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Science-Based Strategies (and Some Casual Discussion) of Surviving Your First Semester of College

Freshman year doesn't have to be so scary - here are some tips I've used to help me make the most of my time as a first-year college student.

With new lives in dorms and classes underway, school survival is a persistent topic on many students’ minds — and with the help of some scientific research and personal experience, I’ve found three ways that have helped me not only survive, but thrive, during my time as a first-year.

1. Be social but be smart

There are going to be a LOT of events and activities in your first couple weeks of college. At my university, there are over 1,000 clubs looking for new members - and this is true for most colleges. Take advantage of it! Also, during my Welcome Week, there was a concert, a pool party, a carnival, and a comedy show. This is a prime time to go out and meet others while getting more comfortable in your new environment. Even if you’re shy, getting out and meeting new people can do more than just help you find a couple friends — it can actually increase your levels of commitment and persistence. According to the study The Role of Student Involvement and Perceptions in a Causal Model of Student Persistenceby Joseph B. Berger and Jeffrey F. Milem, there were statistically significant correlations between higher rates of integration in social settings and greater persistence in school. So, even if you’re more of the “I’d rather hang out by myself than go meet new people” type of person (and there is no problem with being that person — we have all those days), getting out every once in a while can not only lead to a more fulfilling social life but academic benefits, as well. And if you still don’t feel comfortable with initiating conversation, my recommendation is to just put yourself around social people — people are extra friendly during Welcome Week and most likely someone will initiate conversation with you.

That being said, you don’t have to go to everything. I know I was getting some serious FOMO when I looked at the calendar of all the events for Welcome Week — but I also knew what was best for me. I would be happier getting a good night’s sleep and having energy the next day then staying out late three days in a row. A couple night’s I did stay out later then I am accustomed to (which means past 11 P.M. for my rebellious self), but I knew that if I didn’t want to, I didn’t have to. Get out of your comfort zone and have some fun, but if you’re getting to the point of utter exhaustion, know that it’s okay to go to bed before your friends do.

2. Reach Out and Create Opportunity

A chief goal of college is to build your professional network. Setting off on my first few weeks of school, I started reaching out to various people in my departments looking for new opportunities. I made a Career Advising Appointment two days before school started, went to my professor’s office hours in the first week of school, and emailed the director of the Performance Science Institute (which ultimately led me to have this opportunity where I can write to you on this blog!) The big thing to realize is that these opportunities only go to those who take the time to seek them out. In the report titled Grappling With the Unbearable Elusiveness of Entrepreneurial Opportunities by University of Bath professor Dr. Dimo Dimov, he argues that opportunities left as ideas are just mental accomplishments, but transform into real, entrepreneurial feats after action is taken. He states that “actions represent the expression, the empirical footprints of opportunities.” Basically, it’s not even to just daydream about what you can do. You have to go make it happen.

3. Call Your Friends and Family (But Not Too Much)

If you’re homesick, it’s okay. Most freshmen are, too. In a 2016 study titled College Student Homesickness: An Overviewit found that 81% of freshman reported that they missed their family back home. So, don’t feel bad about wanting to talk to your high school friends and parents — in fact, it might even be helpful through the process! Jerome Tognoli writes in his article titled Leaving Home published in the Journal of College Student Psychotherapy that students who continued phone and email conversation with their parents found it to be a helpful coping mechanism with homesickness. That being said, try not to make it a daily ritual — instead, go out, explore your new environment, and take this time to learn about yourself! You’re in a place where the social norms are a little less clear and you haven’t established a reputation yet. Take advantage of this opportunity to be on a clean slate and go create yourself. Responsibility and individuality might be a little scary, but at the same time, it’s incredibly freeing. Make a friend. Try something new. Be weird. This is a time to be yourself without limitations.

These are just some of the things that I have found extremely helpful as I’ve undergone my first semester of college, and I’m excited to see what more there is to learn! And at the end of the day, take a deep breath and relax. It’s a blessing to be able to attend college, so even on your toughest days, find things around you to be grateful for. It will make the whole process so much more enjoyable — and you’ll save yourself a couple headaches, too.

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