The Freshman’s Guide: Things I Wish I Knew My First Year of College

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With the new academic year starting soon, I have found myself reminiscing about the ol’ college days. How I wish I could go back in time and stop myself from making the horrendous mistake of buying all my course books brand new before classes started! Then I realized that while I cannot save myself from the pitfalls of inexperience, I can certainly share some of the lessons I have learned throughout the years so that you, starting college, have an easier time than me.

  • Don’t buy books until you are sure you will need them: This is not a rule, but oftentimes professors list the book in the syllabus while all the relevant course content will be covered in the lecture. Ask your instructor if the book is a requirement. If you DO need the book, there are cheaper options that you can look into: renting from the university’s library, buying second hand (either from other students or the university itself), or going through websites like Chegg. Please keep in mind and include in your budget if you need to buy access codes.
  • Check scholarships often: It is very common for universities to have scholarships based on need available each semester. Even if it is only for a few hundred dollars, that is still money you can use for covering college expenses!
  • Your instructor is the best source of information: They provided you with the ultimate informational source when they gave you the syllabus, make sure to read it! I make it a rule to only email an instructor if I cannot find the answer to my question in the posted materials. Furthermore, it is common for professors to have teaching assistants that you should not be afraid to contact as needed!
  • The University’s Library is a goldmine: Whether you like paper or prefer a digital format, your university’s library and its online extension are going to be your best friend for the next four years. I used to go study in the library because it helped me stay focused, but it also offered me a venue for group study sessions and tutoring. The online research tools are even more useful since you will often be searching for primary sources to support your papers, so get familiar with their search engines.
  • Active recall trumps highlighting and reading notes: The active recall method of learning is far superior to “passive learning.” To promote active recall, you can use flashcard apps such as Anki or (my personal favorite) Quizlet. Just be sure to not cheat yourself by creating associations between words instead of actually internalizing the concepts.
  • Organize your time: Keep a schedule so you can track your time, assignments and due dates. I like using OpusOne on Mac, but any app that lets you schedule tasks and add to-do lists to your day will do the trick. Schedule time for completing assignments as well as time to consolidate and review content and don’t forget to allocate time for study breaks. I love using the Pomodoro technique!
  • Schedule time for R&R, fun, and mindfulness: Avoid falling prey of the “I have no time” mentality. I find that scheduling time in my day to study and time to rest allows me fully enjoy my R&R time because I know I completed my goal. Moreover, make sure to take care of your mental health! I like keeping a journal that I use to reflect on my day and how I can do better in the future.
  • Always carry water and snacks with you: Staying hydrated is important to ensure you are not distracted while learning. The same goes for food. Pack snacks and things you can munch on during breaks. It is impossible to focus on a calculus lecture on an empty stomach. I have tried!
  • Being a student comes with perks: Universities often provide free access to a wide range of tools such as Microsoft® programs. Be also on the look out for services that you may obtain for free or discounted by using your school email like the Notion pro service!

I hope you find this list useful and that the new year brings you all the joy it should. Feel free to reach out and share what you wish you knew when you started college.


This blog post was originally published here!

Published by L. Leal

Productivity enthusiast, dog mom, and post-graduate student conquering the pitfalls of procrastination.

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