For students

7 Ways to Ace Your First Year of College

Congratulations! You finished high school and have now started your freshman year of college. That’s worth taking a moment to celebrate.


Over the next four years, you’re going to make lifelong friends and build memories that will stick with you.


During your freshman year, you’ll get used to dorm living, a new roommate, and a rigorous course schedule.


It’s a lot to adapt to, but with a little planning, you can juggle it all like a champ. Here’s what you need to know about how to succeed in college.


1. Talk to your professors (often)

Dr. Tatum Thomas is the senior associate dean of student affairs and a lecturer in professional studies at Columbia University, so she knows all about how to succeed in college.


When it comes to helping freshman perform better in the classroom, Dr. Thomas recommends talking with your professors on a regular basis.


“Think beyond answering questions in class,” she says. “Make an investment in getting to know faculty. Visit your professors during office hours and build relationships.”


Those connections can come in handy down the line, and not just when it comes to your grades.


“Relationships with faculty are critical,” Dr. Thomas says. “It’s especially helpful when it comes time to ask professors for recommendation letters. An established relationship based on substance will help you.”

2. Get some sleep

Between classes, studying, extracurriculars, and just hanging out with friends, your schedule is likely to be jam-packed. Still, it’s good to remember the importance of sleep.


You’ve heard that you should aim for seven to eight hours of sleep each night, but every person is different. Try to get enough sleep each night that you can stay alert throughout the day and won’t need a nap.


Although you might not get a full night’s rest every day, it’s especially important to prioritize sleep before an exam. Plan on studying in advance so you don’t have to do pull an all-night studying session—then you’ll be properly rested for the test.

3. Come up with a schedule that lets you handle everything on your plate

Your college coursework is different from what you’ve done in the past. Rather than nightly homework assignments and reminders about term papers, you’re largely responsible for your own schedule.


If you’re not careful, due dates can creep up on you, leaving you scrambling to write a huge final paper in a single day.


According to Dr. Tatum, you can avoid this problem by planning ahead.


“Take the syllabus and map out your due dates on a calendar,” she said. “Lay out the assignments for each class, but also write down personal circumstances like travel plans or other commitments. That way, you can plan accordingly and still meet your deadlines.” 


When setting up a daily schedule for yourself, think about when you’re most productive. Are you a night owl, or are you most alert in the mornings?


Working when it’s best for you will help you stay focused and retain more information. It will also allow you to minimize the overall time you spend working.


Keep in mind that you’ll probably have to devote more time to studying and homework than you did in high school, since you’re spending so much less time in class. In fact, some colleges recommend that you plan on studying two to three hours for every hour that you’re in the classroom. 

4. Practice good self-care

Handling your coursework can be stressful. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong — it’s just part of the adjustment that comes with starting college.


That’s why it’s so important that you take care of yourself. By practicing good self-care, you can avoid burnout.


Take the time to indulge in breaks where you can completely unplug and relax. Some suggestions:

  • Get a mani/pedi
  • Enjoy a pizza and movie night with friends
  • Take an exercise class
  • Nap
  • Play frisbee


When coming up with a schedule, make self-care a priority. Carving out a couple of hours a week to recharge can be good for your health and academics. Giving yourself permission to take a break is essential.

5. Take advantage of school resources

When you’re doing well, you likely won’t think about getting a tutor or taking advantage of other school resources. But, Dr. Tatum says, that might be a problem for some students.


“Preventative care is key,” she said. “Even strong students can benefit from a tutor or by visiting the school writing center. You can use the resources to go from good to great.”


Some faculty members will even boost your grades if you show evidencethat you went to a tutor or writing aid.


For example, American University actually encourages faculty members to offer extra credit to students who visit the writing center for help with papers.


To find help, contact your school services department to find out what resources are available to you. If you’re not sure where to start, ask a professor for recommendations.

6. Keep an eye on your student loans

It’s probably the last thing you want to think of, but in most cases, your student loans will start accruing interest while you’re still in school.


Taking the time now to understand how your loans work, how interest builds over time, and your repayment options can save you from headaches later on. When you understand exactly what you’re dealing with, you’ll be more empowered to manage your loans once you graduate.


If you’re eager to tackle your student loans right away, putting a little money toward them now—even if it’s just a few dollars a month—can help reduce the amount of interest you’ll owe down the line.


7. Go to class

An 8:00 a.m. class can definitely be miserable, but the truth is, actually going to class makes a huge difference in both what you learn and the grades you earn. It’s important to try and minimize the amount of classes you miss.


Multiple scientific studies have shown that students who go to class regularly outperform those who skip. In fact, a study published by Sage Journals found that class attendance positively impacted both your class grade and your overall grade point average.


Researchers found that class attendance was a better predictor of grades than any other indicator, even students’ performance on standardized tests or study habits. 


Not only do you get to hear the lectures, but by being in the classroom, you can pick up on cues and hints your professor gives about what’s going to be on upcoming exams.

Figuring out how to succeed in college

You’re at the beginning of an amazing new chapter of your life. By following these tips, you can ensure you have a fantastic first year of college—and you can be ready to ace the next three years, too.


And if you need help paying for school, CommonBond offers low-interest student loans so you can get the cash you need to finish your degree.

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