A student checks her phone while working on homework at the SIU Student Center March 28, 2022 in Carbondale, Ill. (Triston Allen | [email protected])
A student checks her phone while working on homework at the SIU Student Center March 28, 2022 in Carbondale, Ill.

Triston Allen | [email protected]

The Ultimate Guide to Your First Year of College

August 16, 2022

Your first year of college can be daunting. You’re likely in a new city, far from home and away from your friends and family. On top of that, college classes don’t often work like high school classes. They require much more independence and it can take a while to adjust to your new schedule. 

However, while college may seem overwhelming, there are many things you can do to help ease your transition from high school to university. Here are five tips for the ultimate guide to your first year of college: 



  1. Don’t read every syllabus on day one

This was the first piece of advice given to me before leaving for college and it was also the first piece of advice that I didn’t follow my first semester. Big mistake, but I have followed it ever since. 

When you get your syllabus for each class, it seems like a good idea to go through all of them on the first day, but the more you start to look at all of your assignments and tests and papers, the more it seems like you are up against an impossible wall of work that you can’t possibly get through. You start to see that you have a six page paper for one class due on the same day you have a midterm in another or that you have to read half of a book for your literature class on the same day you have a project due in your Spanish class and a speech due for your speech class. 

During my first year, I had five essays all due in the same week. As an English major, I expected as much, but it was incredibly overwhelming to be looking through my assignments on the first day of my college career and seeing that looming in front of me. I hadn’t been given my first assignment yet and I was already panicking about the course load. 

Instead of smothering your confidence on your first day, choose only one syllabus to go through each day of your first week. This way, you get a bit of a break between each syllabus to relax and realize that the workload is much more manageable than it seems. 


  1. Leave your dorm to do homework or study

Working on homework in your dorm is incredibly convenient, but it is one of the easiest places on campus to get distracted and start procrastinating. There are a million things to keep you from getting your work done in your dorm room. You have laundry to do, shelves to dust, dishes to wash, a Netflix series to binge, snacks to eat, and a bed to nap in. 

Don’t do it. I began a dozen papers in my dorm and the same thing happened each time. First, I start by thinking I should turn on Game of Thrones for background noise while I work. Then, I think I’ll take a fifteen minute break from working to refresh my brain, so I put on a timer and lie down in my bed to watch my show. That fifteen minutes gets snoozed until thirty minutes, and at that point, I might as well finish the episode before I start working. Once the episode ends, though, there is a cliffhanger and I need to at least start the next episode. Another episode goes by and now I’m hungry so I go to the dining hall to get supper and clear my head before I get back to work. When I get back, I feel sleepy, so I decide that I’ll take a quick nap before working, but it’s close enough to bed time that I might as well just turn on a movie and then go to sleep and I’ll finish the paper tomorrow. 


That’s how almost all of my papers were started the morning of the due date. It wasn’t uncommon for me to start papers a few hours before they were due and turn them in only minutes before the deadline. This doesn’t create a healthy college experience. It will stress you out, and also have a side effect of associating your room with frantically finishing up assignments at the very last second. 

Instead, go to the library, the student center, a coffee shop or a picnic table outside. Find a friend to work with you and keep you accountable for your work. In the end, you will thank yourself for getting out of your stuffy, distraction-riddled dorm to do your work when you start to get your assignments done much sooner than you thought you could and have less anxiety about procrastinating on your work. 


  1. Get involved on campus

At the beginning of the year, go to the registered student organization (RSO) fair and speak to any and every club that you might be interested in. You don’t need to join every club at that moment, but don’t be afraid to speak to them and get an idea of what clubs you like. At the very least, you will walk away with some free pens and maybe a t-shirt or two. Then, once classes start, ask the students in your major if they are involved in any RSOs and which ones they recommend. 

I have met all of my closest friends on campus through the RSOs I’m in, and the more I became involved, the more I met new people in similar RSOs who introduced me to different aspects of my major and possible career options. Through the RSOs, you also have the opportunity to network with people across the country who will become very valuable to you once you graduate and join the workforce. 

Even if you don’t join a club, it still helps to go to campus events such as family week, homecoming and spirit week celebrations. There are normally a lot of people at these events that you can connect with and form friendships. 

If you need a reason to feel motivated to leave your dorm to go out and make new friends and connections, know that there is normally free food at these events and nothing motivates a college student quite like free food.  


  1. Go to your classes

Transitioning from an eight hours a day high school schedule to the freedom of my two classes a day college schedule was my favorite part of coming to university. I felt like I had so much time on my hands to do whatever, so I did. I did whatever I wanted and stopped going to some of my classes regularly. I got pretty good at figuring out what my professors needed from me in order to get an A in the class so I didn’t feel the need to put in any extra effort. 

This sounds like a great idea and it always looks like it is working perfectly fine, until the end of the year when you realize that you’ve missed major discussions in the lectures that will help you on your finals or final papers. Worse than that, you may be missing skills that will help you in your future classes or future career. 

It is so tempting to skip classes, trust me, I’ve skipped many classes, but it will only hurt you in the long run. Sure, I was getting my precious A, but I wasn’t learning anything because I wasn’t bothering to put in the work, and that’s a waste of time, money and energy for everyone involved. 

Understand, too, that once you skip a class, it becomes easier and easier to skip again. Avoid the cycle of skipping by forcing yourself to get up and go to class. Save the skip days for when you really need it, because you most likely will need it. Going to class will also build trust with your professor so that if you need a day off, it isn’t the end of the world. Also, professors don’t want to write recommendations for students who never attended their classes. On top of that, you might learn something while you’re there and that’s what you’re at school to do anyway. 


  1. Take care of your health

Energy drinks and coffee won’t keep you alive forever, you need to actually take care of your health. Getting enough sleep is so important for your mental and physical well being, but so many college kids trade this in for a few extra hours at a friend’s house or party. Get to know your schedule and figure out a balance between going out on weekends and going to bed on time during the week. 

Additionally, don’t forget to go outside every once in a while. When you start to feel stressed or anxious, taking a walk around campus can really help to clear your mind to refocus on your work. Almost every night, I make a loop around campus from the towers, over to the Bantera Center, to the Communications Building, around Pulliam, circling back towards Faner and finally back to the towers, and it helps me think through my day and relax my mind for a good night’s sleep. I recommend this to anyone who is feeling stressed or overwhelmed, especially your first year of college when almost everything seems overwhelming. (Editor’s note: Professors need to get outside too and I find the loop around Campus Lake is quite calming.)

If you do get physically sick, don’t be afraid to go to the health center or a walk-in clinic. It’s not fun to be sick, but it’s even worse to be sick away from home. It can be daunting making an appointment, but it’s better to prioritize your health, because your mental and physical health will greatly affect your ability to learn.


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