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A student’s first year of college is a major life change, for you and for them. To help, we reached out to members of our Paying for College 101 (PFC101) group and asked them to share their best advice on how to make the most of freshman year.
Their main message? The importance of striking a healthy balance between work and play. That means students not only going to class, studying hard, and networking for their future, but having fun, participating in social activities, and engaging with peers and professors.
In fact, a 2018 Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey that focused on college mentoring relationships, specifically professor-student mentoring, “linked meaningful mentoring relationships during college with positive long-term outcomes for alumni after college—including higher well-being, employee engagement and more positive perceptions of their alma mater.”
Whether your student is a current high school senior or a college-bound freshman of any age, here are some tips from families that have been there, done that.
*Quotes have been edited for clarity and flow.
A Is for Academics
Common advice for college freshmen typically focuses on finding their academic footing. This includes choosing a manageable class schedule, figuring out their preferred note-taking strategy (handwritten vs. typed, color-coded, etc.), staying organized (keeping track of individual assignments, group projects, exam dates, etc.), and studying.
Speaking of studying, there’s no one style that fits all—the most important thing is to actually study, and to learn how to do it effectively and efficiently. As member Joselyn says, “There really are no ‘easy A’ courses in college. Have fun but remember the goal.”
Here’s what more of our members had to say on the topic:
“Studying is a bigger priority than partying. Learn to study, schedule study time if necessary. Stay ahead of classes and seek help as soon as you begin to struggle.” — Kathy
“Go to class. Study. Find tutors before you need them. Visit professors during their office hours ASAP.” — Kathi
Practice Time Management
Another common theme among group members’ was emphasizing good time management skills—for both inside and outside of the classroom.
“Read your syllabus carefully, even print it out and check things off as they are completed.” — Gloria
“Don’t be too ambitious with courses. They are harder than you think they will be. Get your sea legs first before tackling a super rigorous course load.” — Meg
“Take control of your own graduation plan. At many schools, the advising will be… not so great. Figure out what courses are needed to graduate, what the prerequisites are, what semesters they’re offered, and make sure you don’t back yourself into a corner. When a course has multiple sections taught by different instructors, research them and try to get the ones that are more likely to result in a positive experience.” — Jay
Other members brought up the importance of students attending and participating in classes, along with showing up to teaching assistants’/professors’ office hours, as well as making use of tutoring/study sessions. PFC101 member Anne says it’s important to sit in the front of the class and actually engage with the professors. Here are some additional tips:
“Go to office hours! Your professors and TA’s are there to help you. A bad grade is worse than a scary professor… Take advantage of the services your school offers (such as: mental health, writing, and math centers). Asking for help is a sign of bravery, not weakness.” — Sheila
“Show up to the writing center for every writing assignment.” — Barak
“Get to know your professors. Go to office hours, ask how to improve your grade, [and] be proactive, particularly if you need a strong GPA for post grad school. Professors know the students who are interested and invested in doing well.” — Dympna
Dollars and Cents
Parents in our PFC101 group also recommend talking to your student about monitoring their money and expenses. Here are their suggestions:
“Create a budget.” – Dorothy
“My kids get all their spending money from their summer jobs. It has made them a lot more frugal than some of their friends.” – Dawn
“My high school senior turned 18 last fall. First thing we did was go to our credit union and he applied for his own credit card, so he can start building a credit history.” – Mary
Another tip: if your child took out student loans and is able to, start putting money toward them now. Paying back as little as $25 a month can save you money over the course of your loan. For more information, check out the helpful student loan calculator from College Ave.
All Work and No Play Is NOT the Way
College is all about making the most of the entire experience. Freshmen who stay in their dorm room every minute they’re not eating or in class are at risk of feeling isolated and unhappy.
A 2022 College Ave survey of 1,111 current college students finds dating and making friends are the top two concerns of college students, ahead of grades or finding a job post graduation.
Your student should take advantage of the activities on campus. There’s something for everyone—from sports teams and theater groups to clubs that focus on specific hobbies, like creating art, playing board games, writing, and more.
These group members had plenty of advice for college freshmen when it comes to getting involved on campus:
“Put yourself out there and take risks socially.” — Jay
“Get involved! Join clubs that meet regularly.” — Lori
“Meet people in your hall! You’re going to see them all the time during your first year.” — Sheila
“Build relationships. Find a community—in addition to your wing/dorm.” — Kathi
“Don’t pledge a sorority or fraternity your first semester.” — Brad
“Keep an open mind about what interests you. So much about college has become vocation focused.” — Riva
College is a time for intellectual, emotional, and social growth. It’s extremely important that college freshmen establish a healthy work-life balance to make the most of their time in school.
While going to class, studying, and doing well on exams should definitely be priorities, it’s also important for students to carve out some time for themselves, engage with their peers and professors, participate in extracurricular clubs, and have fun (just not too much fun).
All of these tips will help your student cope with the inevitable college stressors, and avoid any burnout as their first year progresses. Before you know it, they’ll be sophomores and you’ll both be ready to share tips with the next class of incoming freshmen.
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