Key Highlights

  • Life in college is very different from your time at high school, with major differences in academic expectations and campus lifestyles that you will have to navigate.
  • Maintaining your physical and mental health will be vital and should not be overlooked.
  • Building relationships, academically and socially, will go a long way towards making your college experience a fulfilling one.

Being a first-year college student–also called a college freshman–signifies embarking on a journey of profound personal and intellectual growth. As a first-year college student, you will be at the threshold of discovering your passions, shaping your future career, and forging lifelong friendships.

This pivotal year sets the foundation for your college experience, demanding adaptability, resilience, and an open mind as you learn to balance academic pursuits with personal development and social engagement. Here is CollegEnroll‘s take on what you can, and should, expect during your first year on campus.

The College Experience vs High School Life

Transitioning from high school to college marks a significant change not only in your academic life but your personal life too. Here are some of the main differences between high-school and college you can expect.

Academic Expectations

  • Self-Directed Learning: College often requires more self-directed learning than high school. You will be expected to do a lot of learning on your own, spending more time studying outside of class, and your college professors will provide significantly less hand-holding than your high-school teachers.
  • Course Difficulty: College courses can be more challenging, covering material more in-depth and at a faster pace. Keeping up with the size and pace of courses will perhaps be the biggest difference between high-school and college that you will identify immediately.
  • Class Structure: College classes may meet less frequently but do so for longer periods, and the teaching style can vary greatly between professors.
  • Grading Policies: There might be fewer assignments contributing to your final grade in college, making each one more significant. Grading is also usually much more rigorous, and you will find that maintaining a high grade point average (GPA) is much harder in college than it was in high-school.

Learning Environment

  • Class Size: Depending on the institution, class sizes you will be a part of can vary significantly. In colleges, introductory courses sometimes will have hundreds of students. This can mean less personal attention than you’re used to but also opportunities for larger-scale discussions and lectures.
  • Relationships with Professors: Building relationships with professors is more self-initiated in college. On-campus office hours provide a chance for one-on-one interaction, which will be valuable for you to understand material and build professional connections.

Personal Independence

  • Living Situation: More likely than not, going to college will mean moving out of your parents’ house for the first time, and living in a dormitory with a roommate. This means getting accustomed to new living arrangements and new levels of managing personal responsibilities you wouldn’t have experienced before.
  • Time Management: Without the structured schedule of high school, managing your own time effectively will become crucial. Balancing academics, social life, possibly a job, and self-care is a key challenge you will find yourself rising up to.
  • Social Scene: Typically, you will find the social environment in college to be more diverse, with students from various backgrounds and the opportunity to meet a wide range of people through clubs, classes, and campus events.

Transitioning to college life involves adapting to new academic standards, developing greater independence, and navigating a new social environment. It’s a period of significant growth that will offer you both challenges and opportunities for personal development.

Familiarizing yourself with key landmarks and buildings on campus is crucial for navigating your new environment efficiently and taking full advantage of all the resources available to you.

For starters, it is always a good idea to know where the key academic buildings are.

  • Classroom buildings: Few things can be more unpleasant for a freshman than running between buildings on a massive campus, trying to find the right classroom. One of the first things you should find out is where your classes will be held. Visiting the buildings and classrooms before the semester starts can help you get to your classes on time during the first week.
  • Department Offices: The offices of your major’s department can prove to be a valuable resource for academic advising, internships, and job opportunities. This is also where your professors, as well as teaching and graduate assistants, are most likely to hold their office hours.

In your freshman year, especially during the first semester, you will find yourself visiting most of the administrative offices on campus.

  • Admissions Office: This is where all your application-related queries, and sometimes even scholarship information, will be handled and addressed.
  • Registrar’s Office: Think of the registrar’s office as the command center in-charge of your course registrations, transcripts, and enrollment verification – everything essential in enabling you to actually attend classes.
  • Financial Aid Office: You will visit the financial aid office for everything related to scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study details.
  • Student Affairs / Student Services: The student services office provides a wide range of student support services, like counseling, tutoring services, and disability services.

There is a lot more to experience on campus than just classrooms and administration offices. You, especially as a freshman, can shape what kind of student life you want to pursue. And there is no shortage of support services to help you do so.

