You've made your college decision and are starting soon! Congratulations - no seriously, take some time to celebrate! If you thought the application and enrollment process was challenging, finding immediate success as a student can be even more difficult.
College freshman across the country report having a difficult time with a multitude of things in their first year, like adjusting to the academic rigor of college, financial stress, and struggling with imposter syndrome (the feeling of being unprepared and undeserving of your success). This piece shares 6 things that every college freshman can do to find success in their first semester on a new campus.
6 Things Every Student Should Do in Their First Semester of College
1. Conduct informational interview with professors
What is an informational interview?
Informational interviews are conversations conducted with the intention of learning more about the nature of someone's work. The initiator and main beneficiary of these conversations are typically students and young professionals who seek to learn from more established, senior professionals in their field of interest.
Making meaningful connections with your college professors at the beginning of your academic career is crucial for your personal and professional development, and conducting these intentional conversations at the beginning is a key way to forge these connections. Professors - at least, the really good ones - don't just stand at the front of class and teach courses. They encourage students to conduct original research, study abroad, and apply to graduate school. They become mentors and help students make important career decisions like which major to choose and which jobs are best to apply to based on the student's unique interests. But you won't reap these benefits until you sit down and talk with professors! Attending office hours is a great place to start.
What are office hours?:
Office hours is a recurring period of time that professors allocate toward meeting with students about various aspects of their development, but most commonly about their learning and academic performance in a course. These meetings can be in-person - in the professor's actual on-campus office - or virtual. You can visit office hours to talk through an assignment that's confusing or challenging, to understand why you were assigned a grade for an assignment, and to receive feedback on an initial draft of an assignment, among many other things. The specific time slots for office hours vary by course and professor, so check your course syllabus to see when your professor holds office hours.
Students don't realize that office hours can also be used to communicate to your professors your passions and interests, and to invest in your development as a student outside of the classroom. Professors are often more than happy to answer questions about internship and research opportunities in their field of study, classes that they'd recommend taking based on your interests, and help with difficult decisions like choosing a major. I suggest visiting office hours at least once for every class you take in your first semester, even if you're not failing or struggling. The benefits of doing so far outweigh the slight awkwardness and nervousness that might come with knocking on their office door.
2. Get serious about LinkedIn
You might spend most of your time on TikTok, Twitter, or Instagram, but dusting off your LinkedIn when you start college isn't a bad idea either. Remember how you just read about talking to professors? LinkedIn is a great way to meet people working in the fields that you're curious about! This might sound intimidating, but you don't have to be locked into a major or have a clear 5-year plan in order to connect with people you want to learn more about. You can see people's job histories and how they got to where they are now - what internships they completed, what previous education they've obtained, and things that they like (and might not like) about their careers. If you slowly but steadily increase your LinkedIn network early on in college, this can make your life much easier when it's time to apply for big-time jobs. And when your page is organized and up to date, you're more likely to make connections.
3. Look for summer work opportunities
Why so soon?
The fall of your freshmen year might seem too early to look for summer opportunities. This might be true for jobs in the retail and fast food industries, but the late fall of your first semester is the perfect time to look for other types of summer employment opportunities. Many students don't even know about summer study abroad, summer on-campus employment (as a peer mentor or resident assistant), and engaging in research, all ways to grow as a student while adding something unique to your resume.
When is the best time for college students to apply for summer internships ?
Regardless of the size and type of internship, it is wise to inquire about summer internship opportunities in September of your fall semester. National, highly-competitive internship applications usually open in September and early October for the following summer. Other summer internships - like those that are local or offered through your college - may not open their application until the start of the spring semester. In both cases, it's best to research and ask questions in advance to have the best chance at completing your application thoroughly and on-time.
When is the best time for college students to look for summer jobs?
The best time to look for summer jobs on campus is in late October of your first semester. This is to ensure that you know about the timeline for even the jobs that have the earliest application timeline. Some on-campus positions hire students in the fall, train them during the spring semester (this training is often compensated), and don't expect students to start working until the beginning of the summer. Other jobs might open their applications a month or two before the summer start date. It's best to connect with your career office early to let them know what you're interested in. That way, they can match you with potential opportunities in the summer and inform you about timeline.
4. Join a club/organization
A big part of feeling like you belong at a college is the social network you're apart of. A great way to build this network is to join a club or organization. Most 4-year colleges have clubs and organizations in the triple digits. There are all types of student orgs: affinity groups, Greek life, faith-based orgs, language housing, professional development orgs, and more. Whether you like anime or watching baseball or talk about things that effect your cultural community, there's something out there for you. And if not, you can start an organization yourself!
Most colleges and universities have an app or central website where students can learn more and register for clubs and organizations. You should receive this information during summer orientation. An easy place to start is by talking to classmates and friends about the clubs and organizations they're joining. Many clubs don't require membership to attend a meeting, so showing up to a club meeting with a friend might lower any anxiousness. Also, look out for campus involvement/engagement fairs. These are large, usually outdoor tabling events where students can walk around and talk to club leaders about what it's like to be a member in their organizations. These are fun events with food, music, and performances! September is the prime time for these events, and you can find information from your Office of Student Engagement.
5. Don't settle for passing grades
Why is GPA important?
GPA is important for earning and keeping merit-based scholarships, athletic eligibility, applying to graduate school, transferring to another undergraduate institution, and earning prestigious professional development opportunities. Starting with a strong GPA can make navigating coursework much easier as you progress through college. Adjusting to the academic rigor of college can be challenging, and it might be tempting to do what's necessary to pass your classes. However, starting your academics on the right foot is a necessity. When you're committed to your academics from the very beginning, you send the message to your professors that 1) you care about their course, and 2) you want to be successful in that course.
How to keep your GPA high
Give full effort and attention to all of your assignments, take advantage of extra credit opportunities, form study groups with classmates, and be proactive in seeking help when you notice you're struggling. If the expectations of assignments are unclear, have an honest conversation with your professors to get clarity on what's expected. If you really find yourself struggling in a class after seeking help and don't see a path for improvement, consider dropping or withdrawing from a course. It is better to drop a course than to have a "W" for "withdraw" on your transcript, but one "W" on your transcript is generally acceptable. Before making any of these decisions for the first time, talk with the academic dean assigned to your class/year.
6. Create a weekend routine
College - the on-campus college experience in particular - offers a level of freedom that many 18-24 year olds aren't yet accustomed to. Monday through Fridays are typically packed with classes, practices, and on-campus events, meaning that the weekend is a key time to take care of yourself and your responsibilities. Managing this time effectively can make or break your success as a first-year student. It is importance to balance self care, home responsibilities (like laundry and shopping for necessities), work, and academics. Creating a routine for your weekends can be helpful in making sure that all of these areas are attended to. Once you master your routine and have an idea of how much time and energy each task takes, you can be more flexible and switch things up.