Tips for Your First Semester at College

The first semester in college is a crucial time for students. Actions taken-or not taken- in the first few months of college can have a lasting impact on academic and career success. A new environment combined with increased academic pressure can push even good students off track. Fortunately, there are several things college freshman can do during the first semester to increase their chances of success.

Make (and Keep) a Schedule

College will be very different than grade school in that your schedule will not be as rigid and you’ll have to make more decisions for yourself. While this sounds great, it can lead to academic failure without time management skills and self-motivation. The most successful college students excel at time management, s0 important to have a good schedule and stick to it. First, fill in the classes and other activities for which a time is set. Then, allot study time to each course. Using course syllabi include details about papers, tests and projects so you won’t be caught off guard at the last minute. Ideally, you’ll study soon after each class to help retain information.

Don’t Overwhelm Yourself

It might be tempting to load up your course schedule with as many classes as possible. If you handled it all in high school, college shouldn’t be a problem, right? Wrong! College can be a huge step up in academic rigor, even for the most accomplished students. Give yourself time to adjust to the college environment. Take a reasonable number of classes and balance out the more difficult classes with easier ones. Just as with your classes, extracurricular activities should be manageable. Don’t over-commit yourself because you’ll likely need more study time than you think.

Visit the Career Center

As mentioned several times on this blog, it’s never too early to visit the career center. Even if you have your career planned out, it doesn’t hurt to look at the options available in various industries. Plans can change and career tests can also offer other careers to keep in mind.

Talk to Instructors

Fear of approaching authority figures can undermine your academic success. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and talk to your teachers about class material. Some will not be receptive, but most are glad when students take an interest in the subject. Not only will you increase the chance of a good grade, but you’ll also learn how to interact with those outside your peer group.


Your elementary and  high school years may have been spent passively absorbing information. College offers the opportunity to step up and become a participant.  In fact, participation is expected more and more as you progress throughout your college career. The first semester is the time to become more confident in your abilities and to overcome fear of failure. Contribute to class discussions, join organizations and take on leadership roles.

Between increased freedom and intensified academic pressure, college proves stressful for many new students. But if you know the potential pitfalls going in and actively work to prevent problems, you’ll successfully adjust to college life.

Not sure about your major? Read Book of Majors 2014: All-New Eighth Edition (College Board Book of Majors) for all the information you need on potential college majors.