13 Pieces Of Advice For Incoming Freshmen

Sarah Reese
May 4, 2021

If you ask someone who has recently left college what they would have done differently, it's likely they would have made a lot of changes - but they will also admit that their mistakes helped them learn. This list of advice for incoming freshmen heading off to college focuses around themes of self-worth and gaining confidence. Being able to build these will help you:
  • Land better jobs
  • Make better friends, and
  • Attract overall better things into your life
Maybe you’ve already had an a-ha moment, but odds are you'll find some gems in these 13 recommendations shared by many of alumni. Enjoy!

1. College is literally full of unlimited resourcesuse them

Once you graduate and move on and begin to deep dive into your career (or figure out what you even want your career to be), you’ll wish you took advantage of all the free resources you had in college. Okay, obviously they aren’t free, that tuition bill is pretty hefty after all …. but you’re paying for it anyway, so why not use it?

Here are a few examples of free resources you have available as a college student:

  1. Sit in on extra courses you might not be enrolled in but might be of interest to you. Sound crazy? Why not learn as much as you can without the stress of an exam at the end of it? If your credits are precious, this is also a good way to try out something to see if you like it before you commit.
  2. Make friends with your professors and pick their brains as much as you can. They might not know everything, but they probably know a bit more than you do about their areas of expertise. Plus, any networking is good networking.
  3. Print more! You’d be surprised how much you’ll miss free (or nearly free) printing when you don’t have it anymore. Printers + ink = hella expensive stuff. Enjoy it while it lasts.
When you’re in college, you think life is so busy you just don’t have time to utilize these resources, but the truth is when they’re gone, they’re gone. Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

2. Enjoy the social scene, but don’t let it destroy your GPA

You have every single reason in the world to grow your social circle in college. It’s what you do. It’s a rite of passage. If you don’t, you’re missing out. However, here's one key piece of advice for incoming freshmen: You may be able to get your friends to go to class for you when you're hungover in college, but you’ll learn quickly post-college that you can’t wake up hungover and have your friends go to work for you. You have to show up every single day, no matter what. So why not start working on that habit while you’re in college? (The habit of responsibility, not getting good at being functionally-hungover; I see you reading between the lines). Go out, have fun, but remember that your first responsibility is to show up to class, be prepared to perform well on exams, and turn in assignments that you can be proud of. There will be a million more chances for you to party and be social, I promise. Be wise with the time you have.

3. No decision is permanent (except the ones that lead to a 2.5 GPA)

You can change schools, your major, and anything else under the sun, and you can change them back if you want. Not knowing is okay. We're told to think carefully about our decisions as we enter college, and somewhere along the way we begin to believe that the stakes are always high and every decision we make is final. Well, that’s not entirely true. The truth is, every decision you make does affect the next one, but there’s always another decision ahead, and any one of them might put you on the right path. Trust your gut, make decisions that feel good to you (and no one else but you), and remember that you can always change your mind. There's no penalty for peace of mind. Photo by Radu Florin on Unsplash

4. Take note of how much and what kind of debt you’re incurring 

Did you know that money is the biggest source of stress for 44% of Americans? It’s easy to think “future me will worry about that,” but present you can take preventative steps by making good decisions today. Paying attention to the types of debt funding your college degree can make a huge difference in the success of your post-college life. When you know what your interest rates are, and all the options you have after college to pay back the debt you owe, you can make much smarter life choices. Even making a choice as simple as living with your parents for one or two years after college to save money and create a cushion of support for after your student loan payments start kicking in is a better decision than just seeing what happens. Unless, you know, you’d really rather fly by the seat of your pants in a state of constant stress and anxiety. The truth is, the informed student is going to be much better off than the student who chooses to worry about it later. And, if we are being honest, the likelihood of finding yourself in truly stressful situations only heightens with age. Adding major financial stress to the equation can quickly send you on a downward spiral.

5. Stop stressing about your college major; it’s irrelevant

Many students start college with a goal - let's say, to be a physician’s assistant - and they think they have it all figured out. Then, all too quickly they realize they hate the coursework, and they change majors until they find something they actually enjoy. Odds are that when you land your first job, your major will have zero impact on why you're hired. Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com
Most often, employers are looking to check off the "college degree" box when they fill entry-level jobs, and what they're looking for in interviews is culture fit and attitude. So, study something you enjoy, but don’t think your major is your end-all-be-all. With some exceptions, having job experience and a range of skills will give you more of a leg up than being hyper-focused in the major you studied. If you can speak to the diversity you bring to a team, you’re more likely to be hired over the person who’s way too stuck in their niche. You're much better off trialing out different internships and getting real-life experience in what you're interested in, rather than panicking about choosing a major that won't define your opportunities anyway.

6. You’ll absolutely never have more free time than you have at this very moment

Unless you don’t work at all after college, you will never have as much free time as you have at this very moment. Upon graduating, you’ll likely have a 40-hour workweek, and you’ll be scraping for time to do the things you enjoy and maintain a social life. It only gets worse as you get older. Not to scare you, but do the things you enjoy now while you have an abundance of time. If you want to start a side hustle, do it now! Stop sleeping till noon, stop wasting your time on social media. Do things that will benefit your future while you don’t have hundreds of responsibilities on your plate. This is one thing you won’t regret! Go here if you are looking for ways to be more productive with your time now.

