Back to Succeed in College

The First Year

Starting college is an exciting time. You have the freedom to select your own classes and try new activities; you may even live away from home. This freedom can be liberating, but it comes with added responsibility for your own success and health. Make sure to take care of yourself, connect to campus life, and organize your schedule in a way that works for you.


  • I have so much more homework than I did in high school; how am I supposed to finish all of it?

    In college, you can expect to have fewer hours of class but more homework outside of class. Full-time students take between 12 and 15 hours of classes per week; these classes may be more challenging, and will likely be structured differently than in high school.  You should expect to spend at least 2 – 4 hours a day studying outside of class. To keep yourself on track, find a good study environment without distraction (for example, go to the library and turn off the internet on your phone or computer so you won't be tempted to procrastinate) and sign up for peer tutoring or academic advisement to build good study habits. Many professors or teaching assistants will hold office hours where you can ask questions about class readings, or get help on assignments. If you are falling behind on your coursework, reach out to someone immediately. You are more likely to get an extension on a project if you plan ahead and ask early than if you ask the night before an assignment is due. For big projects or assignments, make a checklist of smaller tasks you need to complete to get there.

  • Do I really need to read the syllabus my professor gave me?

    YES! Your syllabus has a lot of important information on it.  It has basic information – such as when and where the class meets and the professor’s office hours and contact information.  Often times, syllabi also have a listing of class reading or assignments as well as exam and paper dates, which are important to make note of when planning your study schedule.  Pay close attention to the attendance policy or what to do when you miss a class – professors have procedures in place that they expect you to know.  For example, if you miss a quiz the professor may send you to the learning center to make it up.  Without reading the syllabus, you wouldn’t know this critical information!

  • Our professor says that class participation is part of our grade, what does that mean and how can I make sure I’m doing well in that section?

    In college, professors like to ensure that their students understand the material that is being taught in class.  One of the best ways to show the professor that you are listening to the lecture or discussion is to speak up.  Make sure you’re prepared to do this by doing your homework, and reading for class.   Then, during class time, you can:

    1.) Ask a question about the material.  Don’t be afraid to ask!  If you have a question about something, other students are probably wondering about it too.  Asking questions shows that you are listening to the discussion.

    2.) Agree with and provide additional support for what the professor or another classmate said.

    3.) Provide a different opinion than your professor or another classmate. 

    While it is important to contribute to class discussion, it is equally important to do so in a productive and respectful manner!  Try starting your comments with “I agree because…” or “I disagree because…” 

  • Do I really need to buy all of my books? I didn’t know they were going to be so expensive and I haven’t gotten my refund check yet! What are cheaper options for getting books besides buying them at the campus bookstore?

    Yes, you really need to get all of your books, but no you don’t have to buy all of them!

    There are less expensive options than buying them full price at the bookstore. First, try to get there early – there might be some used books available that you can buy. You can also find them online on websites like or You also have the option to rent books for the semester at websites such as Check your syllabi to see which books you need within the first couple weeks of class and make sure to get those first if you can’t get all of them at once. While you’re waiting for your books to arrive, you can also go to the library and borrow books on reserve. You can’t take the book home with you, but you’ll be able to use it for a set amount of time while in the library.

  • What happens if I just stop going to a class?

    If you stop going to class without "dropping" or "withdrawing" through the Registrar’s Office, you will almost certainly get an F in the class, which brings down your GPA. You can usually withdraw up until the midpoint of the semester (check with the Registrar’s Office at your college to confirm the withdrawal deadline), and receive a W (or Withdrawn) on your transcript, which doesn’t affect your GPA (though some colleges may note this differently). Even with a “W”, you will not gain credit, and you will not get a refund on the tuition you paid.  If you are struggling in a class, don’t wait to reach out to your professor and academic advisors to get support and discuss your options.

  • What are remedial classes?

    Before enrolling in college-credit courses, many students need to take remedial, or developmental education classes.  These zero-credit classes are designed to provide extra preparation for students who haven’t yet tested into college-level courses.  If you are required to take any remedial or  developmental education classes, complete them as soon as possible (ideally, in the summer before you enroll!).  You’ll need to complete these requirements before you can take the classes you need to graduate.

  • Are remedial classes free? Do they use up any of my financial aid?

    In general, even though remedial courses do not count towards degree credit, they use your financial aid, which is not unlimited. Some schools offer free summer classes to students in remedial subjects; you should check to see if your college offers them because it can save you lots of money.

  • How should I pick what classes to take?

