Going away to college is a huge life change. We know firsthand how exciting and intimidating it can be simultaneously, so we’ve got you covered with some of our absolute favorite tips for making the most of our your first year in college!

Specifically, we’ll be sharing our top tips to help you:

  • Plan your academic life
  • Build good study habits
  • Navigate your college campus 
  • Prepare for dorm life 
  • Create a fun and supportive social circle 
  • Stay on top of your physical and mental health 
  • Manage and make money 

Let’s get right to it!

1. Academics

Let’s talk about your academic life since that’s the #1 reason you’re there, after all! 

Get The Most Out of Your Classes

First of all, GO. We repeat: Go. To. Class. Your tuition is expensive and your education is invaluable. Also, it’s nearly impossible to get good grades and keep up your GPA if you regularly cut class. This is particularly important if you’ve received any merit-based financial aid

Read Your Syllabi Thoroughly

Your course syllabus is the document your instructor provides on the first day of class that includes all of the relevant information you’ll need for the course: contact information, policies, due dates, etc. Even if they seem boring, make sure to read each one thoroughly so you don’t miss any crucial information; your instructors may or may not go over all of their contents on the first day. Be especially mindful of policies about missed classes, late homework, etc.


The more you engage in your classes, the more you’ll get out of them. Everyone’s personality is different, so this doesn’t mean that you have to raise your hand and offer your opinions constantly if that’s not your style. But you should definitely make a commitment to keep your phone put away (we know, we know, it’s very hard), to listen actively, and to take notes. Trust us, the notes will come in handy later! If your instructors allow it and you prefer typing your notes, go for it, but we also believe in the power of taking notes by hand for optimal digestion of the material.

Get to Know Your Peers

Class is actually a great place to make friends at college. And it’s always nice to have people you can reach out to for clarification on assignments, to borrow a pencil from, etc. Your classes will be more enjoyable if you have a good relationship with your peers.

Get to Know Your Instructors

This one is huge. The better communication you have with your instructors, the better your chances of excelling in your classes. It’s their job to support you and they are all required to keep office hours (which each instructor should include in their syllabus). It can be intimidating, but try not to be shy when it comes to asking questions or getting additional help—your instructors want you to succeed!

Also, if you’re struggling to make deadlines and need an extension, are sick for a protracted amount of time, or have other extenuating life circumstances, reach out to your instructors as soon as possible! They can help you discuss your options. Most instructors are willing to be flexible, but you can’t ask for an extension after an assignment is already late. Be proactive in your communication with your instructors and they’ll be much more willing to work with you. 

Build Your Schedule Wisely

Here are some things to take into consideration when you’re choosing your classes and building your schedule:

  • Your sleep habits 
  • Your job schedule (if you have one or are planning on getting one)
  • Your attention span and learning styles

Basically, know yourself. If you’re a night owl and run the risk of cutting a class that starts at 8:30am, try to schedule your classes later in the day. If you’ll mentally check out in a 3-hour night class, try not to take one. If you’re also juggling a job, make sure that you don’t overload any of your days and risk burnout.

Obviously, course availability will dictate your schedule to some degree, but try to take these factors into consideration. The more energetic and alert you are for your classes, the more you’ll take away from them and the better you’ll likely perform in them.

Also, we highly recommend taking your general education (gen-ed) requirements first. You know, all the core curriculum courses that you’re required to take in addition to the classes in your major of choice. Many schools require that you take these classes first, but not all of them do.

Through taking gen eds, many students discover that they’re actually passionate about a different subject than they originally intended to major in, so this will save you time and money by preventing a major change down the line. Also, gen eds are typically more easily transferable to other colleges than courses in your major. 

Get to Know Your Academic Advisor

Depending on the size of your college, you may or may not be in close contact with your advisor as a freshman. That said, you can contact your admissions department for your college (e.g. Liberal Arts) and request to meet with yours.

This person should be your #1 resource and advocate when it comes to selecting your courses, mapping your overall academic plan, and helping you make any and all academic decisions. They’re a great resource for any academic questions you may have (Should you change majors? Can you minor in art history? Can you take an independent study?) so make sure to have their contact info handy, and that you use it often. 

Keep an Open Mind

In your classes, you’ll be introduced to all kinds of new thoughts, ideas, and arguments—some that may be new to you or that you may be resistant to at first. Try to keep an open mind about anything you learn. You don’t have to adopt all of the ideas you’re exposed to, but keeping an open mind will make you a more critical thinker, and you’ll get the most out of your education.

2. Study Smarter, Not Harder

Set The Atmosphere

We’re firm believers that studying (and doing homework, etc.) is much more productive and enjoyable if you like where you’re studying. Is there a particular arm chair in the library you like? A cafe on campus? Find a place that feels good to you and make that a regular study spot. 