7. Find a mentor and build a strong relationship with them

This is a great piece of advice for incoming college freshmen, and it goes back to point number 1, that you’ll never have more resources than right now. Identify a professor or other professional you admire and learn what steps they took to achieve their goals. If they’re open to mentorship, ask them questions and really allow the relationship you have with them to grow into something that you can take with you after graduation. The more you work on this relationship, the easier it will be to find mentors in your future workplace who will help you and go the extra mile to help you find your own success. Plus, the more you learn from a mentor, the more likely you are to become a mentor someday to someone, and that is such a rewarding and fulfilling role to have in life. Photo by KOBU Agency on Unsplash

8. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

"There's no growth in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the growth zone."
This is really true. Learning is hard. Not understanding things the first time sucks. Getting shut down blows. Failing makes us feel horrible about ourselves. The truth is that life isn’t supposed to be comfortable all the time. These uncomfortable situations are opportunities to grow. It’s how we react to these situations that make us successful, that teach us the lessons and give us the fire under our feet to be better next time. If you don’t work for what you want, you’ll never get it. Instead of taking the easy road, challenge yourself by working for things that seem out of reach. If you work hard enough you will eventually succeed, and that’s enough motivation to keep going.

9. If you don’t jive with a professor, opt for another one

If you don't respect your professor, the information they're teaching will go in one ear and out the other. Classes will leave you feeling unfulfilled and annoyed at the time waste (not to mention the waste of your precious tuition dollars). Trying another class might not always be possible, especially if you attend a small college or university, but it's worth exploring your options for finding another professor you like and respect. This goes for everything in life. If you don’t like someone, don’t just stick it out because you think you’ll get something out of it. It is much more important to build authentic relationships with people that you actually respect and enjoy being around. Just because someone is smart or a “good connection,” doesn’t mean that they’re good for you. Remember that in your personal relationships and your professional relationships and, yes, even the relationships you have with your college professors. No one is forcing you to be in those relationships. Period.

10. Your self-care is important, but you’re probably thinking of it wrong

Stop neglecting caring for yourself because you feel like it’s selfish or a waste of time. In truth, self-care is a gift you can give to yourself that pays back in dividends. If you can’t shake the idea that self-care is selfish, stop and think about what you really get out of self-care:
  • Going to the gym because it makes you feel good
  • Eating healthy because it makes you more focused and less groggy
  • Getting quality sleep as often as you can because it will allow you to show up and be on your game daily
The importance of every single act of self-care is in the reason you show up. You really cannot show up for anything or anyone until you feel good about yourself, and the best way to do this is by showing yourself TLC. Photo by Alisa Anton on Unsplash
The second lesson is that this habit is harder than it sounds. Self-care is not about treating yourself to prizes or treats, it’s not about going to the spa, or even being super healthy all the time. It’s really just about knowing to trust yourself, your decisions, and the person you allow yourself to be. Working in ways that support your values, morals, and overall sense of self will get you more job offers, more meaningful relationships, and way more happiness than doing things because you feel like it’s what you should be doing. Sage advice for incoming college freshmen: Starting the habit of self-care now will benefit future you immensely.

11. Stop focusing on the people who don’t like you

You’re out of high school now, it’s time to leave this habit in the past. If someone doesn’t like you, stop getting so hung up on it. Self-loathing and over-analyzing never made a situation better and it’s not going to help now. You’re not supposed to make everyone like you. You’re not here for anyone but you and, chances are, the people who don’t like you have zero impact on your future. Distance yourself from their negative thoughts and focus on people who do like you for you. You will always feel much happier and more fulfilled spending time with the people who want to be around you.

12. Stop running from anxiety and stress and learn how to manage it

If your strategy for keeping stress away is to constantly keep busy, drink booze, or sleep it off, you’ll end up a very sad adult, wondering why you feel depressed. Stress doesn’t magically go away when your exam is over or when you finish the paper you’ve been working on for weeks … or when you graduate or land that dream job … or … you get the idea. Whenever one stressful situation ends, more pop up in its wake. What may be tough to recognize is that stress itself is not bad. What is bad is dealing with stress in ways that will never help you feel a reprieve. Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash
The skill of stress management will serve you for your whole life.
So, find ways to manage your stress that don’t include just avoiding it. This can be through: Or literally anything at all to help you tune in, come up with a game plan and then fight back the stress in a way that’s manageable. The more you learn how to tackle stress, the stronger you’ll be when you have more stress on your plate at one given time.

13. Fake it 'til you make it

When you go from feeling like you have it all figured out in high school to feeling like you are the lowest (wo)man on the totem pole at college, or later on when you're new in your career, you’re bound to struggle. There are likely to be many situations that leave you feeling like a total imposter, or completely lost and undeserving. The truth is, almost everyone feels like this at some point during their life, and probably many times throughout their life. When you feel imposter syndrome taking over your life, take a moment to remember what you wanted from the situation. Remember that putting yourself in this difficult position will help you learn and grow far more than if you had taken the easy road. Eventually, you’ll look back on these situations and realize the learning curve was large, but you’re much better for it.