Ah, first year college. I remember mine like it was four, long, painful years ago. Because that is exactly how long ago it was. In those four years, I learned quite a few strategies to get ahead and stay ahead of the tide. At one point I was on my university’s payroll to advise students on academic matters, so I’d like to consider myself qualified to speak on this matter. Here are five tips to hit the ground running in your first year.
1. Don’t overcommit
Something too many first year students do is try to do too much. I was one of those people. In my first year of college I was so keen on joining every club, passing every quiz, working out, waking up at exactly 7:00 am – I found I could keep it together for about a month before I hit a mid-semester slump. So don’t bite off more than you can chew. Even if you have a lot of free time on your hands in September, you won’t in October when midterms come around!
2. Develop a routine
A good start is waking up at a certain time every day and studying at a certain time every day. It takes about a month for the brain to get used to a habit, so keep that in mind when you’re trying to establish one. But don’t be crazy about it. At one point I was literally penciling hangouts with friends into my planner. Don’t sweat it! Just plan enough to keep yourself feeling active and “at-the-ready”.
3. Make time for friends
School is hard, friends make it easier. Students will probably be 100% of your friend group. Hopefully you make a lot of friends and one or two really good ones who you can confide in. They’re going through the exact same thing you are right now. Turn to them when you’re having a problem with… anything. Don’t go it alone.
School and stress go hand in hand. You’ll fail a test that you shouldn’t have, or just plain have a terrible day. And sometimes your support network won’t be there for you. There’s a lot of mumbo jumbo out there on how to boost your mood, but journaling is one I always find myself returning to. It’s a way to get out all your anxiety on paper, give it to God – you’ll be amazed how much better you’ll feel.
5. Start studying for exams way, way, way too early.
Exams matter. A lot. To get ahead and stay calm for finals, start studying a month in advance. Nothing crazy, just a half hour of actively looking up past finals and reviewing learning outcomes from each class. If you commit to studying in miniscule amounts early on, your brain will be much less anxious about trying to cram the night before.
School tends to be fun, accidentally. Don’t miss the forest for the trees, and don’t freak out.