Heading to college for the first time is crazy.
It’s completely outside the everyday experience of most recently graduated high schoolers. Most of you will be living away from your family for the first time ever, and will have to face the new challenge of college-level classes. There is a whole new social environment too.
All this new stuff can be confusing and difficult. It’s no wonder that many people have trouble adjusting to college.
Luckily, others have come before you, made all the mistakes, and figured out the hard way what sort of things would have helped.
Having surveyed the millions of users of our popular flashcards study app, Brainscape has compiled a list of the best college tips to get you started on the right foot.
22 college tips for every student
1. Pack light
When you’re preparing to go to college, it’s tempting to bring every possible thing you could need. Don’t do it—it’s a waste of time, space, and money. During school, you’ll be focused on your education, so bring the minimal essentials you need to be prepared. Extra stuff will just weigh you down. You can always get something later if it turn out you need it.
2. Explore your campus
When you get to campus, it will be confusing—both directionally and intellectually. One of the best ways to learn a new place is to get lost in it. You end up seeing places you never would have otherwise, and sometimes you even end up having to ask directions.
And that is a good thing. Too many people end up leaving their college without having ever discovered that great study spot that hides up a random staircase in the library, or that ladder on the back of the gym that leads to the best spot to watch sunsets on campus.
3. Meet new people
One of the keys to a good college experience is making new friends, and to make friends, you have to meet people. Make it a priority to meet as many people as possible while you’re in college.
Be friendly and go out of your way to introduce yourself. Most likely, you won’t be interested in developing a deeper friendship with the majority of them, but some may be worth spending lots more time with. Exchange phone numbers or find them on Facebook and make an effort to branch out of your comfort zone to see them again.
4. Your adviser is your friend
At most schools, every incoming student is assigned an adviser with whom they can meet to discuss academic matters (and other related issues). It’s worth taking the time to meet this person early on.
Schedule a short meeting, and ask them any questions you may have about the academic life. You may not have any pressing issues now, but it’ll be worthwhile later when something comes up and you already know where to go. That relationship will definitely be worth the investment later.
5. Don’t rush into choosing a major
Contrary to what some people believe, it’s generally not a good idea to rush into choosing a major. After all, your major will probably shape the course of your entire life, and at this period in your life you probably have a rapidly evolving identity, interests, and passions.
Take your time to make this important decision—and remember that you can always switch majors (most college students do) in the future! [More tips on choosing a college major.]
6. Explore your interests
College is a great time to follow your passions. Take classes on subjects that are interesting to you, not just those that you need to take in order to graduate. You never know what will grab your interest and become a lifelong dedication. Now is a great time to try a lot of new things.
7. Manage stress
Balancing classes with all the other new things in college can be tough, so be sure to prioritize managing stress. For some people, that means turning down the fun night out with friends because it’d add too much stress to your exam prep. For others, it may mean taking time to go out instead of sitting around your dorm room all alone. College is about an education, but a true education is about more than just classes.
If you want to learn how to use exam stress to actually improve performance and prevent burnout, we've got some excellent tips for you.
8. Study the right way to get good grades
This tip is pretty self explanatory, but you may not realize just how many doors good grades can open for you. Don’t waste your tuition money by getting bad grades!
But this is easier said than done. To get good grades, you need to know how to study in the most effective and time-efficient way. Because college is no joke. There will be a ton of content to learn.
Our tip for more efficient studying?
Use Brainscape, the best mobile and online flashcard app out there, to study more efficiently. Our sets of flashcards help you learn twice as fast and remember concepts for a longer period of time (as proven by cognitive science research). This is because study concepts are broken down into individual bite-sized chunks that make it super easy to review using active recall and spaced repetition.
Flashcards are also a super convenient study method since you can learn everywhere you go (at home, on the bus, in the bath, between lessons ... ).
And when it comes to studying, flashcards are best-suited for serious learners, and knowledge-intensive and high-stakes subjects that require a lot of factual memorization over a long period of time (think History, Science, Law, Medicine, etc.).
[Learn more about how to make and study flashcards online]
9. Save money on textbooks
The average colleges student spends more than $600 per year on textbooks—most of which end up being tossed or sent to the thrift store after a few months of use. Instead, consider renting a textbook or buying a used copy from a student who took the class last semester.
10. Get involved in activities
One of the best ways to defeat stress, meet people, and fulfill a bunch of the other tips we’ve listed here is to get involved in student activities. Whether you’re looking at sports, social groups, political organizations, or activity clubs, there is something for everyone at any college or university.