  • Campus Library: Beyond being a place to just check out books, the library offers study spaces, research assistance, and sometimes workshops on research skills.
  • Computer Labs: Useful for accessing computers if you don’t have access to your own. If you need to get to a printer, you most likely will be headed to one of the computer labs.
  • Student Union/Center: The primary hub of student activities on campus, usually containing food courts, lounges, study spaces, and sometimes the bookstore (for textbooks, school supplies, and school merchandise).
  • Dormitories/Residence Halls: Even if you don’t live on campus, it’s good to know where these are, especially if you have friends who are spending freshman year in the dorms.
  • Dining Halls and Cafeterias: Understanding your dining options and their hours can help you plan your meals around your class schedule. Grabbing a quick bite between classes does not have to be a challenge if you always know what your nearest options are.
  • Campus Health Center: If your campus has a health center, this is where you will head to for receiving primary health care, including first aid, and mental health support.
  • Recreation Center: On-campus fitness facilities, including the gym, can be found at the recreation center. This is also where you’ll go for intramural sports events, athletics facilities, as well as wellness programs.
  • Parking Services: Very important to know if you bring a car to campus is where you can park, and the regulations across the various parking lots. Nobody likes to have their car towed from a “staff only” lot, or park five blocks away from classes.
  • Campus Shuttle Stops: If you are going to be on a large campus, or if your campus buildings are spread across a city, note that your college or university may offer shuttle services. These shuttles are the best, and cheapest, way to get around campus or to nearby off-campus destinations.

Getting to know these places can significantly ease your transition into college life, helping you feel more comfortable and connected to your campus. Consider taking a campus tour, if available, or exploring the campus map online or through any official campus app to familiarize yourself with these locations.

Starting college, especially when living on campus, brings a lot of new responsibilities and freedoms. Taking care of your physical and mental health is crucial during this time to ensure you can perform your best academically, and to enjoy the college experience to its fullest.

Let’s start by looking at some tips to help you maintain good physical health.

  • Eat Balanced Meals: Try to include a variety of foods in your diet, incorporating fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Campus dining halls often offer a wide range of options to help you make healthy choices.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Carry a reusable water bottle with you to stay hydrated between classes. And no, chugging energy drinks does not count as responsible hydration.
  • Use Campus Facilities: Take advantage of the campus recreation center or gym; many colleges offer free or discounted memberships to students. Joining intramural sports leagues and fitness classes can also be a fun way to stay active and meet new people.
  • Stay Active in Daily Life: Walk or bike to class if possible. Small, conscious decisions, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, can also help you incorporate more physical activity into your day.
  • Stay Up-to-Date with Vaccinations: Many colleges require certain vaccinations for students living on campus. Make sure you’re up-to-date on all recommended vaccines.

Being on campus can be a stressful experience. According to the American College Health Association (ACHA), 1 in 3 students (39%) surveyed admitted that stress had negatively affected their academic performance. So, it is not just your physical health that needs attention; your mental health matters too. 

  • Time Management: These skills go a long way to reducing stress by helping you balance coursework, activities, and personal time effectively. Learning effective time management is something you will find to be a savior throughout your time in college.
  • Social Connections: Build yourself a supportive social network. Join clubs, organizations, or sports teams to meet new people and create a sense of belonging. Maintaining relationships with family and friends outside of college is also important as it offers a sense of continuity at a time of major life changes.
  • Mindfulness and Relaxation: Explore practices like mindfulness, yoga, and deep-breathing exercises to improve your mental health by reducing anxiety and improving your mood.
  • Balance and Boundaries: Set healthy boundaries with your studies, work, and social life. Know when to say no, and make sure to set aside time for relaxation and self-care.
  • Seek Help When Needed: If you’re struggling with mental health issues, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Most colleges offer counseling and mental health services to their students. These services are confidential and can provide you with the support you need.
  • Digital Detox: Try to actively limit screen time and social media use, especially before bed. Excessive exposure to these can severely impact your mental health and sleep quality.

Speaking of sleep quality, remember that getting adequate sleep will be one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health. Yet, it is also the one thing that freshmen often overlook or are willing to sacrifice, much to their detriment. Lack of sleep can affect your academic performance, mood, and susceptibility to illnesses.

  • Establish a Routine: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Consistency helps regulate your body’s clock.
  • Create a Restful Environment: Make your dorm room conducive to sleep by minimizing noise, light, and distractions at bedtime.

Taking care of your physical and mental health in college is about finding and maintaining a balance that works for you. It involves making conscious choices about your lifestyle, seeking support when you need it, and engaging in activities that promote well-being.

Your First Life Lessons in Managing Finances

Managing your finances as a college freshman, especially when living on-campus, involves a combination of budgeting, making informed spending choices, and seeking financial opportunities.

Here are some strategies to help you build a budget and manage your finances effectively.

