Trust me when I say that college is completely outside of anything you’ve experienced as a high school student.

Most of you will be living away from your family for the first time, which means learning to balance your studies with cooking, food shopping, laundry, and cleaning. Then there’s the challenge of college-level classes—which are harder and more demanding. Plus, with no one breathing down your neck to do your homework, you’ll be responsible for your own learning. And as if all of that weren't hard enough, there's a whole new social scene to adapt to with unprecedented freedoms to learn to tackle responsibly.

All this new stuff can be totally overwhelming so it's no wonder that students have trouble adjusting to college. The good news is that many others have come before you, made all the mistakes, and figured out the best way to quickly adapt to the academic, social, mental, and even domestic demands of college life.

So, having surveyed the millions of users of our popular flashcards study app, Brainscape has compiled a list of the best tips for college students to save you from skidding in on your butt, and here they are!

22 Useful, actionable tips for college students

College students sitting on bench
Here are the best 22 college tips to do well in school and make the best of this incredible experience.

Things college students should know # 1. Pack light

When you’re preparing to go to college, it’s tempting to bring every possible thing you could need with you, including your entire wardrobe, three sets of bath towels (just in case), and your favorite childhood teddy bear.

Don’t do it—it’s a waste of time, space, and money.

Don't try to transplant your childhood life into your college dorm or apartment for the sake of comfort. You're making an important transition to adulthood so try to slough off the things you relied on in the past and live independently. Embrace stepping outside of your comfort zone.

Things college students should know # 2. Explore your campus

For now, college IS your new home so when you arrive on campus, make it your mission to learn the lay of the land. One of the best ways to learn a new place is to get lost in it so spend a day wandering about. Aside from locating your various lecture halls and classrooms, find the library, the coffee shops, and top student hang-outs; make note of where you can turn for a good meal, for security, or a student advisor.

If you allow yourself to get a little lost and even ask for directions or advice, you'll discover resources you didn't even know you'd need and special places that make college truly unforgettable. Too many people graduate 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.

Tips for college students # 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. It's hard, yes, especially if you're shy. But the social skills you learn in college will go with you into your first job and beyond, so make it a priority to meet and connect with as many people as you can.

Many of these people will pass through your life but a special few will stick around, and you'll be grateful for them.

Tips for college students # 4. Turn to your student adviser

At most colleges, every incoming student is assigned an adviser with whom they can meet to discuss academic matters (and other related issues). What most students don't know is that, beyond their initial counsel of what subjects to take, this person is there to support them throughout their college experience. So, lean on them!

Whenever you're feeling overwhelmed and need some guidance—even if it's not strictly about academics but, for example, about better balancing your schedule—arrange a short meeting and ask them for their advice. Your relationship with your student advisor is an important one so establish it early on and turn to it whenever you need counsel.

Things college students should know # 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 can shape the course of your entire career, 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 in the future (most college students do)! [More tips on choosing a college major.]

Things college students should know # 6. Explore your interests

College is the perfect time to explore what you're passionate about; to chase your curiosities down whatever rabbit holes they take you. Do not stick to the predetermined path if it doesn't interest you. Take classes on subjects outside of your immediate program, if they intrigue you.

Remember, college is your time to explore so don't be afraid to meander a bit in your education. Besides, it's better to do it now than discover many years into your career that you aren't interested in or passionate about what you do.

Tips for college students # 7. Find ways to manage your stress

Balancing classes with all the other new things in college can be tough, so as early as you can, find a healthy way to manage your stress.

Maybe visit the gym after classes, develop a daily meditation habit, or start journaling. You may have to try a few stress-relieving techniques before you discover the one/s that works for you... but make that discovery a priority.

Also, be mindful about giving yourself time to decompress. This might look like going out to a party, even though you have classes the next day; or it might be turning down that invitation because you'd just like an early night for once.

College is about getting an education, but a true education is about more than just classes.

If you want to learn how to use exam stress to improve performance and prevent burnout, we've got some excellent tips for you.

