or unpaid internships involving subjects that fascinate you.

Also, I don’t believe graduation should necessarily be your top priority. I was super confused about this concept when I first started college. If you’re already sure of what you want to do it would be ideal to just work hard for four years and graduate on time. If you’re still deciding, I suggest taking things slow and not taking so many classes per semester. Six classes might be nothing in high school. In college, you may have limited time to study in between everyday life. By taking fewer classes, you’ll be able to put more focus on the material, appreciate it more and likely earn higher grades.

Especially if you’re planning to take the MCAT test after college or go on to graduate school, the motto “C’s get degrees” is probably not one to follow. If your course load is manageable, you’ll retain more of what you were taught and be able to use it in the future.

Schools offer a lot of resources that can help you build your college resume. Look on your school’s websites for available programs, join career clubs (where students looking to go into a certain field can network and share opportunities) and check out flyers in school buildings to see if any clubs, research opportunities, internships or volunteering opportunities interest you.


Building a support system

Colleges can have cliques just like high schools, and it’s easy to feel left out. It’s important to develop a strong support system to be there for you when things get tough. You can get professional support from a therapist, which some schools offer as a part of your tuition. You can also join a club or student organization and make friends with the people around you.

Whether you commute or live on campus, peer pressure can be a factor in college and hanging out with the wrong crowd is something you want to avoid. Addiction is prevalent in college, and you won’t be able to stay focused on your goals if you prioritize fitting in with a certain crowd.

If you have a good relationship with your family, close friends or counselors, this is the time to stay in touch with everyone. Doing something positive, like going to a safe space or volunteering at an animal shelter is also a really great way to connect with others if you’re still working on establishing that support system. You are transitioning into adulthood, and having a support system will help you in the long run as you will have positive influences all around you.


Practicing organization skills

Organization isn’t easy, and it isn’t exactly fun. But remember the reward that comes out of being organized—not only will it socially impact you, making you seem more reliable to teachers and students, but it will also impact your own mental and emotional well-being. You will be a much more relaxed student because you’ll be more prepared.

When it comes to being organized in school, you need to develop good note-taking and study habits. I recommend also buying nice looking binders, notebooks and storage tools that will keep your workspace neat. When you have a nice space to work in, you’re more compelled to be productive. Another great resource to take advantage of is school study spaces. If you’re studying next to your bed you might get sleepy and opt to close the books and curl up into it.

Organization is important in your life outside of school as well. It’s about cleanliness, maintaining a full but flexible schedule and budgeting your money. Being clean and keeping your surroundings organized will help you to start enjoying the little things in life. Consistency is key for organization in life. Making realistic plans can help you get over the what-ifs and boost your probability of success.


Final thoughts

Overall, college isn’t easy, just as life, in general, isn’t easy. Think of college as a tutorial to the larger world that we’ll live in once we start working in society. It all depends on how much you want to get where you’re going in your life. If you never give up, you’ll eventually get there—or somewhere else you weren’t exactly expecting but enjoy, nonetheless.

A college mindset is a hopeful, hardworking mindset. It will always be a tug of war with your classes for your degree. With enough skill, support and clarity, you will overcome.


Want to share more helpful advice with your students? Check out our top ten college study tips list.