Skip to main content

College 101: Tips on Surviving Your First Year

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

Alyssa is a student at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater here to share her advice on surviving your first year of college.

Your first year of college can be tough—here are some tips for getting through it!

Your first year of college can be tough—here are some tips for getting through it!

Cheerleader. Prom Queen. Starting Quarterback. Valedictorian. Maybe you were one of those in high school, and maybe you weren't. The best thing about college is none of that matters anymore. In college, you start with a clean slate. Nobody there knows your past, but they will know your future. Hi, I am Alyssa. I am a student at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater, and I'm going to share some tips with you on how to survive your freshman year of college.


25 of the Most Helpful Tips to Survive College

  1. Stay humble. It doesn't matter if you went to the best high school in the state, or if you were Prom Queen two years in a row. What matters is you are now in college.
  2. Call your parents. If it's hard for you to be far from home, it's hard for them as well.
  3. Get to know your roommate and people on your floor. Going through a new chapter of your life away from home is hard, and chances are they're in the same boat as you.
  4. Do not date people on your floor. Floorcest is a big no-no.
  5. Go to class. It may seem obvious, but you're paying to go there. Not only does going to class benefit your grade, but participating a lot can help you build relationships with your professors.
  6. Go to your professors' office hours. Professors are really there to help you succeed. The rumors that professors don't care about their individual students are completely false. They want to see you do well, and they will do as much as they can to help you, as long as you put in the same effort.
  7. Take advantage of all the campus resources. Study sessions, tutors, the library, all of these can help boost your grades and your overall GPA. As an added bonus, most of them are FREE!
  8. Explore every part of the campus. You're going to be living here for nine months, so why not know it like the back of your hand.
  9. "Study hard to party hard." Enjoy some time out with friends. Whether it be at a party or a quiet night at the movies, having some fun time is key to staying sane.
  10. Don't judge or shame people who make different choices than you. Suzzie goes out and parties every night? That's great for her. You may not agree with her choices, but you should respect them.
  11. You'll lose touch with the people you thought you would be friends with forever. Going two different ways in life isn't a bad thing; just appreciate the times that you had with them, and continue on the path that is right for you.
  12. You'll meet some of your lifelong friends in college, but it doesn't happen overnight. Be patient and open to relationships. You often find your soul mate when you stop looking.
  13. Keep your dorm clean. Nobody likes walking down the hallway holding their breath because someone can't keep their room clean.
  14. Wash your sheets more than once a year. Putting on and removing sheets off of a lofted bed can be awful, but it's well worth it to sleep in clean sheets.
  15. Get involved! This is probably the best thing you can do. You'll meet so many wonderful people, and the best part is they are passionate about the same things you are.
  16. Be outgoing. Do things you never thought you would do. Good stories never start with "One time, I cautiously..."
  17. Eat dinner alone. Eating dinner by yourself in the dining hall is not the worst thing in the world, and if people are going to judge you for it, they are people you don't want or need in your life.
  18. Take lots of pictures. You may not remember most nights, but you'll definitely remember the people you were with.
  19. Bleed school spirit. Have a football game coming up? Dress crazy, go all out! You only have a limited number of sporting events left, so enjoy them all while you can.
  20. Have the confidence to say no.
  21. Don't spread yourself too thin.
  22. Stay true to yourself and your goals. Don't let others influence the way you think. If you want to do something, then do it. Don't let anybody come in between you and your goals.
  23. Spend your money on experiences instead of things.
  24. Learn to love yourself and those around you.
  25. Enjoy every moment, because it's over in a heartbeat.

What to Expect Your First Week

The Ultimate Packing List

Here are things you should bring with you.


  • Binders and notebooks for each class
  • Pencils
  • Pens
  • Colorful Sharpies/gel pens
  • A planner—this is the key to staying organized
  • Stapler (and staples)
  • Paper clips
  • A dry erase board calendar and markers
  • Computer and cords
  • Pictures of things you love from home
  • A fish (if you're allowed to have pets)
  • Christmas lights around your desk
  • Desk lamp


  • Bring the clothes you feel most comfortable in, and the clothes that are your favorite.
  • Unless you have shoe storage, limit the amount of shoes you bring because there isn't a lot of space for them.


  • Sheets
  • Blankets and lots of them
  • Pillows and lots of them as well
  • Body pillow
  • A stuffed animal from home
  • Alarm clock
  • Bedside lamp
  • Bedside fan if you don't have air conditioning


  • Microwave
  • Fridge
  • Condiments
  • Spices
  • Salt and pepper
  • Snack foods such as bars, chips, mac and cheese packets
  • Plates and silverware
  • Napkins
  • Paper towels
  • Coffee pot and filters
  • Coffee and creamer
  • Coffee mugs, travel mugs, and water bottles


  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Body soap
  • Scrubby
  • Razors
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Mouthwash
  • Floss
  • Hair brush
  • Hair product
  • First aid kit with both acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
  • DayQuil and NyQuil for when you get sick (because chances are you will)
  • Lotion and other beauty products
  • Towels
  • Shower caddy if you don't have your own bathroom
  • Shower shoes


  • Brita water pitcher or water bottle
  • Storage space
  • A futon
  • Christmas lights
  • Command strips
  • A tension rod with curtains for your closet door
  • Over the door mirror
  • Wash baskets/clothes hamper
  • Laundry soap
  • Television and cords to hook up the cable
  • A tote bag for weekend trips
  • An air bed for friends when they sleep over

Things I Didn't Need

  • Books. Books just take up valuable shelf space and they hardly ever get read.
  • A desk chair. Check with your university's dorm furniture list. More often than not they will provide you with a chair, and they will prohibit the removal of any of their furniture from your room.
  • A floor lamp. Christmas lights were the perfect "mood" lighting instead of the fluorescent overhead light. The floor lamp just took up needed space.
  • Sandwich stuff, eggs, bigger meal foods. I didn't cook as much as I would have liked, and the food just ended up going bad. I took advantage of the meal plan my campus offered.
  • A DVD player and DVDs. Most of the movies you want to watch are on Netflix anyways, and once again this stuff just took up much needed space.
  • All my sweatshirts and t-shirts. Just choose a select few to bring with you.
  • A robe. I just used a wrap-around towel to walk back from the bathroom. A robe just took up too much space in the tiny closet.

Most of this stuff can be bought at your local convenience stores, but to save money don't be afraid to browse through your local thrift stores! You can find some great stuff there for a fraction of the price.