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Tricks, Tips and Takes for College Freshmen

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It's that time of year again when many students begin their first year of college. It's an exciting, but also a stressful time for many. To help, here are 21 tips I share with freshmen each year. I'm sure there are other ways to help ease the transition to college, but after years of watching and working with freshmen students, these stand out as some of the most important.

1. Go to as many orientations and Freshmen Welcome Week events as possible. The more you know about your college, the more at ease you'll feel. Freshmen Welcome Week activities give you a chance to meet people and new friends. Get out of your room and say hello to people. This is one of the few times in your life when everyone around you will also be looking to make friends.

2. Be patient with the idea of having a roommate. Adjusting to sharing a room with a stranger can be overwhelming. Most likely, you will wind up being good friends with your roommate. However, being best friends isn't a priority. Life will be easier if you set up some ground rules with your roommate from the beginning. Have conversations about cleaning, having friends over, respect for each other's space and sleep habits. Don't be afraid to speak up if something is bothering you.

3. Being homesick is OK. It's natural. It's good to text and facetime with family members, but don't get caught behind the electronic curtain and forget to get out of you room.

4. Get involved. The sooner you get involved with groups or campus activities, the sooner the homesickness will go away. You'll feel connected and make new friends if you explore campus events, Greek life, religious and philanthropic organizations. Do something besides just going to class, playing video games and thinking about home.

5. Be an advocate for yourself. If something is wrong, speak up. Unlike high school, you don't have teachers and parents watching out for you on a day-to-day basis. You have to recognize when something is wrong, put together a plan to address it and then implement the plan. If you need help figuring out a plan, ask your Resident Advisor, Academic Advisor, roommate, trusted friend or faculty for advice. Try to use your parents as a back up to these other resources.

6. Get organized. In college, instructors give you a class syllabus for the year and expect you to be prepared for class. They won't remind you. Set up a system to keep track of what is due and when tests are scheduled.

7. Find a place and time to study. This may not be your dorm room or library. Find a place that works best for you to get your work done -- a place you can get away from daily distractions. Schedule the same time every day. I know many students that study a couple hours before dinner each night. That way, they have their evening free.

8. Meet with your instructors. Getting to know your instructor pays off in a couple ways. First, they are usually interesting people from whom you can learn a lot. They can also help you network. It's helpful to know your faculty especially if you run into problems in their class. Take advantage of their office hours. Remember to book an appointment early in the term. You don't need a problem to see them. Just stop by and introduce yourself and asked them about their background and how they got into their field.

9. Make friends with your academic advisor. This is your advocate for the next four years. Getting to know them and treating them respectfully will pay off if you hit a snag.

10. Make sure to have fun, but don't have too much fun. College is a balancing act. The best advice I can give is to study harder than you party, but don't get stuck behind a book on a Saturday night.

11. Take advantage of academic resources. Don't wait until you fall behind to find a tutor or study group. Most colleges have academic resources. Ask your advisor or faculty about them.

12. Make time for you. Make sure you schedule some time for yourself. Exercise; take a walk, get off campus. Time away from day-to-day college life will do you wonders.

13. You don't need to rush to declare a major... and it's ok if you decide to switch. College is the time for you to discover what you like and what you are good at. Your interests may change as you take more classes. Don't let peer pressure force you into declaring a major if you aren't ready. Your parents will have opinions. Respect them, but in the end you have to do what feels right to you.

14. Become friends with people in your classes. They will become study buddies and can share notes with you if you miss a class.

15. Eat and sleep. You are now in charge of your schedule. Meals are up to you, as is your bedtime. Too often college students skip meals or don't eat healthy. Avoid the "freshman 15" by minimizing the 12 a.m. pizza runs. Try to eat some vegetables and fruit once a day. Sleep becomes a commodity at college. Schedule it like you would your classes. Fight the urge to stay up until 2:00 a.m. talking, Facebooking or playing video games. Being tired for class creates issues that lead to lower grades and affects your mood.

16. Know what medical services are available on campus and use them. If you are sick, go to the doctor. If you get stressed out or have other issues, visit the counseling center. You will be surprised how many students take advantage of the counseling services. It's the new norm.

17. Don't procrastinate. If you wait until the night before something is due and you cram, you probably won't do well and will add a lot of stress to your life. Stay ahead of the game and study a bit every day so things don't come down to the last minute.

18. You will feel overwhelmed. There's a lot going on and you will get stressed out. It's natural. The important thing to know is that you are not the only one. Take a deep breath, slow down and put life back in order. You will be OK. Talk to your friends about it or visit the counseling center. Note: trying to decrease the overwhelmed feelings by drinking or doing drugs may give the allusion of working temporarily, but the feeling will still be there in the morning, plus you'll have a hangover.

Find your own coping techniques before you need them: meditation, exercise, alone time, etc.

19. You will get a bad grade. At some time in your academic career you will get a grade you don't like. This doesn't mean you are a failure. You simply didn't do well. Meet with your faculty to understand what didn't work and how you can avoid the issue in the future. Once again, be an advocate for yourself and find a solution to improve next time.

20. Find cheap text books. A single textbook can cost $75-$150. Some classes require multiple text books. I know students who spend close to $1000 on textbooks each term. My advice: buy used text books online. You might also ask others in your dorm if they have the books and want to sell them to you.

21. Not every college student is a partier. Each year many freshmen share with me that they don't think they will fit in because they don't like to party or drink alcohol. Each year I share with them that there are a wide variety of people on campus and a group for everyone. Many students don't party or drink. Like-minded people tend to find each other on a college campus very easily. Don't be afraid to let people know you don't drink. Most students will respect your choice. There are a lot of social things to do that don't include alcohol.

The last piece of advice I will give you is to take advantage of everything your college has to offer. Explore and try things you haven't done before. Learn about new cultures, study abroad, take road trips, have dinner with a faculty member, take a class you know nothing about, etc. This is the only time in your life where you will have so much time to explore and, occasionally, make mistakes. That is what college is all about: learning, exploring, making mistakes and growing. Be kind to yourself. Enjoy the next four years!

You can read more articles by Dr. Brian Harke at http://www.brinaharke.com