Adjusting to college life can have a steep learning curve. First-year students may experience homesickness, get lost on campus, end up in conflict with a roommate or encounter an unmotivated group project member.
So as freshmen find their footing, student life experts suggest avoiding the following eight social and academic mistakes:
1. Living Off-Campus Right Away
Many colleges and universities require students to reside on campus, at least in their first year. Experts say staying on campus is the right move even if you have a choice of off-campus housing.
Living on campus increases retention rates and engagement among first-year students, according to a 2021 Association of College and University Housing Officers — International report.
Colleen Paparella, founder of DC College Counseling, an educational consulting organization, also warns about living with a friend from high school. Even if you have a close relationship, your sleep and cleanliness habits may not align.
“We really recommend trying to get involved from the beginning,” she adds. “A really good way to do that is to have a roommate that you don’t know and to be on campus. You can extend your social circle that way.”
2. Feeling Pressure to Adjust Quickly
Only a few weeks into their first semester, many “freshmen think they should feel more connected, have more friends or have the initial transitional challenges all figured out,” says Jessica Ruddy, associate director of the academic success center at Eastern Connecticut State University.
It may appear otherwise on social media, but making friends and adjusting to college life does not happen overnight or even after several weeks. It takes time to find your groove, says Jayne Brownell, vice president for student life at Miami University–Oxford in Ohio.
“People think that this is going to be the best four years ever, but any four years of life are going to have ups and downs,” she adds. “Students shouldn’t worry if they don’t connect or if they struggle at first. It doesn’t mean that they’re not cut out for college or that they are at the wrong place.”
Pace yourself socially and take the time to develop real friendships based on shared interests, rather than out of convenience.
3. Avoiding Peer Interactions
There are numerous campus events and activities offered in the first few weeks of school, so make an effort to leave your room and connect with people, experts say. One way to do so is by getting involved. Whether you are passionate about theater, photography, politics, religion or community service, there’s most likely a related club, organization or intramural sport on your college campus.
But consider “depth over breadth of involvement,” Paparella says. Sign up for a few clubs during the activities fair and attend the meetings. Then decide which clubs actually interest you and how many are reasonable to stay actively involved in throughout the semester or year.
Resident assistants — student staff members who live in college residence halls — also serve as a resource to help build connections. They often organize activities throughout the semester, so you can meet people living on your dorm floor.
4. Skipping Class
Skipping class is “like a gateway drug,” Paparella says. Students will “skip class once and it’ll be a big deal to them, but then they’ll realize it’s fine. You can skip class once without too many ramifications. And then all of a sudden, the next thing you know, they’re skipping it all the time. It’s really impossible to do well if you’re not attending class.”
Not only can students fall behind and miss assignments if they don’t attend class, but some schools or professors have attendance policies. In those cases, missing a certain number of classes throughout the semester results in a grade deduction — unless there are extenuating circumstances.
5. Losing Sight of Time Management
First-year students may get caught up in the nerves and excitement of starting college that they lose sight of their coursework. “If students are waiting for reminders from professors to turn in missing assignments, those things won’t happen in college,” says Jennifer Sullivan, founder of Fast Forward College Coaching and the author of two books on the transition to college.
So find a balance between your academics, extracurricular activities, work and social life. That may mean occasionally skipping a hangout with friends or a club meeting to study. To avoid late submissions, put deadlines on a calendar, experts advise.
6. Making All-Nighters a Habit
Movie and television portrayals of college life often include students locking themselves in the library all night to cram for an exam or finish an assignment. But don’t turn all-nighters into a habit, experts warn. Research shows that sleep deprivation causes motor and cognitive impairments similar to alcohol intoxication.
“If people think that they’re going to skip sleep and do well on an exam, they actually will do better with a little less study time and a little more sleep,” Brownell says. “It’s just how brains process.”
Develop a healthy sleep schedule — wake up and go to bed around the same time each day — and avoid overdoing caffeine, sugar and alcohol, especially later in the evening.
7. Not Asking for Help
Whether you fail an exam for the first time or feel lost in a class, it can sometimes feel embarrassing or intimidating to ask for help. But communication is key, says Jose Villar, director of first-year and transfer orientation programs at the University of New Mexico.
Reach out to your professor or teaching assistant and attend their office hours to get questions answered. If you feel that the class is too difficult and it’s early in the semester, work with your academic advisor to find a better fit. Colleges also typically offer a writing center and tutoring sessions for students.
“The reason why you are at the university or college that you’re attending is because you want to learn something,” Villar says. “It’s OK to not know everything. You’re not expected to.”
There are also many nonacademic resources on campus to be aware of, including a career center, health services, a financial aid office, disability services, basic needs support, residence life, dining and technology services.
8. Mismanaging Money
There are numerous added costs associated with attending college, including traveling home for holidays, school supplies, student organization membership fees and social activities like eating out or attending concerts.
This all adds up quickly, so make a budget before the start of the semester, Sullivan says.
“I’ve been finding that a lot of students sometimes go overboard with Uber Eats or GrubHub, and that a lot of money can be spent on those services,” she adds. “Be mindful of your budget.”
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