Use Learning Support Tools

There are all kinds of great resources out there to help you study and complete homework more effectively. GoConqr is an awesome resource for creating flashcards, mind maps, and slides, and Quizlet is an old favorite for generating flashcards, practice quizzes/tests, and more.

While we highly recommend getting a leg up from learning support tools, we do caution you against leaning too heavily on resources like Sparknotes and similar. These are popular among high schoolers and can be helpful for getting clear on plot points. But at college level, you’ll be asked to perform much more complex and unique analysis than is offered in these resources, so they’re not substitutes for actually reading your assigned work! 

Edit Your Written Work

In college, it definitely pays to do that extra round of proofing! College instructors read a lot of work by students, and many have pretty low tolerance for grammar and style errors, which can actually get in the way of making your point clearly. Even if you’ve got a great editorial eye, consider using a proofreading and editing software like Grammarly.

Avoid Procrastination

Benjamin Franklin said, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today” and this is still some of the best advice we’ve ever heard. Here’s why: you’re in college. Tons of fun social events are going to spontaneously come up that you want to participate in. And when they do, you don’t want to be bogged down with homework that you could have easily done prior and have to decline. Here’s more great information on why we are naturally inclined to procrastinate, as well as some great tips for how to stop procrastinating.

Study Abroad If You Can

First of all, you won’t likely have the option to study abroad your first year, we’re including this pointer here because you’ll want to start looking into it as early as possible when choosing courses for the following year.

Studying abroad can be pricey and certainly isn’t an option for everyone, but if it’s a possibility that intrigues you and it is feasible, go for it! The idea of living in another country may be scary but the experiences and perspectives gained are truly unparalleled. 

Many study abroad programs cost the same as your regular tuition and housing, so make sure you look into all of the specifics with your college and/or department, because it may be more doable than you think. (And psst… Scholly Search is also a great resource for finding scholarships that are specifically geared for studying abroad!)

Not sure if studying abroad is for you? Take this “Should I Study Abroad?” Quiz to help you decide.

3. On and Around Campus

Have Your School Calendar at the Ready

You’ll want to know what’s going on in your new world. Bookmark your college’s calendar on your computer’s desktop or tape a calendar of important dates on your dorm wall next to your desk.

There are some really important deadlines to be aware of when it comes to adding and dropping classes, for example, without being charged tuition for a class you don’t end up taking. There are also plenty of social events you may want to attend: Homecoming, on-campus concerts, talks given by guest speakers, etc.

Another way to get this important information, of course, is by joining and following your college’s social media pages and groups and checking them regularly.

Get Friendly With Campus Employees

Get to know the security guard in your dorm, the attendant serving you lunch in the cafeteria, the librarian helping you find resources for your research paper, and so on. This is a simple way to create a tighter, friendlier, more connected community. Being nice to the people doing jobs to help make your campus run smoothly is the polite thing to do, and it may even come back to you in the form of sweet favors (think: extra mashed potatoes on your cafeteria tray). 


Get to know your campus! Regardless of where you go to school, there are really lovely places on campus that may not even be anywhere near your dorm or classes. Have you popped in the music hall? What about the rec center? Do you ever just indulge in lying around the quad? The campus will feel safer (more on campus safety later!) and more like home if you really take the time to enjoy it. 

The same goes for the area surrounding your campus. If you’re in a small town, your college campus may be THE center of activity, but there still may be some restaurants, shops, or other activities nearby that are worth checking out. Or perhaps there’s some really beautiful nature worth exploring. 

And if you’re in a mid or major metropolitan area, there are certainly all kinds of things to do off campus. You can explore museums, go to plays, see live music, and so on. Especially if you attend college somewhere other than where you grew up, now’s the time to experience something new! Try getting a Lonely Planet (or similar) guide to your city or state and exploring it like a tourist might. Your entire college experience will be enhanced if you like where you live.

Use Your Student Discount

Piggybacking on the point above, many businesses around college campuses provide student discounts (which usually require you to show your student ID). Movie theaters, pizza places, cafes, bookstores, and so on all often offer discounts to college students—take advantage of these deals! 

4. Dorm Life

Maintain a Healthy Relationship With Your Roommate(s) 

This starts before you even meet to get a sense of one another. More than likely, you’ve already chatted on the phone (or via social media) before you met, sometime during the summer. If you haven’t yet, discuss what you’ll each be bringing to the dorms (so that you don’t end up with 2 microwaves and 2 mini-fridges!) and what will be fair game for the other to use.

Maybe you’ll hit it off immediately and seem like old pals, or maybe you’ll just be courteous roommates and not necessarily friends. Either situation is okay. 

