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How to Survive the First Year at a University

Updated on August 4, 2013

I have researched and talked with many college students over the years and would like to share with you how to survive the first year at a University. There are some key do's and dont's that I am going to point out that can really make all the difference in the world. Whether the university you attend is big or small you get out of your college experience what you put into it. The following are some areas to focus on to make your first year a fantastic year!


You are going to find that when you are away from home with no one telling you what to do (like mom and/or dad) that it will be very easy to sleep in instead of going to class. Don't! When you go to class everyday you get all the information, discussion and feedback that your professors are there to give. It will also be easier to start to understand your professors expectations of you. They are all different and so to do well in class you not only need all the information, you need to know what is expected of you as well. Another good reason to go to class is so that your professor knows that you care about your education. If the teacher doesn't think you care about their class then they won't really care if you need their help to pull your grade up at the end of the semester. Your class ethic should be similar to your work ethic. If you missed work for 4, 6, or 8 days you would most likely get fired. Similarly if you do that in class you will most likely fail.

Not only go to class but get there on time. Being chronically late equals disrespect. I don't know any professor that takes that lightly and yes, this will also effect your grade!

Don't sleep in class!

Pay Attention

While going to class is really important, paying attention is even more important! Not only listen to your professor but take it in, think about it and take good notes. A few things NOT to do while in class:

Don't sleep!

Don't text on your phone or have your phone on!

Don't converse with your friends while in class!

Don't sit in the back row!

Pay attention to the course syllabus (outline) as well! This is, in effect, a contract that the professor should pass out the first day of class. The course syllabus tells you the following:

  • What you will read
  • The subjects your professor will cover
  • When assignments are due
  • How you will be evaluated & how often
  • Attendance policy

You need to read the syllabus carefully. One example of what can happen when you don't read it carefully: A professor created a syllabus with 2 columns. One column was labeled course book and then another column wasn't labeled. The first assignment was listed with a quiz date and when you looked across at the first column it said chapters 1 - 3 will be covered. So the student studied chapters 1 through 3 diligently. To his dismay only the first 3 questions of the quiz were about the chapter reading. The rest of the questions asked for the definition of twenty five vocabulary words. Unfortunately he failed his first test. He looked back to the syllabus to see if he could tell what went wrong. Turns out if he had kept reading across he would have noticed that in the second column it listed "vocabulary words from hand out". He had missed this by just not reading thoroughly. He could have gotten an A on his first test if he had read the syllabus carefully!

Study! Study! Study!

STUDYING: Applying one's mind purposefully of the acquisition of knowledge.

Studying in college is different then studying in highschool. How so? Well you have to do more of it! The work load can be intense and so you need to actually manage your time each week and allow a lot of time for studying. I read someplace that when you are in college it should be looked at as your job for the next four years. A job consumes 40 hours of your time a week so if you have 15 hours a week of classes that leaves 25 hours a week to study. If you don't take your college job seriously and/or you don't like it you could always quit and find another job but remember this - a regular 40 hour a week job will be worse without a college degree. Don't worry you will budget some time for fun too!

Some Tips:

  • Study because you want to and for yourself, not just because your professor told you to.
  • Don't just take notes. Think about your notes, your reading, your lecture.
  • Don't use just your reading notes for studying. You may have missed something taking those notes! Study those and the notes you took in class during your lecture.
  • Understand your professors point of view. Make sure your understanding of the notes and/or reading is in line with his/her view.
  • Read through chapters twice. The first time read and think about it. The second time take notes.
  • Form or attend a study group. This way you won't miss out on anything.

Find out what you love and declare it as your major!

So many majors to choose from, the task may seem overwhelming, but there are some ways that you can narrow it down. Here are a few more tips:

  • Make a list of the majors that your college has to offer and then cross off every major that you know you have no interest in.
  • Ask yourself some questions:
  1. What subject matter do you have a passion for?
  2. What topics challenge you?
  3. What class projects excite you?
  4. What kind of work have you done that has made you proud?
  • Go to your college's career center and ask about personality and skills assessment tools. Most likely they will have one such as FOCUS, TypeFocus, Strong, or Myers Briggs (MBTI). These are great tools with specific questions that will really help you narrow down what major and career path would be right for you!

Get involved in something you love to do!


Get involved right away. There is a lot to be learned at college that isn't taught in the classroom. You have to find the right balance though. Don't overdo it. If you do, your grades will suffer. So get involved, but budget your time, with whatever interests you and hopefully it will compliment your major and your career goals. There are so many ways to get involved, here are just a few:

  • Organization or Club (your college or university most likely has 100 or more of these!)
  • Athletics - Sports Team or Intramural
  • College Newspaper
  • Radio Station
  • Women's/Multicultural Center
  • Student Government
  • Campus Activity Board
  • Volunteer or Community Engagement
  • Work Study

Always keep in the back of your mind how your role in a club, organization, volunteering and even being a part of an athletic team can build transferable skills that can be added to your resume during your four years at college!

Go see your Career Development Office!

Making a plan can help you stay focused and make for a not so overwhelming first year. Make an appointment a few weeks after you start school. It should only take an hour but know when you have questions or concerns about your plan or major you can always schedule another appointment or call the office with questions. The job of a career counselor is to help you get the most out of your college's Career Services office and website. So setting up a four year plan will be a lot easier with the help of these professionals. They will help set you on the right path and help you stay on your path throughout your college career.


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    • Keeley Shea profile image

      Keeley Shea 4 years ago from Norwich, CT

      Thanks susi10 for commenting! :) It can be overwhelming!

    • susi10 profile image

      Susan W 4 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Nice hub Keeley. These tips would be very handy for any students heading off to university. It can be a nerve wrecking time for all students so these tips will really help them. Shared.

    • Keeley Shea profile image

      Keeley Shea 5 years ago from Norwich, CT

      Thank you for the comment billybuc! Agreed! The fun has to wait until after the work done. Easier said then done. I found out the hard way too! Thanks again!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Great tips for a new college student. I went to a small college, great teacher support, and still that first year was very hard, mainly because I did not follow there suggestions. There was just too much fun to experience and I didn't have a game plan going in. I learned quickly that the fun had to wait until after the work was done.