    Hopefully you’ll be able to go to a New Student Orientation before school starts, or to set up a meeting with an advisor in your school’s Academic Advising Office. They should be able to help you pick out a good set of classes to get started with. Here are some other things to keep in mind:

    • Take a full load. If you plan to graduate in 4 years, you’re probably going to have to take about 15 credits (or 4-5 classes) per semester. It might sound like a lot of classes but it will help you on your way to your degree!
    • Understand your degree requirements. Most schools have set of required courses you need to take to graduate, like Introduction to College Writing or a foreign language requirement. It’s a good idea to start taking some of these requirements first semester.
    • Explore majors. It’s ok if you don’t know what you want to major in yet! But if you have some ideas of potential majors you’re considering, take a class from that department to try it on for size.
  • How do I pick a major? Should I consider double majoring or earning a minor?

    Each school is different when it comes to majors and minors, but an academic advisor, professor, or peer tutor can help you choose what is best for you. Think about your favorite classes in high school as well as your career interests, but keep an open mind and gather as much information as possible. Many students use their first year to explore different interests before deciding on a major, and many are surprised to love classes they never liked or took in high school. Also look carefully at credits, especially if you want to transfer to another school, and finish remedial courses as soon as possible. Be realistic about double majoring and minoring--it might be great for your interests, but if it won't fit in your schedule, you can still explore other fields by taking classes or joining related clubs and activities.

  • What do I do if my school doesn’t offer the major for my career interest?

    Meeting with your school's career services office and with academic advisors from the very beginning of your time in college will help you pick courses and a major that will get you through college and to a great career. You may be able to major in something related to your interest even if it isn't an exact match. Your professors and administrators may be able to help you hold "informational interviews" with professionals currently working in the career you're interested in, which will also help you determine if it's truly necessary to have a certain major.  You can also explore your career interest and become a competitive applicant through internships, student clubs, and volunteering.  If you are interested in a specialized major that only a select number of other colleges offer, you may also want to explore the possibility of transferring.  Make sure you reach out to advisors and professors on your campus to discuss all your options.   

  • Should I join student clubs or other non-academic programs like a sports team or a musical group?

    Student clubs and outside programs operating on campus are a great way to explore career and academic interests as well as build relationships. If you are trying to pick a major or a career path, a leadership position in a related student club can help you explore that interest. Applying for leadership programs and fellowships is a great way to get additional support, guidance, and even money. Visit your school's scholarship, student life, and career offices to see where you can get involved.

  • I’m going to be commuting and I’m worried about feeling like I’m just still in high school since I won’t be living on campus.

    College is a big change from high school, even if you’re living at home and commuting. Here are some things to keep in mind:

    • You can still get involved on campus and it’s a great way to meet new people. Most schools have a club or activity fair at the beginning of the school year so you can see what’s out there. Love Anime? Find the Anime Club! Want to help the community? Join the Service Society. Want a way to socialize with other students? A lot of commuter schools still have fraternities and sororities.
    • Your campus still has a lot to offer you, even if you don’t live there. It’s easy to just show up on campus for class and leave right afterwards, but spending time on campus is a great way to feel connected. Study in the library with a friend, play basketball in the gym in between classes, grab lunch with some of your classmates after class. You can still find a community at a commuter school, but you might have to put in the effort to find it!
    • College classes are a lot different from high school classes, even if you’re commuting. You’ll still get to explore new subjects that you didn’t know about in high school, and you can still visit professors in office hours to hear about their research and discuss course topics.
  • I heard that at college you have to be really independent and people aren’t there to help you! Is that true?

    You certainly have to be independent, but there are lots of people at college to help you! Professors have spent their lives researching and studying the topic they are teaching, so they typically welcome questions and conversations from students. Don’t hesitate to email them or stop by their office hours to chat about any topics you have questions about or are excited about. Colleges also have tutoring and writing resources on campus. Tutors are often upperclassmen who have done really well in that class and are available to help you (often for free!). Colleges also often have a writing center that is staffed by students who are really great writers and editors. Bring drafts of your papers there to have them help you make it perfect before you submit it to your professor. Sometimes professors will even give extra credit to students who go to tutoring or the writing center. Take advantage of these resources! You are paying for it along with your cost of attendance.

  • I am feeling really overwhelmed and stressed out; what resources are there for me?

    It's important to reach out to services around you. If you are living on campus, reach out to your Residence Hall staff so that they can help guide you to proper resources. In addition, reaching out to counseling services is always a good option. Counselors are available to talk with you about stress and to help you come up with tangible solutions. Often your school's website has information regarding counseling services.

Recommended Resources

College Scoop

WEBSITE  |  A planning website that provides "real-world" advice for college-bound students. From making the descision where to apply to enrollment College Scoop gives step by step advice for students, parents on professionals on getting in and succeeding in college.  Read more  

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