Top 6 Tips for New College Students

Updated on July 5, 2017
Jeremy Gill profile image

Jeremy explores several topics in-between juggling his passion for writing with his two jobs as a chemical analyst and building manager.

The College Experience

To further their education and provide more career opportunities, many high school students choose to attend college, hoping to earn a degree. But many never actually obtain that shiny diploma due to a variety of hazards.

As a student who has attended three colleges over five years, I've noticed several negative trends that inhibit students from their goals, and positive ones that advance their programs. So today we'll examine six tips to ensure your higher education succeeds while noting which behaviors to avoid!

"1 out of 5. Dr. Brown has a weird nose."
"1 out of 5. Dr. Brown has a weird nose."

6. Use RateMyProfessors

Do: Use the website ratemyprofessors to help determine which teachers you should take, and which to avoid. Sign up for classes as soon as possible to secure a spot before the course fills up, which can and does happen.

Because: Your lecturer plays a huge role in the difficulty and efficiency of a course, and you want to arm yourself ahead of time. RMP reviews often tells you exactly what to expect: the difficulty, clarity, exam type (multiple choice vs. essay, for example), and more for each course. Larger colleges often have different people teach the same class, and you'll want the find the one with better ratings. Smaller universities may not give you a choice, but you'll still have a better idea of what's ahead and how to prepare.

Don't: Assume all courses are equal; the instructor and material matters.

5. Change Your Major

Do: Change your major if you discover you're not passionate about your field. Talk to an advisor if you're unsure which subject to pursue.

Because: Better to accrue a little extra debt than spend your life in a career you hate. That said, you want to find your ideal major as soon as possible so you can start taking credits that count towards it. Your first few semesters are a good time to explore a variety of different classes and see which ones interest you the most.

Don't: Stay in a major just because your parents or someone else wants you to. You'll be miserable.

Don't be a fifth wheel like Abbie. Poor, poor Abbie.
Don't be a fifth wheel like Abbie. Poor, poor Abbie.

4. Get Involved

Do: Join groups or clubs on campus.

Because: First, it bolsters your resume for the inevitable job hunt. Second, you'll have fun and form connections! Trust me, college is infinitely more enjoyable when you have people to talk to in-between classes. Even smaller schools are bound to have a society that interests you, whether it's Greek life, Student Government, or Biology club. Heck, most universities even harbor niche interests like Quidditch clubs, and these are superb ways to meet people who share your hobbies.

Don't: Let your new environment overwhelm you. College will be a big change, but the sooner you come out of your shell, the more time you'll have to enjoy university life. You can always leave an event or club if you decide it's not for you.

"I see you're also good-looking. Let's be friends!"
"I see you're also good-looking. Let's be friends!"

3. Make Friends in Class

Do: Introduce yourself and meet peers in your classes. Arriving early gives a chance to do this.

Because: First of all, you won't feel alone. Plus, you'll have someone to study with, work on group projects, and help you catch up if you miss a class. You'll find most people are as eager as you to have a buddy, as they'll reap the same benefits, so don't be afraid to strike a conversation. A single smile and hello will make your entire semester than much better.

Don't: Sign up for a class with your friend unless it actually counts towards your major. No need to waste time and money. Of course, feel free if the course benefits you both!

"For the last time Mary, this is Trigonometry, not Abstract Art"
"For the last time Mary, this is Trigonometry, not Abstract Art"

2. Utilize Office Hours

Do: Visit your professors during their office hours for help when needed.

Because: Many new students are too intimidated to actually talk to professors one-on-one, but it's a smart idea. First, your lecturer can clarify questions, offer hints, and help with homework. Also, it shows them you're putting forth effort, which can give you leeway when your final grade arrives. More than once, I've had a class where I suspect my professor fudged my score because they knew how hard I'd been working.

Don't: Give up if you need help. Expect college classes to be more difficult than high school, and know even the best students get stumped sometimes. Politely ask your teacher for assistance when necessary; they're usually thrilled to help.

"Anyone seen Jim? Punk thinks he can skip MY class?!?"
"Anyone seen Jim? Punk thinks he can skip MY class?!?"

1. Attend Class

Do: Actually go to and study for your classes. Set reminders in your phone or planner if you're worried about forgetting exam dates.

Because: You'd be amazed how many people flunk college because they simply don't attend their courses. Why pay for university if you're just going to ditch and fail? Now, life happens; there will be times where you just can't make it. Flat tire, death in the family, sickness, etc. But be careful one skip doesn't turn into a chain of absences.

College offers far more freedom than high school, which is great because you'll have more downtime and control, but also makes it easier to foster bad habits. No one's going to nag you to attend class anymore; you have to motivate yourself to work for benefits that won't be attained until years later. And note that some classes have attendance as an actual grade, making it even more detrimental to miss.

Don't: Skip unless you really need to. Again, having a friend can help catch up what you missed. If you know you'll be absent for an exam, talk to the teacher ahead of time and agree on a solution. They'll appreciate the forewarning.

Have you attended college?

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Final Tips

College requires a lot of work, but it's a fun and versatile way to work together with peers towards a better future. No amount of advice can completely prepare freshmen for the whole new world they're entering, but an awareness of the trials and tribulations they will face should help them rise to the challenge.

Feel free to share your college experience, and I'll see you at our next countdown!

Questions & Answers

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      • Jeremy Gill profile imageAUTHOR

        Jeremy Gill 

        10 months ago from Louisiana

        Thank you, Gina! Study groups can be immensely helpful (I find smaller ones work best).

        Another tip is finding someone who has had the class before and seeing if they have their old tests. The questions on your semester's exam should be different (so it isn't cheating), but you get a feel for what the teacher asks and have a superb study guide. Some of my favorite professors reviewed their old exams to help us study.

      • gina1209 profile image

        Gina Valley 

        10 months ago from Arizona

        Great advice! I had a wonderful college experience and got through a very difficult science degree by making friends in class and attending office hours. My buddies from class would form a study group which was immensely helpful to passing (this definitely saved me in biochemistry!) Sometimes there's nothing better than bouncing ideas off others.

        Also, most students don't go to office hours so this is precious one-on-one time with your professor. Not only would I get help with the subject, it was also a great opportunity to learn about their research or the field they teach in. This strategy actually landed me an awesome job in one of my professor's labs.

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