Tips for college students # 8. Study the right way to get good grades

A lot of students make the mistake of studying harder and for longer to improve their grades when, in fact, how you study is much more important.

Learning how to study efficiently and effectively is the key to allowing you to establish balance in your college life, and have time for other interests, hobbies, and a social life.

How can you study more efficiently?

Use Brainscape, the smartest web and mobile flashcard app! Either make your own flashcards or search through the millions of flashcards we have in our Knowledge Genome to find the perfect study assets for your subject.

Then, use the app to study anytime, anywhere using cutting-edge cognitive science tactics that are proven to help you learn faster and remember what you learn.

The science behind brainscape flashcards
Brainscape breaks study concepts down into individual bite-sized chunks that are super easy to review using active recall, metacognition, and spaced repetition.

When it comes to studying, flashcards are the most powerful tool for the fast, efficient learning of knowledge-intensive and high-stakes subjects that require a lot of factual memorization over a long period (think history, science, law, medicine, etc.).

And by being able to smash your study goals in half the time it ordinarily would take you, you'll free up the time to get 8 hours of sleep a night or pursue a hobby outside of your study schedule!

[Learn more about how to make and study flashcards online]

Things college students should know # 9. Save money on textbooks

The average college student spends more than $600 per year on textbooks—most of which end up gathering dust on your parents' shelves or being sent to the thrift store after a few months of use. Save your money and either consider renting a textbook or buying a used copy from a student who took the class last semester.

Things college students should know # 10. Get involved in student activities

One of the best ways to achieve a bunch of the tips we've already discussed—like managing stress and meeting people—is to get involved in student activities. Join a sports team, social or hobby group, or political organization.

Seriously, there are groups for just about every interest in college—chess, wrestling, nature appreciation, religion, LGBTQ+, wind-surfing, etc.—and joining the one that means something to you is an excellent way to quickly enmesh yourself in the fabric of your new home.

Tips for college students # 11. Have fun, for crying out loud!

For the first time in your life, you're in charge of your schedule. The decision-making is up to you! And you’re surrounded by people who are mostly your age with tons of events, gatherings, parties, and excursions constantly going on. Take advantage of this great social atmosphere while you can! Join clubs, attend parties, watch live sports games, or learn the guitar: enrich your life with as much as you can safely manage!

Tips for college students # 12. Get smart with your finances

College is expensive, but if you manage your finances carefully, you can graduate with a strong headstart on getting out from underneath your student debt. Go for the big wins first: things like tuition waivers, FAFSA, scholarships, loans with favorable terms, etc.

Once you’re getting the best possible deal, then focus on the small stuff, like optimizing your food budget and the amount you spend on non-essentials. Make your lunches at home, buy your textbooks second-hand, and maybe get a job on campus that'll bring in a bit of money. The financial aid office at your school can be a big help with all of this.

You might also consider choosing a less expensive college. For example, Canadian universities are generally much cheaper than American schools, which are of the same quality. European universities are even cheaper.

Ask yourself: is the "reputation" of an Ivy League school worth bankrupting yourself with, when you can get the same quality tuition elsewhere? Think about that carefully. And if you do end up studying in the U.S., read 'How to apply for FAFSA student aid' because it could take the sting out of the cost of college!

Things college students should know # 13. Get your money’s worth

On the subject of finances, get your money's worth! You're paying all this money to go to college: make sure you benefit from all the amenities, programs, and facilities it offers, like the gym, the library, tutors, advisors, and your professors, especially! They may be busy people but you're paying them to educate you. So never be afraid to approach one if you have a question or need help with something.

Things college students should know # 14. Find a job on campus

Rather than steadily eat your way through your savings—or worse, rack up credit card debt—get an on-campus job to help keep you afloat. These are great because they tend to be very flexible, you don’t have to commute anywhere, and you can develop your employment skills.

Colleges maintain lists of job openings online, many of which are available only to students. Skim these listings occasionally, and explore the options that interest you, even if it's just working in the cafeteria.