  • Before You Budget: The first step to managing your finances is to determine just how much money you’ll reliably have access to. Assess your monthly sources of income, including savings, family contributions, part-time jobs, and financial aid (scholarships, grants, loans) to start creating a budget.
  • Track Your Expenses: List your big upfront expenses, like tuition, room and board, and books, followed by monthly expenses, including supplies, personal items, transportation, and leisure activities. As you spend more time on and off campus, you will find additional expenses that need to be accounted for.
  • Set Spending Limits: Allocate a specific amount to each category and stick to it. Use budgeting apps or spreadsheets to keep track of just how much you’re spending, and if you might need to modify your budget to meet more urgent expenses.
  • Minimize Expenses: Buy used textbooks, rent them, or use digital versions when possible. Sell the textbooks back at the end of the semester if you no longer need them for any courses going forward. Take full advantage of meal plans if you have one; for additional snacks or meals, consider buying groceries and preparing food yourself. Also take advantage of free or discounted campus events and activities–many colleges offer free access to gyms, sporting events, and cultural performances.
  • Use Campus Resources: Regularly check in at the financial aid office for advice on managing student loans, applying for scholarships, and work-study opportunities. Also, utilize student discounts for software, transportation, and entertainment wherever you can.
  • Be Smart About Credit Use: If you have a credit card, use it responsibly. Only charge what you can afford to pay off each month to avoid debt and build good credit.
  • Save for Emergencies: Try to put a small amount of money aside each month into a savings account for unexpected expenses. Even a small emergency fund can prevent you from going into debt for unforeseen costs.
  • Earn Some Extra Money: Look for part-time, on-campus jobs, preferably ones that are flexible around your class schedule. Paid internships related to your field of study can also provide income as well as valuable experience. Skills like writing, graphic design, or coding can be monetized through freelancing in your spare time.

Managing finances as a college freshman requires discipline and planning, but developing these skills early on can set the foundation for financial stability during and after your college years.

Understanding what academic integrity is, and then maintaining it, is foundational to your success and reputation in college.

Academic integrity refers to the ethical standards and policies governing your academic work, ensuring that all academic work is original, properly cited, and completed honestly. Falling short of these standards can lead to severe consequences, including failing grades, suspension, or even expulsion. 

Here’s how you can ensure you adhere to the academic integrity standards set by your institution.

  • Read and Understand the Honor Code: Most colleges and universities have an honor code or a set of academic integrity policies. Familiarize yourself with these rules. They usually cover plagiarism, cheating, fabrication, multiple submissions (submitting the same work in more than one class), and facilitating academic dishonesty (helping someone else cheat). For example, here’s Regent University’s guide on how its students can avoid plagiarism.
  • Avoid Plagiarism: By…
    • Citing sources properly whenever you use ideas, quotes, or data from other sources. Cite them accurately according to the citation style required for your class (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.). This includes both direct quotes and paraphrases.
    • Using quotation marks for direct quotes whenever you copy text directly from a source, even just a sentence or two, and then cite the source.
    • Learning to paraphrase, i.e. rewriting someone else’s ideas in your own words. It’s still crucial to still cite the source of the ideas.
    • Minimizing the use of AI tools. Educational institutions are still coming to terms on how AI-generated content can be regulated and accounted for in academic work. Right now, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and to keep AI tools away from your assignments.
  • Follow Exam Rules: Adhere strictly to the rules laid out for tests and exams. This includes not bringing unauthorized materials into the exam room, keeping your eyes on your own paper, and following any additional instructions from the instructor. Avoid the temptation to cheat by preparing thoroughly for exams and assignments.
  • Ask for Clarification: If you are unsure about how to cite a source, or whether collaboration is permitted on an assignment, ask your instructor right away. It is always better to ask beforehand than inadvertently violate a policy.
  • Use Technology Wisely: Websites and apps that provide study aids can be helpful, but use them ethically. Submitting work that’s not your own, even if slightly modified from a solution found online, is still considered cheating.
  • Report Academic Dishonesty: If you witness any academic dishonesty, consider reporting it. Standing for integrity not only upholds the integrity of your institution but also benefits everyone.

Adhering to academic integrity standards is about more than avoiding trouble; it’s about developing yourself as a scholar and a professional. It builds trust with your instructors and peers, and lays the foundation for a career built on ethical principles.

In essence, being a college freshman is about stepping into a broader horizon, where the choices made and the lessons learned will profoundly impact your path forward.

As you make the transition from the structured environment of high school to the more autonomous world of higher education, you will discover what makes freshman year on campus a truly unique experience–a period for exploring new ideas, embracing diversity, and learning to navigate the complexities of adult life, all while managing the responsibilities that come with greater freedom.

What is campus life like?

Campus life is a vibrant and dynamic experience, characterized by a diverse community of students, faculty, and staff coming together in a shared space of learning and growth. It’s marked by a plethora of activities ranging from academic pursuits in classrooms and laboratories to extracurricular engagement through clubs, sports, and arts. You will find that the environment fosters independence, as you navigate managing your time, living away from home, and making decisions about your future.

How can life on campus be improved?

Improving your life on campus involves engaging actively with the community and resources available to you. Join clubs or organizations that align with your interests or challenge you to try new activities. Take advantage of the academic support services, such as tutoring and writing centers, to enhance your learning and academic performance. Lastly, prioritize your well-being by maintaining a balanced lifestyle that includes healthy eating, regular exercise, and adequate sleep, alongside your academic and social activities.

What student services are most useful for a college freshman?

As a college freshman some essential services you should consider looking into include academic advisors, tutoring centers, counseling centers, financial aid offices, and residential life offices.