10 Choices You Need to Make Your First Year of College

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Navigating the first year of college requires more than academic skills. Your first year of college presents multiple challenges, at any age and any stage of life. The choices made and habits formed during that first year will influence your entire educational journey.

Here are some tips to make the most of your first year in college:

1. Commit to the Process

Pursuing a college education is an investment in your future. Choose to commit to all aspects of the educational process for the best possible experience and return on your investment. Commitment can be as easy as showing up for class, whether it's a lecture or a webcast, and submitting your assignments on time. Commitment can also extend to participating in class discussions and debates, taking extra credit opportunities, and exploring additional resources available to students like discounts and cultural activities.

2. Ask Questions

You can choose to remain silent, or you can choose to ask for help and get the answers you need in order to succeed. College is all about learning, so you should never be scared to ask a question. You can inquire at various offices about financial aid opportunities, how to qualify and apply for membership in your school's honor society, or request career advice. You can also ask your professors for help when faced with difficult material. Part of committing to the process is making sure you don't miss important information, so ask questions.

3. Accept Help

It doesn't help to ask questions if you don't accept the help that is given. Needing help doesn't mean you're weak or unable to meet the challenges that your first year of college will almost certainly present. It simply means that you're human, just like the rest of your peers. Accept help from another student when struggling with a course assignment. Say yes to your friend's offer to babysit so you can finish a paper. Say yes when a professor offers an extension. It's okay to admit it when you need help. We all do sometimes.

4. Plan, Plan, Plan

A key element to college success is organization and the ability to plan ahead. Having a tight grasp on what you need to accomplish and when you're going to do it will save you from a lot of headaches and wasted effort, especially if you’ll have to balance work, family, and a social life when you return to school.

Prior to scheduling your individual course load, pre-plan your financial aid options and any course credits you can transfer. Then, plan for your career beyond college. Meet with career counselors and research internships and work study opportunities that might give you a leg up after you graduate. Of course, it is important to follow through on your plans, but keeping one step ahead will help you achieve every goal you set.

5. Apply for Scholarships

Ask about and take advantage of scholarship and grant opportunities available during your first year and beyond. The application process may seem tedious, long, and a lot of extra work, but it's worth it. Scholarship awards can cover full or partial tuition, fees, books, and other expenses. You don't have to pay back scholarships or grants because they're not loans, which makes the benefit higher despite the time spent applying.

6. Say Yes to Extra Credit

Even when you're ahead, say yes to every extra credit opportunity you can take. Not only does extra credit contribute to an even higher course grade, extra credit projects often offer valuable experience and a deeper understanding of core class material. Those who take extra credit also make deeper inroads with their instructors, contributing to future networking success.

7. Establish Strong Study Habits

The first year of college can set the tone for the remainder of your academic career. Establish strong study habits from the start. Set aside study time daily, and don't procrastinate. A distraction-free study zone makes it easier to focus, which allows you to get work done faster and remember it better. Eating a healthy diet also helps prevent brain drain.

8. Communicate with Advisors

Regular communication with advisors and instructors will keep your academic goals on target. Make it a habit during the first year of college to check in with your advisor regarding your classes, goals, any new scholarship opportunities, supplemental seminars, conferences, and webinars you might find interesting, and any other recommendations for your educational and career advancement. Instructors are also a great resource for getting the most of your experience, but you have to be willing to talk to them. Most instructors offer office hours or a preferred method of contact. Don't be scared to reach out.

9. Network

Both online and on campus colleges offer numerous opportunities for networking. Take advantage of the social and professional events that align with your career goals. Your peers today will be your colleagues and friends tomorrow. Build bridges before you re-enter the job market and the competition heats up. Attend online webinars, participate in discussions, and utilize career services to expand your professional horizons.

10. Choose Balance

Creating balance is essential for a happy, healthy life, and it's a challenge that every first year college student must confront. Complete devotion to your studies may generate outstanding grades in your first semester, but it leaves little time to explore everything else that higher education offers and often leads to burnout. Make your studies a priority, but work to achieve balance by scheduling time for family, friends, volunteering, and pursuits that help you smile and relax. Your first year back in school will still seem overwhelming at times, but by following these ten tips you can take every step in stride.


Written by Ashford University staff


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Are you currently a licensed RN?

This program requires you to be a current licensed registered nurse. Please check out other programs to reach your education goals such as the BA in Health and Wellness.