11. Have fun!
College is a unique time. You’ll be surrounded by people your own age, and generally will have more free time than you will later in life. Plus, your friends tend to be in the same classes, programs, and campus buildings, so you’ll be running into people all the time. There will be events, gatherings, parties, and excursions taking place all the time.
Take advantage of this great social atmosphere while you can! Join clubs, do intramural sports, go on exchange, learn a language, get good at guitar—do it all.
12. Balance your finances
College is expensive, but if you manage your finances carefully, you walk away in the best possible situation. Go for the big wins first: things like tuition waivers, scholarships, loans with favorable terms, etc.
Once you’re getting the best possible deal, then focus on the small stuff, like cutting down on your food budget and the amount you spend on non-essentials. The financial aid office at your school can be a big help with all of this.
Also consider choosing less expensive schools. For example, Canadian universities are generally much cheaper than similar-quality U.S. schools. European universities are even cheaper. I knew a student whose whole graduate degree in France was the equivalent of $240. Don't necessarily limit yourself to the U.S.
13. Be productive
As we’ve discussed before, staying productive in a dorm room setting is tough. There's way too many distractions nowadays (stop playing candy crush!).
If only finding study motivation would be so easy. Luckily for you, we've also expanded on why it’s so hard to find the motivation to study and how to find motivation to study and manipulate yourself into making smarter decisions without procrastinating.
14. Get your money’s worth
Usually, part of your tuition cost helps pay for the gym, the library, and other resources on campus, such as tutors. Take advantage of all these resources! Campuses are packed with incredible resources that won’t be available after you graduate, so take the time to learn about them now.
15. Find a job on-campus
On-campus jobs are great because they tend to be very flexible, you don’t have to commute anywhere, and you can develop your employment skills. It’s a great way to save time and make a little bit of money. Colleges maintain lists of job openings online, many of which are open only to students. Skim these listings occasionally, and explore the options that interest you.
16. Take time off
In many parts of the world, taking a “gap year” between graduating high school and heading off to college is standard. This sort of thing makes sense. Often, by age 18 a person has been in school for more than 12 years, with only summer breaks off in-between. A gap year can help a person re-consider their identity and allow space for deep thinking that just doesn’t happen when you’re busy. Consider taking a gap year (or gap semester), or doing something similar in the midst of your college experience such as taking a year off or studying abroad.
17. Minimize screen time
You’ll have enough to do on the computer between studying and keeping up with your to-do list, so why waste more time on YouTube or watching TV when you could be taking advantage of all the resources that college has to offer or making new friends? Sure, you need some downtime now and then, but don’t overdo it.
It's not only screen time that is a bad study habit. There's social expectation, procrastination, Netflix shows that scream our name ... You'll definitely want to learn about how to build effective study habits before heading to college.
18. Stay healthy
Going to school brings together thousands of people from around the world, puts them together in a small space, then adds in a ton of stress. It’s a recipe for disease, and can make many people lose big parts of the school year. Simple tips will help you stay healthy.
First, wash your hands. A lot. Make sure to stay hydrated and drink enough water. Consider bringing a reusable water-bottle to class with you. Eat healthy, and resist overdoing it on all the free pizza. Make sure to exercise regularly through campus sports or at the rec center, as well!
If you're keen on learning more and becoming the best student possible, check out our guide on how to really optimize your brain and health for effective studying.
19. Take time for you
School can be a crazy experience, with registration, deadlines, homework, exams, and more. Set aside time for the rituals and activities you need to stay balanced. Whether it’s a simple mug of tea in the morning or a 15-minute walk to get fresh air and stretch your legs every evening, do what you need to do to maintain your emotional and mental health.
More and more research is pointing to the fact that seven hours a night is the absolute minimum people should be getting, and eight to nine is even better. Many college students don’t follow this guideline, and pay the price for it. Don’t be like them. Sleep!
21. Make good decisions
You’ll be surrounded by people doing the opposite, but don’t succumb and make the same mistakes. It’s not worth it.
22. Take control of your future
College is your time, and you should make the most of it. Don’t let yourself be convinced that you have to take a certain path, or that you have no say over your own education.
You’re the one in charge during college, so you should make the decisions. College isn’t like high school, where mostly you have to just put your head down and jump through the hoops that are placed before you. Instead, you can take control over your own future, and make your education what you want it to be.
Follow these college tips and you'll get the grades you need to have options for your next step without having sacrificed a social life. Good luck! You got this.