And if none of the jobs your college offers interest you, start a side hustle! If you're a good student, how about offering your tutoring services to the students who are in the years below you, or still in high school? If the opportunities aren't there, make them!

Tips for college students # 15. Be proactive to be productive

Okay so, yes, being productive in a dorm room setting is tough. There are just way too many distractions: if it isn't your phone, then it's your roommates; and if it isn't them making a noise, then it's a party you're missing out on.

To overcome the constant distractions you'll inevitably encounter during college, you've got to proactively schedule your study sessions ahead of time, and then find a quiet place where you can concentrate and get your work done, like the library or a deserted office in the basement of your lecture building.

You should also spend a little time every day studying what you learned in class that day or the week before so that you stay on top of your studies, rather than having to study everything from scratch when a big test or exam comes along.

Pro tip: The best study tool for quick and easy daily review is the Brainscape flashcard app for web and mobile.

[Read: Finding study motivation when you want to procrastinate]

Tips for college students # 16. Consider taking time off

In many parts of the world, taking a “gap year” between graduating from high school and heading off to college is kinda the norm! And it makes sense when you consider how little most 18-year-olds know about what they want out of their career and life in general.

A gap year allows you to discover your identity; consider what you want; and do the kind of deep thinking that doesn’t happen when you’re busy. It also doesn't have to be a whole year: it could just be a semester OR you could study abroad.

Just be mindful that it can be hard to return to academia when you've spent a year doing little to no learning, so if you do decide to take time off, spend some of that time actively investing in your knowledge base.

Things college students should know # 17. Minimize screen time

Do I even need to say it? You’ll have enough to do on the computer between studying and keeping up with your to-do list, so wasting time on doom-scrolling or falling into the black hole of YouTube isn't a smart idea. Sure, you need some downtime now and then, but why not spend it on activities that "fill the love tank", like hanging out with friends, watching a good movie, reading, or playing team sports?

[Learn about how to build effective study habits before heading to college.]

Things college students should know # 18. Don't neglect your physical well-being

With all the demands of college, it's pretty common for sleep, healthy eating, and exercise to go straight out the window at the first sign of stress. The problem is, with all the people you mix with daily, not investing in your physical well-being—and being stressed on top of that—can leave you vulnerable to actual infection and illness.

So, make sure you get 8 hours of sleep a night, get a balanced diet (and not just ramen noodles!), wash or sanitize your hands often, get daily exercise (even if it's just walking around campus), and drink plenty of water. Don't drink alcohol in excess, although you'll probably be tempted to, and look after yourself when you're feeling stressed.

If you do all of these things, you'll feel better and stronger, and cope with the stresses that college can heap on your plate.

If you're keen on learning more and becoming the best student possible, check out our guide on how to optimize your brain and health for effective studying.

Tips for college students # 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.

Tips for college students # 20. Prioritize sleep!

More and more research is pointing to the fact that 7 hours a night is the absolute minimum people should be getting, and 8 to 9 is even better. Many college students don’t follow this guideline, and pay the price for it. Don’t be like them. Sleep!

Things college students should know # 21. Avoid substance abuse

Drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, "study aids" like Adderall, late-night partying... you’ll be surrounded by people doing the exact opposite of what they should be doing to be strong, healthy, and capable students. Trust me when I say that there is nothing cool about substance abuse and if you feel pressured to indulge to "fit in" with the crowd, you're hanging with the wrong people. Don’t succumb and make the same mistakes as them. It’s not worth it.

Things college students should know # 22. Take control of your future

College is your time, which means that you should not only make the most of it but also take the reins of the decision-making. This is about your future! Don’t follow the path that's been prescribed to you if it doesn't interest you.

You’re the one in charge, so you get to make the decisions and take responsibility for those decisions, unlike high school, where mostly you have to just put your head down and jump through the hoops that are placed before you.

Follow these college tips and you'll get the grades you need to have options for your next step, without sacrificing the kaleidoscope of experiences that lie outside the lecture theater. Good luck! You got this.

College tips people graduating