First-Year Guide to College Transition

On my first day of college, I watched other first-year students unpack their stuff, luggage and laundry baskets pressed against tinted car seat windows. I went through a mental list in my head. Bed sheets? Check. Shower shoes? Got ’em. Minnie the stuffed giraffe? Yes, hidden away inside my pillow case! All of a sudden, I lived in a new town surrounded by total strangers. I was excited and terrified all at once!

The transition from high school to college can be tough. For many students, college represents the passage to adulthood. It’s a time to develop the work ethic and independence that you will use for the rest of your life. The most helpful tools proved to be the support systems put into place by my college to help me succeed, programs like first-year orientation.

This September will mark the fourth and final year of my college career, here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way!

Meet with Your Academic Advisor

Academic advisors help students with class planning, career options, research opportunities, and more. Print and fill out an academic plan sheet to show your advisor, even if you aren’t sure of your major. Acknowledge that your plan can change.

College Counseling

Monitor your feelings and reach out for help if needed. Counseling can help students develop skills in many areas including behavior management, stress management, and problem solving. I saw a counselor my first semester! Don’t feel embarrassed about needing extra support. Reaching out is a sign of strength and strong self-reflection.

Find a Job

Explore campus student employment opportunities. Most institutions offer a variety of work-study positions to enrolled students. Find a position that sparks your interest. For instance, if you like computers/editing software, try information technology services or visual media. Work study is a great way to learn new skills. For example, I help design posters and playbills for the theatre productions at my college. A part-time job helps me structure my time and plan out my week.


Take advantage of new student orientation. It’s put in place to help you navigate the next year. Some students think orientation is irrelevant and useless. That’s not true! I learned a lot about local events and department locations. It is never a bad idea to prepare for the challenges and misadventures that come with college. If nothing else, talk to the people next to you!

Clubs and Student Organizations

Sign up for a club that interests you. Whether it’s an academic or personal interest, explore something new. For example, I am a part of the Shakespeare board at my college and play intramural volleyball. Sign up for email lists and keep an eye out for weekly events. Go to meetings at least twice before you decide it’s not for you! Clubs are a great way to meet new people and take a break from studies!


At first, it can be strange to live with a complete stranger. Take this time to develop effective communication skills and don’t let arguments build up or explode. You don’t have to be best friends but it will be better for everyone if you can get along. If you have a conflict, reach out to your RA for help in the mediation process. Contact your roommate in advance and find out who is bringing what. You don’t need two coffee makers!

Go to Class and Study

At college, you are the only one who can make sure you do the work. My friends who struggled did not go to class or study enough. If you do both, you will be fine. Go to office hours and connect with professors directly. It’s their job to help you! Find a study partner or tutor. I have had plenty of tutors in my college career and the key is to ask for help early! If you have trouble starting homework, watch a Ted Talk or YouTube video that relates to your homework or class.

High school teachers take attendance and hold you accountable, but college professors tend to operate differently. In college, how you spend your time is up to you. A lot of my professors have a set amount of excused absences in the syllabus. Make sure you read the whole thing!

Find out what motivates you and keep yourself in check. Study twice as much as you think you need. Be present and take notes, sometimes professors will drop test hints and offer extra credit!

Get Out of Your Dorm Room

Don’t hibernate in your room all day! Schedule yourself beyond your academic commitments. Ask a floormate to go on a walk or eat dinner with you. Community meals are a great way to get to know someone. Colleges put on social events to encourage students to meet new people–go to them! If you live close to home, try to limit your return trips. Weekends are for you to relax and explore the local campus scene. It takes time and effort to make new friends, be gentle to yourself.

Value Personal Safety

Hang out with people who you trust and will look out for you. Establish personal boundaries and listen to your gut. Be mindful of what you post online. Once it’s up, it’s impossible to erase.

Recognize the risks of substance abuse. Twenty five percent of college students report academic consequences due to alcohol.

Prioritize Your Health

Make exercise a part of your daily routine. You will never have more free time than you will have over the next four years. Now is the time to practice healthy habits. Physical activity can help put the mind at ease. When you get the blues, get out of bed and move your body.

Don’t forget the importance of sleep! I know, you’ve heard it all before! It is no secret that sleep deprivation affects your emotional and mental state. Poor sleep can make it challenging to cope with even the minor stresses of school and social problems. The National Sleep Foundation recommends to stop using electronic devices like your cellphone and laptop at least thirty minutes before bed.

No college/campus is perfect and you will run into problems! For some people, college is the first time they are away from family and friends. It’s okay to be overwhelmed. At times it will feel like you are the only one having a hard time, but everyone gets stuck!

Be self-confident, you’ve earned it! By completing high school and getting into college, you have already shown you can overcome challenges. Remember that your college admitted you for a reason, you have what it takes to succeed.

No college/campus is perfect and you will run into problems! For some people, college is the first time they are away from family and friends. It’s okay to be overwhelmed. At times it will feel like you are the only one having a hard time, but everyone gets stuck!