The transition into college isn’t exactly traumatic. It’s not as if your flesh peels off to reveal the new creature within, while heavy wings sprout awkwardly on your back. But, then again, it’s something for you to be smart about. Some first-year college students jump in too fast and get in over their heads. Some cling to the high school friends and their hometown too much. And a lot of people fall somewhere in between.
By the end of your first year, you should feel at home, with a new set of routines you’ve slid into gracefully. Here are 15 mistakes to avoid as you get settled in.
1. Taking too many credits
Sixteen max, ladies and gents. Four courses, four credits each. Fifteen will work, and don’t necessarily believe the folks who say that if you take only twelve, you’ll be delaying your graduation. By giving yourself a manageable courseload, you’ll actually be putting yourself on track, avoiding burnout.
2. Crazy schedule
It’s very hard to know how to schedule your courses your first semester or so, but fortunately it gets a lot easier. A mistake a lot of freshmen make is having a lopsided schedule: too many classes with homework due twice a week, too many with fifty pages to read per week, etc.
Your institution probably has relatively concrete descriptions of courses. As you register, try to have one reading-intensive course, one with a paper or two, one with quizzes, etc.
This also applies to the courses’ meeting times. Don’t have yourself booked solid from eight to four on Tuesdays and Thursdays. You’ll be tired, hungry, and frazzled.
3. Not understanding how hard it will be
An assignment in a Composition class at a relatively large university asked students to discuss their expectations of college life. To the surprise of some of the instructors, quite a few students said that they were expecting a lot of partying (more on that in a minute) and not a lot of hard work.
Basically, if you think it’s going to be harder than it really is, no problem. If you think it’s going to be easy: problem.
4. Putting socializing first
It’s tempting to want to develop a good social life in the first two or three weeks of school. But this can be detrimental to your studies. Close friends will develop over time—be patient, let it come to you, and focus on academics.
5. Partying too much
Think of partying at college as a way to unwind every great once in a while, not as a challenge on some reality show. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism tells us that fully one out of five college students can be classified as having “alcohol use disorder.” Further, one of four report having academic problems because of drinking.
The latter is the problem for freshmen: it’s hard enough to master academics your first couple of semesters. Don’t throw roadblocks in your way.
6. “What do they think of me?”
Here’s something that happens at college: we are confronted with people from all different backgrounds and who aren’t just like the people we grew up with. That means that some of us feel judged or misunderstood. This online textbook by Charles Stangor tells us that because different people notice different things in us, they might come away with surprising impressions of us.
A lot of freshmen react to this very real problem by thinking too much about what others think of them. This can cause them to do some weird things to impress people. Instead, be sure to think of who you actually are and hone that as finely as possible. That will keep you in as good shape as possible for success.
7. Professor Intimidator
Never be intimidated by a professor. Almost no professors think of themselves as intimidating or as anything high and mighty in any way. Be ready and willing to communicate with them and to meet with them, and know that they are usually down-to-Earth and ready to chat.
8. Work smarter, not harder
A lot of freshmen make the mistake of breaking out the highlighter pen and ruler (for underlining) and taking notes on every minor reading assignment. Now, that’s not a bad thing. The only problem is if you burn yourself out and then don’t do enough work on a major assignment. Be sure to prioritize!
9. Slow transition
While it’s important not to try to become a whole new person too fast, some students make the opposite mistake of delaying the transition. This can mean applying a lot of energies to the significant other from high school, hanging out with high school friends who may go to your university, etc. The problem with this is that it delays the creation of your new life, which means you’ll be going without important networks for too long.
10. Going home too much
Related, but worth its own mention, is taking two trips home in the first month, five in the first two months, etc. Again, blend the two worlds, being sure to attend to the new one enough.
11. Eating wrong
Wow, we’re spoiling all your fun, aren’t we? But a proper diet is so important when you’re taxing your mind. Spending some thought on how to get the proper nutrition is so important.
12. Sleeping wrong
It’s very popular for students to sleep from about two-thirty ‘til about eight and then maybe take a nap. That kind of sleep just isn’t enough to fuel the mind.
13. Not learning for the sake of learning
OK, we’re throwing some strategies at you, and there are a lot of people who will do that. Sometimes you’ll get strategies about taking tests, etc. But here’s something that will steer you right. If you set aside all the various methods of scoring better on this test or that paper and just learn as much as you can, you’ll be fine! If you show passion for what you’re learning, your profs will notice this, and you’ll succeed.
14. Rushing to a major
OK, you’ve been warned about this before, right? Well, there’s a reason. Only too many students take a few too many credits in their first year toward their presumed major. This can prevent you from exploring enough to find the right area of study.
15. Not enough diversity
It can be tempting in your first couple of semesters to look for anything comforting or affirming. This can mean finding a lot of like-minded people. There’s nothing wrong with that, but you should also invest in finding people from diverse backgrounds, and also to investigate clubs and organizations that will expand your horizons.
All in all, your freshman transition is all about balance. It’s important to not go too far in one direction or another. Don’t be neglectful toward particular areas of your life or studies. But don’t pay too much attention to certain areas either. That will cause you to create gaps in your development, and those things might very well haunt you.
With this guide, you have what you need to make a type of general checklist. You can then be sure to pay attention to each particular part of your life in turn, striking a healthy balance.