The Class of 2023 is arriving on university campuses across the country. For the majority of new college students and their parents, they’ve been so focused on the application process and securing financial assistance that successfully transitioning from high school to college is just coming into focus.
I surveyed and interviewed current college students and recent graduates from universities nationwide for my book, 101 Lessons They Never Taught You In High School About Going To College. I asked these current students and recent graduates for one piece of advice they would offer incoming college freshman and received hundreds of responses.
Based on the responses, here are the top 23 lessons for incoming freshmen.
#1: Go to class
More current college students submitted this advice than any other. While it’s easy in college to skip class, especially when you are in a larger lecture hall with hundreds of other students, never skip class. Once you skip a class, you will miss a lecture and possibly an assignment. Before you know it, you have fallen quickly behind and may be struggling just to pass the course.
#2: Feel awkward
In those first few weeks on campus, it’s natural to feel awkward. You’re a new student at a new school and you’re doing all you can to just locate your classes, let alone make friends. Embrace the awkward feeling because everyone else has it. Knowing that, be the first one to break the ice and introduce yourself to all the other awkward-feeling new freshmen.
#3: Open yourself up to possibilities
Right from your first day on campus, go well beyond your dorm room and classes. Pick up your head from your mobile phone and search for new opportunities and possibilities and leverage everything that your campus has to offer. After all, you are paying for it.
#4: Try something new
You’re no longer in high school and have to follow a similar class and activities schedule each day. Instead, try something new – join an intramural sports team, learn a language, or attend a guest lecture. For the next four years, you should be introducing yourself to new and exciting experiences regularly.
#5: You can go home
No matter how much you enjoy your new independence, never forget the strong support system back home with your family. After all, your family helped get you to freshman year of college, so share your college experience – the good and not-so-good – with your family, and they will continue to provide as much support as you request.
#6: Make a new friend every day
Set a goal of meeting someone new each and every day on campus. You’re no longer in high school and you don’t need to stick to the same clique. The people you meet in college could influence you and your career for the next 30-40 years.
#7: Sit strategically
Don’t just attend class but be a proactive participant. Starting with the first day of class, sit in the center seat in the front row. You will create an instant connection with your professors and you will be fully immersed in the in-class experience.
#8: Befriend your professors
Your professors want to help you. They want to assist you with your course assignments as well as with your preparation for your eventual transition to a career. Schedule time to meet with your professors one-on-one and leverage their experience as well as their relationships with alums who are now immersed in their respective careers.
#9: Read the reviews
Unlike high school, several professors may teach a course you plan to take. Knowing that, search Rate My Professors.com and read the reviews of the professors. After reading the reviews, you may identify one professor who you believe aligns better with your mindset and style when it comes to the classroom.
#10: Sit In on as many classes as possible
Beyond the classes that you’re registered for, you’re allowed to sit in on other courses. It’s actually a great way to learn more about a course and professor you’re considering taking the following semester. Also, professors take notice of students who take the time to sit-in on a class that they’re not registered for and demonstrate a desire to learn.
#11: Challenge yourself
It’s easy to sleep in, skip class and barely pass your courses. Instead, challenge yourself each and every day in and out of the classroom. The majority of students I surveyed said that the one regret they had was they did not challenge themselves consistently throughout their college career.
#12: Seek help
Whatever assistance or counsel you need, your college campus has someone who can provide it. If it’s simply a challenge you’re facing with a specific course, ask your professor to meet during office hours. Professors are generally eager to meet and lend their assistance. If it’s something more personal, there’s someone at your college campus who you can confide in and get support.
#13: Sleep well
Between going to classes, clubs, part-time jobs and internships, there’s not much time left to actually sleep. Sleep is critically important to your health and wellness. Just like you plan time to study and socialize, schedule quality sleep time. You’re going to need it.
#14: Exercise your body as well as your mind
College campuses offer the latest in exercise facilities and you’re already paying for them as part of your student fees so take full advantage and make exercise a part of your regimen. Exercise will give you a well-deserved break from your studies and help you recharge and feel reinvigorated.
#15: Set goals every semester
While your ultimate objective is to graduate and transition to a career, it’s critically important to set measurable goals each semester. These can be goals such as making the Dean’s List or achieving a 4.0 GPA in a semester, or it can be a goal around a club you’re involved in or an internship you are attempting to secure. Those semester-by-semester goals will help you achieve your ultimate objective on graduation day.
#16: It Doesn’t Require a Party to Have Fun
College should be fun. However, there are many more ways to fully enjoy your college experience well beyond parties. Colleges have so much to offer if you take a proactive approach and seek out opportunities to have fun with clubs, concerts and other extracurricular activities.
#17: Join or start a club
All of us have a passion — food, music, travel, even video-game playing. Your college will have a club to match your passion and if they don’t, they will have a process to start your own club. From your first day on campus, join clubs to fulfill your passions. It’s a great way to be part of a smaller community of like-minded individuals while getting the chance to meet and befriend new people.
#18: Rebrand yourself
Whatever you were known for in high school — jock, nerd, cheerleader — it no longer matters. College is a new chapter and the perfect opportunity to rebrand yourself for what you want to be now and for the next four years and beyond. Be true to yourself and your values, and you will discover other students on campus who are like-minded.
#19: Networking starts freshman year
While you may not get serious about internships and your career for another year or two, networking personally and professionally should start the day you step on campus. Create a LinkedIn account and connect with as many people — fellow students, professors, guest speakers — as you’re able. It will pay dividends as you approach senior year.
#20: Get work experience sooner than later
Don’t wait until senior year to start internships. As early as your second semester of freshman year, get an internship right on campus. If you’re pursuing a career in sports business, visit your athletic department and ask where they could use some assistance. Every department and organization on campus needs student interns, and freshman year is the ideal time to secure on-campus experience that will also help you secure future internships as a junior and senior.
#21: Connect with upperclassmen
While you may meet mostly freshman in your first week or two, try to meet upperclassmen through clubs and other organizations. These juniors and seniors just experienced their freshman year, and they can share the lessons they learned as well as their failures and successes.
#22: Get serious about social media
You may be having fun producing, distributing and consuming content on Instagram and Snapchat, but eventually future employers are going to view that content and determine if you’re the right fit for their organization. Keep your personal and professional social media channels separate. If you know the industry you plan to pursue, create dedicated social media channels with a focus on Twitter and consistently share industry news and thought leadership. This approach will impress future employers and set you apart from other candidates.
#23: Think long-term
You just started freshman year and your biggest priority is getting through your first day of class. Once you get through it successfully, take some me-time and think about your long-term plans and goals. Achieving those dreams begins freshman year by thinking long-term as each class, club and college experience serves as a building block to your dreams.
While you’re just stepping on campus and beginning your college career, the next four years will go by quickly. With that, treat each day as a new opportunity to experience all that your university, classmates and professors have to offer. If you take that approach, you will succeed well beyond the classroom.
Mark Beal is a Professor of Professional Practice in the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information. A 30-year marketer and public relations practitioner, he is also the author of 101 Lessons They Never Taught You In High School About Going to College and the author of 101 Lessons They Never Taught You In College.