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How to Be Successful in First Year at College or University!

Written by Raven Wilkinson

Photo by Irina

how to be successful in first year

If you’re entering post-secondary, you’re in for a fun ride. Here’s how to be successful in first year as you take on college or university. Woo!

High school is a great learning experience, but my time at university left me feeling like myself for the first time. I had such a memorable experience and picked up a few simple, yet effective tips on how to be successful in first year, both academically and socially. Even if you’re not in first year, many of these tips can be applied to different stages of your academic life!

Go to Frosh/Orientation Week

orientation week, university

Regardless of whether you think it’s necessary, I strongly suggest you attend your school’s orientation week. Even if you don’t end up becoming besties with the people you meet during that first week, I guarantee that frosh week (or orientation week or welcome week) will make you feel much more comfortable. All of a sudden, you know and recognize familiar faces on campus. You also get tons of free stuff and if that doesn’t make you want to participate, I don’t know what will.

Introduce Yourself and Exchange Contact Information with Potential Friends 


I used to think approaching someone and saying “Hi, my name is…” was weird, but in university, it totally works! 99% of first-year students are nervous, excited, and eager to meet new people. Although it might be intimidating the first time, being friendly and starting conversations will help you get out of your comfort zone and potentially meet life-long friends.

If you are more of an introvert, try making a general statement about what’s going on or asking the people around you a question, and see who responds. Messaging people in online classes works too! Just remember to exchange phone numbers and/or follow each other on social media. During the fast-paced nature of school, you’ll want to stay in touch with your new friends!

Set Personal Goals and Do Your Best


Just because you’ve been accepted to college/university doesn’t mean you should relax. People will tell you to expect lower grades than you may have received in high school. And it’s okay IF those grades are still the result of you working hard and doing your best. If you set your own goals based on what you know you’re capable of, work hard, and do your thang, then you’ll be more satisfied and proud of what you achieve. Transitioning from high school and still being successful in first year at college or university can be difficult, but it’s also possible to do even better than you did in high school!

Introduce Yourself to Your Professors

thumbs up

It may sound kind of nerdy, but if you make the effort to approach your profs and tell them your goals, they will be more inclined to help you out throughout the semester. It is also easier for professors to put a name to a face if you ever send an email or follow up on a lecture. Having your professors know your name will help you stand out, even if it’s just a little bit!

Buy Used Textbooks 

jar of money

Do not buy new textbooks unless you absolutely have to. Why not? Because they are very expensive and you are likely a poor student. Usually, the textbook covers change with each edition but almost all of the information remains the same. Therefore, unless your professor tells you that you must buy the newest version, seek out used ones! Visit your school’s used book store, check out Kijiji, or get in touch with students who are selling their textbooks second hand. Then buy food with the money you save. Win-win!

Explore the City and Campus


Whether you are commuting or living on campus, take some time to explore your school’s city and its different activities. You can find yourself in a rut if you do the same thing every day. Find a cute study or hangout spot for you and your friends, or spend time by yourself in a space that’s all your own (maybe a better idea for 2020).

Get Into the Habit of Going to Every Class

your attendance is not optional

It’s okay to miss a few classes but try to stay disciplined. No one is going to make you attend class, that is your responsibility now. And while it’s tempting to just duck out, you will probably regret it in the long run. And if you’re staying on campus, try not to retreat to your room even if you have a couple of hours between classes. Chances are you’ll get a little too comfortable in bed and school will become a distant memory. 

Keep Up With Your Readings

community reading

Do your best to follow the reading schedule for all of your classes! If your professor literally spits out the textbook info on a PowerPoint every week, then reading your assigned readings word-for-word is probably not necessary. However, it’s still a good idea to review your notes and read through the textbook for any additional information and facts not discussed in class. Professors expect you to do your readings, so anything mentioned in the textbook or assigned articles are fair game for a midterm or exam. 

Get Involved 

step brothers

Make your overall experience so much more valuable and enjoyable! Get involved with extra and co-curricular activities. Participate in your res and program events. You get to meet people and build lasting friendships. And joining a club or sports team, volunteering, or getting a job on campus will improve your skills, teach you how to network and make connections, and further your career before you even step foot into the “real world”.

Learn to Balance Your School and Social Life 

balancing scale

School is not just for studying your butt off and getting good grades. Do the work to the best of your ability, but also make time for some fun memories! There’s nothing wrong with taking a day off to do what you enjoy. Whether that involves dressing up and going out, or staying in and watching Netflix all day. Make time to have fun and build relationships with people you’ll be spending the next four years (or more) with!

Be Yourself

be yourself dora

My favourite part of university was the ability to be my true self.  It doesn’t matter your personality, interests, or sense of humour, because if you are the genuine, enthusiastic, and amazing person that you are, people will flock to you. When you find your place and the right people to surround yourself with, your college or university will feel like home. And you’ll always be excited and anxious to get back on campus to catch up with your new family.

So relax, good luck, and find a way that works for you to be successful in first year!

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*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.