The Freshman Year Checklist

Four years seems like a lot of time when you are just starting college, but the time flies by. If you don’t plan well from the very beginning, you may lose time and miss out on great learning and growth opportunities. In this first of a four-post series, I will offer up a few valuable tips for getting your college experience off to a great start.  

1. Organize your schedule.

You are in a different league now. Unlike high school, college is less structured. You won’t be in class as often, but you will have to study significantly more outside of the classroom. Your schedule won’t be the same everyday, so it is imperative that you write things down and look over your daily plan the night before. And, you will have to keep track of many obligations on your own- like paper due dates, exams, group project meetings, extracurricular activities, career center appointments, lectures, and campus events. But, it’s impossible to keep track of everything in your head!

So, it is necessary to plan out your time and obligations in advance- and stick to your own schedule- if you want to succeed in college.

sb3302. Personalize your space- and then keep it clean.

Whether you used to have a clean room at home or not, you need to keep your space personalized and neat in college.

For one thing, college is a new time in life- you want your space to reflect that change. If you are living at home for college, reorganize your room, buy some new artwork, save up for a brand new desk, or create a goal board. For those who are living on campus, it may be your first time away from home. Creating an environment that makes you feel at home will help you adjust as you make that big life change. 

For those of you who are living away from home, you will almost certainly have roommates. If you don’t clean up after yourself, that might really upset those who have to share a small space with you. If for no other reason than to show respect for your roommates, put things back in their place (especially if it’s something everyone uses, like a remote control or shared snacks).

3. Find your study spot.

Freshman year marks the beginning of what will feel like an endless string of papers and tests. One of the most effective things you can do is make sure you find a study spot on or off campus where you can concentrate and pump out your best work.

Everyone is different when it comes to finding a study spot. Personally, I could never concentrate in the library during college- it was far too quiet, and I was often distracted by side conversations when I bumped into friends. I found a great spot in the student activities center- I could hear the jukebox playing music from the diner nearby, but I still had a room all to myself with good lighting and a comfy chair.

sb320Maybe you absorb information better in complete silence- if that’s the case, the library or an unused classroom may be perfect for you. Others may need more noise- so the dining hall or dorm lounge may work better. Figure out what environment you learn and retain information best in, and then go find a study spot that matches your needs.

4. Go to the student activity fair.

Most colleges will have a student activity fair at the beginning of each school year. GO! This is your opportunity to learn more about all of the clubs, volunteer opportunities, and organizations on campus. It will get you thinking about what activities you want to take part in and how you want to spend your time outside of the classroom.

There is probably a lot going on for you, so you may be wondering, “How could I even think about adding more to my plate when I am just learning how to navigate my way through classes?” That’s a very valid question. But, here are just some of the benefits of getting involved in formal extracurricular activities:

-  You get to meet new peers and widen your circle of friends.

-  These activities will allow you to explore interests- such as pottery, slam poetry, debate, or photography- that you may not otherwise have the time or resources to explore. 

-  They’ll help you de-stress! Playing a game of intramural basketball might be just what you need in between study sessions.

-  You will develop a whole new set of skills, which makes you a better student in the long run

-  Getting involved now allows you to learn enough about a club or organization so that you are equipped to take on a leadership role later.

5. Find a senior mentor.

Many people will tell you that you should find a mentor in one of your professors or an academic advisor. Both are great and you should pursue opportunities to find seasoned mentors- but they can only offer you a particular perspective.

One of the best mentors you could have is a college senior. Why? Because they’ve been through the journey you are about to go on. They can tell you what their biggest regrets, joys, opportunities and failures were- and you can learn from those successes and mistakes. They understand what it’s like to be a student at your college, and are better equipped to provide you with advice to many of the questions you may have throughout freshman year. Go out and find a senior to befriend!

sb3396. Have a blast (but learn your limits).

Last, but certainly not least, have a blast! College is one of the most exciting times in life. In many ways, you are on your own. You’ve probably never had that much social and academic freedom- the opportunities are endless, so take advantage of as many new opportunities as possible. Embrace the whole experience- stresses and all- and remember that years from now, it won’t be the perfect score on a test or the number of games you won with your college team that will matter most. What you will truly come to treasure are the late night conversations you have with great new friends, long dinners in the dining hall, and the impromptu costume party you threw with your roommates in…April!

Savor all of those moments starting now, because college will go by faster than you think. But also remember that you have limits. If all of your friends want to go out on a Thursday night but you have an exam the following morning, learn how to say no. If you feel peer pressured to engage in behavior that you don’t agree with, understand your own standards and be willing to find a new group of friends if necessary.

Knowing what your goals are up front will help you understand and adhere to your limits. Figure out what those goals and limits are now so you can make the most out of every college moment.


Want more tips? Here are a few great online articles and books about surviving and making the most of freshman year:

- How to Survive Your Freshman Year

- Navigating Your Freshman Year Life

- Ultimate College Survival Guide

- 25 Tips to Help You Survive and Thrive

- Year Planner: College Freshmen


Melissa is the Editor-in-Chief of She is also an Assistant Brand Manager at Time Inc. Home Entertainment, where she manages brand extension projects for numerous publications including: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit, People, and Entertainment Weekly. Melissa majored in Psychology at Hamilton College and currently resides in New York City. To find out more, read her blog, follow her on Twitter and connect on LinkedIn.

Related posts:

  1. The Senior Year Checklist
  2. The Junior Year Checklist
  3. The Sophomore Year Checklist

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