If you find this post helpful, check out my top packing tips for college students!
Going into college freshman year is scary. Anyone who tells you anything otherwise is either lying or superhuman. It is fine to admit that you’re a little bit terrified of this brand new situation. Visiting somewhere where you know nobody is bad in itself, but when you’re being dropped off there and told “see you in three months!” you suddenly realize just how alone you are.
I just finished up my freshman year of college and I have learned a lot. There is so much that I didn’t know going into college because nobody told me. I had unrealistic expectations and unnecessary worries. I compiled this list of things that I wish somebody would have told me before I entered my freshman year of college.
1. You don’t need to bring everything you own to school with you. I will admit I was overly thorough in my packing, and I regretted that trying to organize my dorm room. If you are debating whether or not you need to bring something, chances are that you don’t. I have a huge guide on packing for college you can see here for reference!
2. There is no excuse for the freshman fifteen. Just because you don’t have anybody nagging you to make healthy choices, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make them anyhow. Treat yourself right and opt for grilled chicken over pizza every now and then!
3. Start study groups. I learned so much more studying with a few classmates than I did on my own. Discussing and explaining what you’re learning helps commit it to memory far more effectively than mindlessly reading from a textbook. But be careful to study with friends who will be focused on studying, you can have a social hour after your exam.
4. Wear shoes in the bathroom. Flush the toilet when you’re done. Wash your hands before you leave. You’d be shocked how many people on my floor this past year chose to ignore these fundamental bathroom rules.
5. Call your family. I know you’re super busy and sometimes it slips your mind, but I can promise you that your parents and grandparents would love to hear from you every now and then.
6. Explore! You are lucky enough to be exposed to a whole new city, state, or in some people’s cases – country! There is so much to see on campus and in the surrounding towns, it’d be a shame to miss out. If your school has one, I’d highly recommend trekking out to the arboretum, University of Illinois has a gorgeous one!
7. Start a bucket list of sorts. You can find mine here. Having goals that you are working towards will make all of your late nights studying and stressful weeks seem worth it.
8. Go to class. There have been studies that prove going to class is linked with higher grades, not shocking but you’d be surprised how many students make a habit of skipping class. It’s just an hour or two out of your day, one that you or your parent’s are paying about 50 dollars a class for you to attend, lets not let that money go to waste!
9. Start looking for internships now. And if you can’t do that, then try job shadowing instead. Just one day of job shadowing a school speech pathologist cemented my decision to follow that career path and it’s nice not having that lingering “What if this major isn’t for me?” question out of the back of my mind. I can move forward with confidence after just one day, and that peace of mind is incredible.
10. Create a resume. If you haven’t needed one yet, I can assure you that you’ll need one soon. When you’re a freshman you can still put all of those high school achievements and leadership positions on there, so take advantage of those while you still can!
11. Being in college has it’s benefits. Check out this list of things that college students can save money on, and as soon as you get your college ID, take advantage of those perks. Just be aware that some of them vary by location!
12. Decide how often you want to do laundry, and pack accordingly. Laundry in the dorms is expensive, so I encourage you to invest in items like undies that you
can’t shouldn’t wear for more than one day so that if push comes to shove you have extra so you can stretch the time between loads.
13. Bring your bike. Having my bike on campus was a godsend. Yeah, U of I has an incredible bus system but truth be told I am a bit snobby in that I believe buses are sweaty and smelly. So if I had somewhere to get and weather was permitting, my trusty bike was my transportation of choice. It’s a great workout and it’s often quicker than the bus!
14. Bring a whiteboard. After first semester I was given one and it absolutely transformed my level of organization. Important dates and assignments were put on the whiteboard and I had a visual reminder of everything I needed to do that was 100x more effective than a calendar.
15. Learn new skills outside of your major. A terrifying reality is that there is a good chance it will take a few years to get a job relevant to your major after graduation, but if you’re well rounded you’ll have a better chance of getting a job anywhere. A fun skill I’ve been trying to pick up is coding, I’d highly recommend it!