Living with other people (especially if they’re complete strangers) can be super fun, but it can also pose its own set of challenges. What’s critical is that early on, whether before you meet or in the first couple days of meeting one another, that you set some “ground rules” (in other words, healthy boundaries) about your shared space. Compromise on these topics and stick to what you agree upon. You’ll get along much better if you respect each others’ spaces! 

This is a great list of questions to ask your college roommate(s) but here a brief “cheat sheet” of must-discuss topics:

  • Class schedules 
  • Dorm room setup/configuration (beds, desks, etc.) 
  • Sleeping habits
  • Noise/distractions (music, TV, etc.)
  • Chores/cleanliness
  • Shared vs. personal items in the room 
  • Guests (day, evening, and overnight)
  • Study habits
  • Diet (allergies, restrictions, cooking, etc.)

Remember, above all else, communication is key! With a clear understanding of each other and each other’s boundaries, your living situation should be a breeze!

Make Your Dorm Room Your Home

Dorms are notoriously small and sharing a space can definitely cramp your decorating style, but the more you feel at home in yours, the happier you’ll be overall. A few creature comforts can really help you make the space feel warm and homey. Here are a few suggestions for things that will make your dorm room more hospitable:

  • A mattress pad (dorm beds can be very firm.) and a good pillow
  • Nice/ambient lighting (string lights, a nice night stand lamp, a salt rock lamp, etc.)
  • Photos of friends from home
  • Plants 
  • Comfy blankets 
  • A couple of sentimental items (but not too many, you don’t want to crowd the space)
  • Tapestries and artwork 

Bring These Essential Items With You

Beyond making your dorm feel like your own unique space, there are a bunch of things that you’ll need (or really want… trust us!) for making your college and dorm experience as pleasant as possible. 

This is an amazing, highly comprehensive list of college essentials, but here are some of our favorite “bonus” (and perhaps less obvious) suggestions:

  • Flip flops for the shower 
  • Good headphones (or even noise cancelling headphones if you’re a light sleeper or need silence when you study)
  • At least one (ideally more) reusable water bottle
  • A water filtering pitcher 
  • An eye mask if you’re light sensitive 
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • Extra socks and underwear (you may get busy and do laundry less frequently than you probably should)
  • A lanyard/holder for your student ID so you don’t lose it (these days, your ID often doubles as an access key to campus buildings)
  • Wet wipes (they work for everything from hygiene to dorm cleaning)
  • A basic first aid and sewing kit

Know Your RA

Your RA, or “resident advisor” is a (usually older/upperclassman) student who lives in your dorm and helps organize activities and oversee the goings-on of the dorm. Make sure you know your RA by name and know their room number and contact information. You can go to your RA with any questions or concerns you have about dorm or campus life and they’ll help you find the right resources.  

5. Social Life

Avoid Staying in Your Cocoon

College is an amazing time for expanding your social circle! Even if you consider yourself shy or introverted, challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone (and dorm room—even though we stand by making it homey). 

Many people advise against entering college in a serious, long-distance romantic relationship… or leaping into a serious relationship right away. Of course you can date, but the idea is to be mindful of how much time you’re spending with only one person. 

Frankly, the same goes for your roommate(s). It’s great if you hit it off, but you’ll want to branch out beyond just the peers you live with.

Join Extracurricular Activities 

We can’t stress this more. On-campus groups, organizations, clubs, and teams are perhaps the best way to meet like-minded individuals and make strong connections. 

If you have an activity you’re already passionate about (yoga, technology, student government, etc.) or were involved in during high school, join your college’s version. Or, try something out of your comfort zone that seems appealing to you; colleges have literally hundreds of activities and groups to join, so make sure to take a look at them all on the school’s website. 

An added bonus about extracurricular activities is that you can add them to your resume and they can make it easier to get a job after you graduate. 

Stay in Touch

Your family and friends back home love and miss you, so make sure to carve out some time for phone calls and/or video chats. And even if you didn’t go far away for college, your family will appreciate updates from you! 

6. Your Overall Well Being

Use Your Campus Resources

College campuses have many campus resources that are put in place to help ensure your overall health, safety, and wellbeing. 

For example:

  • Gyms or fitness centers 
  • Career counseling center
  • Writing center
  • Mental health services 
  • Campus healthcare 
  • Campus security 

All of these resources are super important and we highly recommend saving the number for each directly into your phone. Typically these resources (or at least some of their offerings) are included in your tuition, so don’t be shy about using them! 

Practice Self Care

“Self care” is a buzzword thrown around a lot these days, but what does it actually mean? It means taking the time to make sure you’re nurturing yourself so that you stay physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. It bears repeating that college is a massive life change and it can be easy to feel stressed or to overextend yourself while you learn the ropes.

