Freshmen Survival Secrets

There’s lots of anticipation and pressure as 18 year olds head off to college for the first time. How many times have “almost freshmen” heard — “these are the best four years of your life”? For many it’s their first time away from the nest and the questions and doubts seem all-consuming.  There are certainly lots of things freshmen can start doing now to improve their chances of having a successful year.

Most college students compartmentalize their college experiences into two distinct areas: the academic and the social. Here are some tips and suggested strategies for both.


  • Learn what drives your roommate crazy and don’t do it! This often means having a conversation if things aren’t progressing as you had hoped. Don’t respond childishly with the silent treatment. Air your hurt feelings, your misgivings and your wishes and ask an RA (Resident Assistant) to get involved, if you believe it is necessary.
  • Live within a budget. Don’t splurge on silly stuff, ask yourself the basic question of whether the purchase is a “want” or a “need.” Use coupons and take advantage of student discounts.
  • Don’t believe that “these will always be the best four years of your life.” Some days will be, but there will be days when you feel overwhelmed, left-out and stressed. It’s normal for college students, but it’s also normal for everyone. College is not a magic-bullet. It’s a blank canvas where you can create your own experiences.
  • Don’t believe that your college or the local police don’t really enforce the underage drinking laws. They do and the consequences, particularly if it happens more than once, can be severe and expensive.


  • Go to class. It’s so obvious, but when there’s little accountability, you need to be the one who is responsible. It’s all too easy to skip a class, especially those 8am classes. When you do skip, you fall behind and catching-up seems almost impossible. Make a commitment to attend every class, no excuses.
  • Don’t just assume the work will get done. Since most of your work will be done independently, you’ll need to come up with own system that will likely include: carving out specific times to study, finding the right study space, outlining chapters before class, taking good notes in class, reviewing your notes weekly, planning your study schedule so long term assignments get completed on time and seeking help when needed.
  • Don’t buy fully-priced textbooks. Buy used or rent them from or You’ll be amazed at how much you can save and if you rent them, you don’t have to deal with trying to sell them afterwards or packing them up and storing them in your parents’ attic. Shop online because you’ll pay a premium for the convenience of shopping in your college bookstore.

The best tip I can offer is to strike a healthy balance in every area of your life. That means eating well during the day and laying off the late night pizza runs, and maintaining as normal a sleep schedule as possible. Your first “job” at college is to get a solid education. This is a time for you to grown, learn, meet new people, share different experiences and become the person you want to be.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:;