Being a first-year college student can be both exciting and overwhelming. Whether it’s concerns about moving away from home for the first time, getting to know a new city, making new friends or navigating college-level course work, students have many reasons to feel those first-year jitters.
“It’s important for students to recognize that they’re going through a period of their life associated with a lot of changes,” says Andrea Thomas, chief experience officer at the University of Utah. “They really need to make sure that they are kind to themselves and that they recognize when they need to reach out for help.”
While students can overcome some first-year nervousness with time, they also have many resources available that can help them feel more confident and find support as they navigate their higher education journey. Here are some tips from U experts on what students can do to start college off strong.
1. Visit your academic advisor early and often.
The job of academic advisors is to guide students through the requirements needed to complete their degree in a timely manner. If a student has declared a major, they will meet with the academic advisor assigned to their degree. (If they have multiple majors, that may mean multiple advisors.)
If a student is undecided on their field of study, they can visit with an ‘undeclared advisor’ who can help them work through their general education requirements and consider potential majors. Students should be meeting with their advisor at least once a semester, and meeting early in their first semester can help ensure students are set up for success.
Some universities are using analytics to help bolster academic support for students. For example, the University of Utah recently launched a program called Navigate U, which uses software and data to provide more personalized support to students. “Through shared responsibility, Navigate U creates a space where all of our efforts build momentum and move the critical work of student success forward for every student,” explains T. Chase Hagood, the U’s senior associate vice president for academic affairs and dean of undergraduate studies.
2. Familiarize yourself with on-campus resources.
From tutoring to counseling to recreational opportunities, college communities are filled with resources to not only help students succeed academically, but also help them thrive in all areas of their lives. While students likely heard about some of these resources on their campus tour or during new student orientation, the information overload that happens during this time may mean some details didn’t sink in.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: if a need arises, check the college’s website before going to an outside source. Resources offered by the school will often be low or no cost for students. For example, some of the most-used resources at the U include free exercise classes at the Student Life Center and services at the University Counseling Center. If a student needs help researching resources, the advising center, counseling center or resident assistants are good places to start.
3. Remember that well-being is a multifaceted issue.
Success in higher education goes beyond the classroom. Students need to take care of their physical, social and emotional well-being too. This is a lot of work, especially for young adults who may be navigating grown-up decisions for the first time. Fortunately, students are not alone. There are many people at the university who are dedicated to supporting them. As students focus on finding a balance between the various areas of well-being, they will be better prepared for life after graduation.
“Wellness is a crucial aspect of not only student success in college, but throughout life,” says Sherrá Watkins, the associate vice president for health and wellness at the U. “When we address student needs holistically, we provide the best opportunity for them to succeed in college and be ready to start the next phase of their life.” At the University of Utah, the Center for Campus Wellness, Basic Needs Collective and My Student Support Program app are a few ways students can access wellness support.
4. Participate in campus social events and activities and get to know the community around your school.
Building connections with others is key to a successful first year of college. While neglecting schoolwork for a social life is a recipe for disaster, the opposite is true as well. Students will do better in their courses if they have meaningful social connections. The University of Utah, for example, has hundreds of clubs ranging from anime to hammocking to cybersecurity. And it’s also home to one of the nation’s most active student athletics fan club—the MUSS.
Getting to know the community beyond campus can also add richness to a student’s college experience. Many students in Utah have no-cost access to public transportation with their student IDs or have access to no-fare public transit in their college communities. Learning how to use these systems will expand a students’ world and allow them to engage with a wider community.
5. Realize that it’s okay to not know what you want to do.
While some people have known what they want to be since childhood and they successfully build a happy career in that same field as an adult, that is the exception and not the rule. The purpose of attending college is to discover more about oneself. If a student doesn’t know what they want to do for a career, that’s okay. Higher education is an opportunity to learn more about available options and test out different fields to see which one is the best fit. And whether or not a student works in the field they got their degree in, completing higher education prepares them to better face the challenges of the working world.
“If your journey is different from someone else’s journey, that’s nothing to get worried about,” says Thomas. “In fact, finding your own path is something to get excited about.”