How to Survive your First Semester at College!

6 Tips from a current first-year college student

You made it! You’ve said ‘yes’ to a college offer and you’re starting school in the fall. Give yourself a pat on the back; it was hard work. Now comes the next big challenge: moving into a new community full of people like you. Back in high school, you might not have had a lot of people who had similar goals to you. In college, it will seem like everyone has the same dream. It will be amazing, but it will also be mildly discouraging. Don’t lament just yet, it’s only because you’re in a program with people just like you. Use this rare opportunity to make friends and connections.

I’ve just finished my first semester of college, and I’ve grown a lot in the short three months that I’ve been gone. I’d like to share some of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up, so you don’t make some of the mistakes I have. I’ve compiled the most helpful ideas I can think of that pertain to both your academic and social life.

Academic Tips

1) Take advantage of your professor’s office hours. I’drecommend going twice a semester. Once in the first half, and once in the second half. Even if you aren’t struggling in the class, connecting with your professors is worthwhile. If you don’t have any questions regarding academics, ask them about their career or what they’re interested in. You can learn a lot about who you want to be by asking people who’ve already gone through that process, and you can figure out what your next steps are for your career. Even if you don’t get much out of these meetings, you can use that connection later for a letter of recommendation.

2) Go to class. Classes that are smaller than fifty people usually require attendance, but for the classes that don’t, you should still go. Lectures are important. Every single class is going to have valuable information that will be on the midterm and the final. You’re going to be mad at yourself when you get to these tests worth 15% of your grade and the questions are on material that wasn’t in the textbook. Also, sometimes the schedule can change. Some professors will see their students struggling with a chapter and slow down, pushing the tests and due dates back. The reverse can also happen, and suddenly the test is a day before you thought and you missed it because you weren’t in class to receive that information.

3) Do not underestimate a class when a professor says that they do not “believe in grades.” This happened to me twice in once semester, which is very unlikely. These professors tend to teach more within the liberal arts, and when they say they don’t believe in grades, that does not mean they’re giving you an automatic A. That misconception caused a lot of disappointing final grades for some of my classmates. When they say this during syllabus week, they mean that they care more about their students learning than their students getting a good grade. For them, grades are secondary and growing always comes first. With these classes, you need to put in the work, because these professors can always tell when you aren’t. As long as you put in the work, you’ll get your A.

Social Tips

1) Don’t bring up your high school stats. Making friends is intimidating in any situation, but there’s something extra challenging about making them in college. You’re definitely going to want to give these people a reason to like you, especially when they seem so impressive. You want them to be impressed with you, too. However, that will not happen by sharing your SAT score or your GPA. It will make you sound more competitive than friendly, even if that wasn’t your intention. Instead, ask them about their interests. Your extracurricular involvements might come up, but they don’t have to. It’s much better for people to find out your accomplishments later in the friendship. It will make you seem humble, and that’s a much better thing to be.

2) Avoid people who try to establish an intense friendship faster than what you’re ready for. It may seem exciting to have someone in this new place who claims to be “ride or die,” but they’re inevitably going to ask for a level of commitment that’s unreasonable for a friendship only three weeks old, and they’re going to make you feel bad when you can’t meet these intense demands. It’s a good sign when your new friends establish boundaries, and you should do the same. A solid friendship will grow steadily, not all at once. It might be discouraging when you’re trying to become friends with someone and they don’t immediately let you into their innermost thoughts, but that slow growth will form a much healthier relationship.

3) Just like how it’s unreasonable for someone you’ve known for a few days to call you in the middle of the night and request emotional support, it’s unreasonable for you to do the same to someone else. It’s really hard to be in a new place with a new set of intimidating expectations. It’s going to feel like you’re all on your own for a while, even if it isn’t entirely true. You’re going to look for someone, anyone, who is willing to support you emotionally. You’ll find people like that, but you can’t expect a level of friendship out of someone when you’ve only met them that month. I’d recommend journaling if you need to get it out. I usually use my notes app on my phone. If you need professional emotional care, then contact the school’s mental health office. There’s absolutely no shame in that, either.


Olivia Porta is attending the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study (Class of 2025) and is an intern at Virtual College Counselors.

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