16. Do extra credit. I was shocked to find at my college not all grades are treated equally. Whereas at my high school an A- was a 4 when calculating your GPA, in college that A- is a 3.67 – so when a B+ and a B- impact your GPA very differently, know that even an extra 10 points can make all of the difference in the long run.
17. Don’t buy your books from the bookstore – unless you like wasting money, that is. First look to see if your school has a facebook page specifically for selling old textbooks. If you can’t find the books you need there, check online. This past semester I rented my books off of Chegg, and I saved over 220 dollars by not buying my books from the bookstore.
18. You have a clean slate. Prepare yourself for new experiences with new people who have no idea who you are. If you want to make a change, there will be no better time than your freshman year.
19. If you’re in your room, keep your door open. This has two benefits: First it’s a lot easier to socialize when you aren’t spending your days behind a closed door, and secondly having your door open will motivate you to keep your room clean.
20. Join clubs! I can’t stress this one enough – clubs are where you’ll meet great friends, do something you’re interested in, and they pad your resume! But on the flipside of that, don’t be afraid to quit a club if you don’t like it. In college your time is valuable, don’t waste it just because you feel like you’re obligated to.
21. A few times every semester you may be blessed with a day where you have absolutely nothing that you need to do. Do something productive, anyways. Read a few chapters for an upcoming exam, schedule your week, just do something productive. You are only given so many days in your life, don’t let them go to waste.
22. Your syllabus is there for a reason – read it, reference it, worship it. At the beginning of every semester your professors will hand you a packet that tells you step by step how to pass their class, yet so many students ignore it. As soon as I got all of my syllabi second semester I copied all of my upcoming due dates into my planner and simplified my life so much.
23. Make friends with everyone you can. BSWs, the cooks in the dining halls, your dorm’s security officers, and the list goes on. Not only is it just a nice thing to do, but they are from your campustown, they can tell you about all of the best places on and around campus and many of them have some pretty great stories to tell.
24. Meet your professors. Professors are people too, and most people are pretty nice. But they are far more likely to go above and beyond for someone that they already know – so don’t wait until you’re in trouble to meet them. If the end of the semester approaches and you’re not doing so hot, chances are they’ll be more willing to help you out if they recognize that you’ve come to office hours and you participate in class.
25. Be careful about caffeine consumption. Personally, I try to only drink caffeine during midterms and finals, with a single cup of caffeinated tea sprinkled in during heavy study nights. Caffeine can seriously mess with your sleep schedule, a simple thing you can do when studying is sets of jumping jacks or push ups when you get tired, you’ll get an energy boost and some exercise! I just wouldn’t recommend doing so in the library.
26. Be a good friend. Despite not drinking myself, when my roommate was brought home by her sisters drunk, you can bet I held her hair while she puked. And you know what? A few months later when I was in the hospital she sat with me all day and even chased down a nurse when we thought an air bubble in my IV was going to cause my early demise. (Don’t worry, we learned that the air bubbles have to be really big to kill you.) What I’m getting at is sometimes your friends need you to be there for them – don’t let them down, and they’ll return the favor when you need them.
27. Not everyone drinks, if you don’t want to – don’t. I promise no one that you care to be friends with will judge you for it. On the flipside, if you drink, great! Just don’t put partying ahead of school.
28. Utilize ratemyprofessor.com – honestly this is one of the most important pieces of advice I have to offer. First semester I wasn’t able to do this as I signed up for classes with my advisor and I was hurting as a result. Second semester I only took classes with highly rated professors and not only did I learn so much more, but I can honestly say I enjoyed every single one of my classes. Good professors are important in ensuring a positive college experience.
29. College is the place to get free stuff. Pizza, Jimmy Johns, T-shirts, Frisbees, and so much more. Go to the different fairs and lunches that your school organizes – especially at the beginning of the year. Keep an eye out for University sponsored activities and I can guarantee that you’ll get some pretty cool stuff. At my school’s health fair this year a ten minute wait in line got me a free manicure!