So as a freshman, start your college career off right by drinking plenty of water, eating nutritious foods (it helps to keep healthy snacks in your dorm room so you don’t consistently cave on late-night pizza while you’re studying), and sleeping enough. Young bodies bounce back, but over time, sleep deprivation can be detrimental to your health. So avoid late all-nighter cramming sessions and too many late nights out with friends; your body will thank you for it.

Stay Safe!!

This is perhaps the MOST important advice of all. You’re living independently for what is probably the first time in your whole life and with this independence comes the responsibility to stay vigilant about your own safety.

Don’t walk around alone at night, on or off campus. Travel in groups or use a rideshare app to get a ride. In fact, many colleges have campus security services that offer rides to students around campus; take them up on this amazing offer!

If you see or hear about any suspicious activity on campus or anything that makes you uncomfortable, report it to campus security right away.

Especially if you’re traveling at night, always let someone know where you’re going and when you’re expected to arrive.

Here’s a great list of ways to stay safe on college campuses, and we encourage you to reach out to any of the people in your support network (RA, instructors, advisors, etc.) if you’re feeling unsafe in any way, shape, or form.

So there you have it, your complete guide to your freshman year in college! Congratulations on this new life chapter and best of luck!

7. Money

Monitor Your Financial Aid

By now you likely have most of your financial aid figured out for your freshman year of college. But it never hurts to double check!

Once you’ve started college, continue to check with your college’s financial aid department for important deadlines for things like the FAFSA, work study programs, and federal student loans.

As a reminder, you’ll need to apply for FAFSA every year that you’re in college. The new application usually opens in October. And you’re more likely to get the best need-based financial aid package available to you (read: less loans and more grants, scholarships, work study) if you submit your application early. 

So, open up your calendar now and set a reminder! Because the benefits of submitting the FAFSA early are too good to accidentally miss. 

Continue to Apply for Scholarships

Did you know you can keep winning scholarships while you’re in college?! Most students aren’t. And they miss out on the opportunity to win scholarships that could help bring them closer to graduating debt free. But, since you’re reading this as an incoming freshman, you still have the opportunity to do things differently! 

You can use Scholly Search to find amazing scholarship opportunities for current college students. Once you’ve found a few scholarships that you’d like to apply to, check out our top 15 tips on how to apply for scholarships to make sure you’re giving yourself the best shot of winning that free money!  

Create a Budget

We’re sure you know the stereotype. College students are notoriously known for being broke, eating endless packages of Ramen noodles, and struggling to buy even the most basic necessities. But it doesn’t have to be this way! At least not if you create and stick to a practical budget. 

We know that budgeting is hard. But thanks to apps like Rocket Money and Mint, it’s a lot easier than it used to be. 

Generally, you’ll want to take a moment to look at how much money you’ll have coming in every month. Then, use one of those apps to track your spending, set allowances, get alerts when you’re in danger of missing your spending goals. 

If you’re thinking, “Nice… but that’s not gonna work for me…,” we understand! In that case, consider opening up multiple bank accounts to divide up your money. Have one for spending and one for saving that you don’t touch unless you absolutely need it. 

Be Careful with Credit Cards

As a new college student, you’re likely to receive credit card offers. But be careful! While it’s great to use a credit card to begin building your credit, going into massive amounts of credit card debt is not! 

Unless you pay your balance in full every month, you’ll be charged interest that can quickly make even the smallest balances overwhelming and hard to pay off. Our advice: only use the credit card to buy things you can pay for at the end of the month. 

Find College Student-Friendly Work  

If you find you need some extra income while in college, you may consider getting a job. Luckily, there are jobs that are perfect for college students. 

We’d recommend looking for jobs that offer one of the following benefits:

Consider Investing

You might not know it, but college is a perfect time to start investing in the stock market. Why? Because the earlier you start investing the more money you can earn from your investments over the long-term. 

Plus, it’s never been easier to start investing — even if you only have a little money to invest and a beginner level knowledge of how the stock market works. 

For example, there are micro-investing apps like Acorns and Stash that make it easy to invest by rounding up your credit and/or debit card purchases to the nearest dollar. Once you’ve accumulated a small amount (e.g. $5), they’ll automatically invest it for you. 

You can also easily invest with robo-advisors like Betterment or online brokerages like Charles Schwab for a relatively low cost. 

But we have to tell you that investing is always a risk. There’s a chance you could lose your money depending on how things go in the stock market. So, do a bit of research before making your first investment. If you’re not sure where to start, check out our beginner’s guide to investing for college students

Final Thoughts

You have a lot to look forward to with the start of your freshman year! You also have a lot to prepare to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible. 

We hope the information we shared here helps you enter your first year of college prepared and with confidence. Good luck!