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Dr. Hal Pickett’s Tips for a Successful Freshman Year at College

Great tips for social, emotional and academic success for your college freshman to be.

Preparing to make the first expedition to college this fall?  Below are a few very important tips for success to know or pass along to your young adult:

  1.  Freshman year is stressful.  Be aware that even if you are a well prepared student, the transition to dorm, apartment and independent life is stressful.  You are not going crazy -- you are just in the middle of a big life transition.  It will get easier and better as you go along.
  2. Know your surroundings. Tour the city or town around the college with your parents.  Find grocery stores, drug stores, fast food restaurants, banks, hospital emergency rooms, shopping malls.  Check out the public transportation system, especially if you have never ridden a bus before.
  3. Get support. Many colleges offer Freshman Transition Programs where freshmen live together, study together and provide each other support.  Ask about this at the college you are attending.  These arrangements can be very helpful
  4. Study up. Read everything you can about the college that you are going to attend.  Talk to students, go to student/parent information meetings/weekends. Tour the campus.  See if the school offers a weekend with a student program, prior to attending.  This could be your new home for four years; make sure you can live there.
  5. Roommates are stressful. Moving into a dorm room with a roommate is stressful.  Even if it is your best friend from high school, it’s stressful.  Be prepared to negotiate a lot of things like sleeping habits, eating habits, study habits, television viewing, snoring, drinking, smoking, weekend visitors and other things that you cannot yet imagine.
  6. Start slowly.  Ease into your first year with a less stressful schedule. For example, take the minimal credit hours your first semester.  You can always make up the credit hours later when you get used to college life.
  7. Food. If your college has a meal program, check it out.  In the middle of stressful exams, it can be one less thing to worry about.
  8. Know thyself. Night owl or early bird? Make your academic schedule realistic based on your habits.  If you have a very difficult time getting up in the morning without your parent dragging you out of bed, don’t sign up for 8 O’clock classes.  It is very tempting to skip classes in college -- do not fall into this rabbit hole.
  9. Take familiar classes. Take classes that will be comfortable for you your first semester, like Freshman English, Biology, Algebra.  Don’t take Aeronautical Engineering just because it sounds interesting.
  10. You can handle it. If on your first day of college, you feel like you have made the biggest mistake of your life thinking you could handle this, you are not alone.  More than 50 % of freshmen feel this way.  It does go away.
  11. Homesickness is normal. If you get homesick, join the crowd. Everyone does. Hang in there -- it will go away.
  12. Be social. Join groups and go to social gatherings that the dorm or college plans for freshmen.  The sooner you develop a social support group, the easier it will be in college.
  13. Manage your fun.  There is plenty of time for everything. Schedule your partying time. You do not need to party every night -- two nights a week is plenty.    You can learn to study and read during the day between classes. Turn off the soap operas -- you know exactly what is going to happen anyway. 
  14. Gamers beware!  Mom is not there to tell you to stop. If you flunk out of school because you forgot to stop playing World of Warcraft, you’ll soon be back at home fighting with your parents and siblings for computer or TV time.
  15. Professional gamer? If you think you are going to make video games your life, make sure you go to a college that has that as a degree option.  Those educational programs are very specialized, and a company will not hire you just because you tell them you can play a huge number of hours without taking a bathroom break.
  16. Do the work. There is no one making sure you do your homework, so do not let it slide.  Trying to read 300 pages of biology the night before a test is impossible.  You know this.  Do not get “stupider” when you get to college!
  17. $$$ Management 101. If you have trouble managing your money, multiple that times ten and that will be the trouble you have managing your money your freshman year in college.  Plan for this and work with your parents to make smart money decisions, like limited debit cards per month, etc.
  18. Pay attention to your mental state. If you have had mental health issues in the past, you are at a greater risk to have an exacerbation of the problems freshman year.  Pay attention to the early warning signs and get help early.
  19. Get help. If you have learning or mental health concerns, contact the college’s Student Disabilities Office.  You do not have to have a disability, this is the office that can provide support for your academics if you get behind, need special accommodations, etc.
  20. College is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  There is a lot more to learn than just your school subjects.  You have to make the grades to stay in, so don’t be a slacker.  But there are other great things to do as well -- Saturday afternoon football games, intramurals, fraternity parties, great plays, symphonies, ballet.  Use the time to expand your horizons and your mind. It is a special and privileged time of life; do not waste it.  You will not get this opportunity again.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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