30. Take advantage of your school’s gym. Your membership fee is already paid for as part of your tuition, so you might as well utilize it because you’re paying for it. Using the gym means you’re going to get in shape, stay healthy, and avoid the freshman 15!
31. Take GPA-boosting pre-reqs. If you’re required to take classes that aren’t related to your major, there is no shame in taking the easy A classes. When you’re in the real world and potential employers see your impressive GPA, chances are they aren’t going to care if you took a few ‘easy’ classes to supplement your grades. So long as the class is interesting to you and you think you’ll do well it can only benefit you.
32. Come to terms with the fact that you might not be a superstar anymore. In high school you may have been the smartest/most athletic/funniest/etc. person in your class. Chances are, at college there will be more competition for these titles, and that’s fine. No one likes the kid who only wants to talk about their high school glory days, I promise you very few people care how many AP classes you took in high school or how many trophies you won in extracurriculars. Those conversations have a time and place, but if you continually force the conversation in a direction simply so you can brag, friends will be far and few in between.
33. Don’t walk anywhere alone at night, and don’t let any of your friends walk anywhere alone at night, either. Your roommate decides that she is going to go get chicken fingers at 11:30 at night? Go with, whether you want to or not because friends don’t let friends enter dangerous situations. Period. (And chicken fingers are delicious.)
34. Get earplugs. Honestly, never in my life have I had a better sleep until the day I was gifted a pair of cheap, dollar store earplugs. They muffle all noise so it sounds like you’re already dreaming, and you won’t wake up when your roommate it stirring around the room.
35. Don’t let one aspect of your life define you. Too many college kids join greek life and ultimately become their letters. Yes, be proud of your organization but don’t forget that you are so much more than your sorority.
36. If you are going to party/binge on netflix/sleep rather than focus on getting good grades man (or woman) up and take out some loans and pay for college yourself. I don’t care how generous your parents are, you should not take advantage of that generosity. They are paying for you to get an education, not so you can get wasted. Yes have fun and relax when you have time, but not at the expense of your schooling.
37. If you’re living in a dorm try and get bottom bunk. And then proceed to hang curtains around it so that you can have a little fort. This will really pay off when you’re trying to go to sleep and your roommate is still up and has the lights on.
38. Ask for help! If you’re really lost or confused do not wait until the day before an exam or the last week of class to see your professor. In college if you don’t help yourself, nobody is going to go out of their way to help you like they did in high school. Office hours are there for a reason – use them and use them early on.
39. Start looking into studying abroad – you’ll gain invaluable experiences and your department might even help pay. There will be no better time to travel, so take advantage of it! It’s important to start planning it into your schedule early, though!
40. Put your best foot forward those first few weeks of school. Be well groomed and friendly as this is a key time to make new friends. Everyone is in the same boat for the first month or so – knowing no one and dying to make friends. Make sure that you’re someone that people would want to be friends with.
41. I was shocked to see how often crimes were committed on my campus. If you are walking alone at night be alert and don’t stare at your phone. If you find yourself in the terrifying situation of being mugged give them what they are asking for. Don’t try to be a hero because no matter how tough you are theres a good chance that you’re not tougher than a bullet. A laptop and wallet are replaceable, you aren’t.
42. Lock your door when you sleep. Even if you trust everyone on your floor not to steal from you, you can’t trust them not to barge into your room drunk at 3 am. Trust me on this one.
43. When your roommate is desperately sick, lysol wipes and hand sanitizer should be your best friend. Illness spreads through dorm floors incredibly quick, be proactive about sanitation and you may get lucky,
44. Don’t take it for granted. Sometimes when I’m stressed out I just wish I could skip this part of my life, but then I realize how lucky I am to be where I’m at. I have access to some of the best professors in the country, I am meeting all sorts of incredible people I wouldn’t have otherwise, and I get to live on an absolutely gorgeous campus. Not everyone is as lucky as us college kids are. Appreciate every day at school, because I’ve been told the time slips by way too quickly.
That’s all that I have for you today! Did I miss anything? Let me know what your best tips are for college students! Thanks for reading!