This article was originally written for FirstGenerationStudent.com, now a part of ImFirst.org.
Your first year in college can give rise to a variety of emotions. There is excitement for a new experience and much anticipation of what is ahead. You may also feel some anxiety. College is a big step, and there are a lot of things that you may have heard. A little sadness is mixed in because you are leaving your family, friends and comfort zone behind. Determination is also present, as you are the first in your family to attend college, and you want to make them proud. While this is not an exhaustive list, these emotions might be some of what you are feeling.
There are a few things that may help to ease some of the nervousness that you may be feeling. As a first-generation student myself, I had to learn everything on my own. I didn’t have many people who could offer me advice on how to prosper during my first year in college. I want to provide you with a few keys that will open the door to success.
1. Financial Aid
The first step to going to college is figuring out how to pay for it. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or as most of us so lovingly call it, the FAFSA, must be completed every year. If you are like me, your parent(s) knows little to nothing about the FAFSA, nor do they know how to apply. It is essential that the FAFSA be completed in its entirety and as accurately as possible. If you and your parent(s) do not know how to complete it, talk with someone at school to make sure that it is done correctly.
Once you are admitted and receive your award offer, know that you do not have to accept the full amount offered. For example, you may be offered $25,000 in loans. Meanwhile, your estimated cost of attendance may be $25,000. It is important that you look at the details. They estimate that you will need so much money for books and transportation, which is included in your estimated cost of attendance. However, if you know that you have a scholarship that covers your tuition and books, and you are only responsible for room and board, at a cost of $10,000, then only accept that amount. Do not take more than you need because you will have to pay that back. Be sure that you READ EVERYTHING BEFORE YOU SIGN YOUR NAME. You will be the one responsible for paying back any loans you accept.
The first year of college requires a lot of focus. After all, you’re navigating a college campus for the first time, and you’re taking college-level courses, which often entail a much faster pace. Your schedule will be crammed with classes to attend, papers to write, exams to study for, and activities to join – and these often occur simultaneously. In your first semester, you will need to manage your time and prioritize what you need to do. A good rule of thumb is to study at least two hours for every credit hour of class. For example, a three credit hour class requires around six hours of studying per week. For a 15 credit hour semester, on the low end, you should study 30 hours a week. If you’re feeling lost or having difficulty with some of the material, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Most colleges and universities have tutoring services on campus that can assist you and help you understand. Your professors can also be a resource, and they have office hours where you can talk to them directly. Your Resident Assistant can also be a great source of information on where to go for support.
College provides unlimited opportunities to get involved and have fun. There will be a number of student organizations, sporting events, a residence hall staff that plans programs and much, much more. Know that while you are in school to learn, this takes place both inside and outside of the classroom. Be open to trying new things. For instance, even if you didn’t enjoy sporting events back home, you should still go to at least one on campus. The atmosphere and display of school pride at a college football game, for example, is exhilarating and a unique part of the college experience.
Parties, for some people, are an inevitable part of the college experience. While I did not go to many myself, there is nothing wrong with wanting to experience a college party. On the other hand, I advise against drinking. Drinking, especially while underage, is not the sole means of having fun. If you find yourself surrounded by a group of friends who can only have fun while drinking, then I would encourage you to seek out another group of friends.
College is a great place to make new lifelong friends, so it’s important to be open to meeting new people and establishing new relationships. Whether it’s people taking the same classes as you, living in the same residence hall or going to the same activities, you’ll never run out of opportunities to make new acquaintances. You may even randomly meet someone while walking on campus. You will be exposed to so many different people, including people from different cities, states and even countries. This is a great opportunity to learn about new people who come from a diverse array of backgrounds, and it’s one of the most enriching features of going to college.
At the same time, use good judgment when meeting new people. For example, a person you just met does not need to know your whole life story, nor do they need to know all your secrets. Take time to get to know people. Building relationships is a complex process, and you may realize after a semester of hanging out with someone that you are not as compatible as you thought you were. That is okay. Still, you do not want them knowing everything about you. It may even happen that you meet some great people later in your college career. Always be open to this as well. I met two of my closest friends my junior year, right before they graduated, and we are still friends today.
Your first year will be the foundation upon which your entire college experience will be built. What will your foundation be? Will you put in the work to have a solid foundation? Or will you do the bare minimum, resulting in a shaky, less secure foundation? It is much easier to build on concrete than sand. I came to college with poor study habits, such as waiting until a night or two before an exam to begin studying. So it came as no surprise when I earned Ds and Fs on my first few exams. As a result, I had to bust my butt just to get Cs in my classes. I started my college career with a 2.1 grade-point average (GPA). After my first semester, I knew I had to make changes in order to improve. My second semester I earned a 2.7 GPA. The next three years I earned a 3.0 GPA or higher. I only graduated with a 3.1 GPA. Had I started strong, with say at least a 3.0 GPA, I could have graduated with at least a 3.5 GPA.
As a freshman in college, your GPA starts over. You get a fresh start. Be sure that you understand how your GPA is calculated. An A in a two-credit class is weighed differently than a C in a four-credit class. The C can bring your GPA down because it is a four credit class, which has more weight than a two-credit class. Start strong and finish strong. You can do this!
I have provided you with some keys, but it is up to you to open the doors. Congratulations on your acceptance into college. You will do amazingly well!