10 Essential Tips for Every College Freshman

college-tipsYou’ve gotten your acceptance letters and made your choice. Maybe you’ve even started thinking about what you’ll need for your dorm room. You’re probably going to get a lot of advice over the coming months, but the advice you need when you’re a college freshman is not always the advice you receive.  Here is our practical, tried-and-true, best advice for those crucial first weeks at college.

  1. Be generous with your friendship but stingy with your trust. The friends you have back home didn’t become your friends overnight. Some of the people you meet at first may turn out to be the best friends of your life, but every class has its gems and its criminals. (I’m not kidding, some of them are actually criminals.) Which ones are which will become clear over the next few months. Wait until you get to know them before you loan them your car or share your deepest secrets.

  2. For the first few weeks … live like a monk. Monks take vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.

    • Chastity: College may be the place where you meet the love of your life, but you probably won’t know if that’s true in the first week of school, especially on Friday night after a couple of drinks. Take some time to get used to your new surroundings before adding a boyfriend/girlfriend to the mix or hooking up with someone who may turn out to be a jerk.

    • Poverty: Don’t blow all your money your first weekend. Companies love to give new college students credit cards. Be careful! It’s way too easy to get in over your head.

    • Obedience: Go to class! Seems obvious, but you wouldn’t believe how many freshmen skip their way out of school. Do a little math and figure how much it costs per hour for you to have your butt in that chair. I guarantee you’ll be less willing to blow off an hour! Save your absences for the end of the semester when you’ve got mono and three papers due in the same week. Dr. Amir Hussain at Loyola Marymount says, “Contact your professor when you first have a problem. If you wait until it is too late, then it is too late!”

  3. Help! I’m drowning! There are lots of helpful people on campus ready to throw you a life preserver — health services, counseling, academic advisors, campus ministry and your RA, to name just a few. The transition to college life can be a rocky one. If you find yourself behaving in ways that are contrary to your values or you feel like you’re in the bottom of an emotional pit and can’t get out, get help!

  4. Stay safe — your stuff and your self! Especially when you’re new on campus, choose caution over courage. Is it brave to walk home alone at 3 a.m. through an unfamiliar part of campus? Maybe, but most experienced students would tell you it’s just stupid. ALWAYS LOCK: your door, your car, your bike, your locker. DON’T LET OUT OF YOUR SIGHT: your phone, your laptop, your backpack/purse.

  5. Be yourself! Don’t forget who you are just because you’re in a new place. You’re still you and that’s gotten you this far! Your values, your likes and dislikes, the things you’re good at, haven’t changed. Hang onto those things, especially while you’re still getting used to this new environment. Charles L. Currie, S.J., of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities suggests, “Once a week, step back and say to yourself, ‘What’s going on? What choices have I made? Have they been good ones or bad ones?'”

  6. Too much of a dangerous thing … Beer + You = A very expensive waste of a semester. Underage drinking is simply a bad idea. Don’t do it. It’s also a really embarrassing way to flunk out or get yourself into stupid trouble of all sorts.

  7. Too plugged in. Electronics can be nice diversions, just don’t let them suck up all of your time. Put your phone away (turn it off even!) when you’re doing homework. Give yourself an “allowance” for time spent on that website that sucks your life away and don’t go over it! Don’t stay up all night playing video games or being online just because you can.

  8. Your mother was right: wash your hands; say your prayers; eat real food and drink lots of water; get some sleep! Dr. Richard Kadison of Mental Health Services at Harvard says, “It’s a myth that the best students stay up all night studying. It has been proven that it’s the student who gets a good night’s sleep, not the one who studies through the night, who does better academically.”

  9. Get involved … but not too involved! Every club and association will be vying for your time. Campus activities are a great way to connect with other students who share your interests, but be choosey. Be careful not to over commit yourself. Rabbi Yonah Schiller, Hillel Director at Tulane, says, “Experiment, flex your curiosity. College gives you access to great professors, people you never would’ve been friends with before, and new experiences. That all breeds a sense of search and exploration … and ultimately a sense of meaning.”

  10. Opportunity of a lifetime. There’s a lot to think about and a lot to be cautious about, but this is also the opportunity of a lifetime. You will probably make some of the best friends of your life, you might fall in love, you will probably grow more and learn more and discover more about yourself than you ever thought possible. Chaplain Scott Young says, “We’re such a career-crazed training program in college now, so a reminder that you’re here to learn how to learn. You get to learn for your entire life and you’ve got a concentrated period of time around a bunch of learners that know how to learn, so learn how to learn.”

Excerpted and condensed from our book The Freshman Survival Guide, an Amazon Best Seller. Get a free downloadable PDF here.