First Semester Checklist

This post is the fifth in a series I’m calling “Freshman Fifteen” – a set of fifteen posts that will walk you up to and into your freshman year of college. Read up on the first post here, or just dive in:

Somehow, it’s November – I know, I’m shocked, too. Misterms are coming to a close, Thanksgiving break (for my American readers, at least) is within sight, and this is the part of the semester I feel like calling “the slump.” We’re not close enough to finals to panic and prep for tests, so the temptation to slack off is real.

Focusing on classes right now is a nightmare, and while there’s a post in the works on that, I thought I’d focus on the non-class side of college. We’re getting close to the end of the semester, which makes me want to check in. Are you on track to ace your freshman year?

First Semester Checklist

This checklist will help you stay on track during your first semester of college.

Join at least one club

Your schedule may be super busy, and that’s understandable, but if you’re not getting involved, there are a lot of opportunities you can miss. If school is eating your time, consider academically-focused organizations. You’ll still spend your time studying, you just won’t do it alone. If you’re really focused on your future career, a preprofessional organization can really help you prepare, so it’s a smart investment of your time. The busier you are, the more essential it is to take time for your social life, just to stay sane, so please don’t skimp on human interaction. The last Freshman Fifteen post is actually all about organizations, in case you’re feeling a little lost.

Develop good study habits

“Good” habits are relative, and they’re going to vary based on how you learn. But if you spend the night before every test in a panic-induced frenzy, shuffling through unorganized notes and mainlining coffee, you probably aren’t learning at your best. Yes, even if you pass.

It’s so easy to coast along on bad study habits when they work. In the long run, it’s probably more difficult to cram the night before an exam than it is to take half an hour after every class to review your notes. Buuuuut it’s easier to put off the work in the moment, so not-studying seems easier than cramming.

Break that habit early. Maybe you’ll have to watch one less episode on Netflix next time, but that’s an easier sacrifice than an all-nighter before a final, no question.

Establishing strong study habits is a personal struggle, but pay close attention to how you work best and apply that knowledge.

Get familiar with at least one instructor

The whole “letters of recommendation” thing may seem far away, but when it’s senior year and you realize that there isn’t a single authority figure at your school who has known you long enough to write one, you’ll think back on this post and go “Oh, crap, Megan was right.” Take some time to actually get to know one of your teachers, either a professor or TA. If you’re in a huge class, this might mean going to office hours, but it’ll be well worth it.

Instructors know what’s up, guys. They can be great help in helping you choose your future classes, pointing you towards jobs and internships, and yes, eventually writing that letter of rec. Treat them like people – i.e. show a genuine interest in their work and don’t just use them for your own gain – and you’ll have a valuable friend and resource for life.

Also, my staying in touch with professors post might be helpful here!

Go to office hours for each of your classes

Whether you desperately need help or are breezing by with no effort, you should show your face in office hours at least once. For instructors that track attendance and participation, this is a grade booster, but in all cases, it shows you’re dedicated to your education. And for what you’re paying, you should probably be dedicated.

If you can’t think of anything to talk about, just try to do a “check-in” where you ask them about where your grade is at, how it can be affected by upcoming assignments, and what the rest of the semester is going to look like. Phrase it like you’re just trying to ensure that everything is in order. Your prof will probably respect your initiative, and you won’t have to lie about being interested in their research (or something).

Make an advising appointment

Some schools make their freshmen – or even all students – go in for advising at least once a semester. This is an awesome idea, and not something I was ever in the habit of doing. Bad plan. Even if it’s not a requirement, check in with an advisor every semester to make sure you’re on track.

If you’re feeling really lost and unsure about the appointment, that’s a sign you really need an appointment. Giving advice and helping you figure your life out is in your advisor’s job description. So “I don’t know what to do in an advising appointment” is actually one of the best reasons to go.

Advising appointments are stressful, but they do help keep you on track and catch issues before they can cause issues.

Try a school-sponsored event

You’re probably getting a barrage of emails about events the school is hosting: lecture series, comedy nights, open houses, art exhibitions, movie showings, performances, and a billion other things. Calling anything “school sponsored” makes it sound boring and terrible, but a lot of these events are actually really interesting. Also – they’re free. Eventually, we’ll all be adults and these are the kinds of things we’ll do for fun. And we’ll have to pay to go to them. Take advantage of “free” while you can!

Think about where you’re living next year

This one’s from personal experience. Everywhere I’ve lived I’ve decided sometime in second semester and it made my life a lot more difficult than it needed to be. If you’re going to be in the dorms, renew your contract early for the best choices. If you’re headed for an apartment, you should be looking at them now and hoping to sign your lease before the semester ends. It’ll save you a headache, believe me.

Are you on track?

Freshman year is so vital. It’s not easy for anyone – if they tell you otherwise, they’re lying to look cool. Everyone has their share of struggles, but staying on track, academically, is more straightforward than you might think.

Need a quick summary? Make genuine connections, ask for help when you need it, and think ahead. If you can master those three things, you’ll be ahead of 99% of your classmates… And people in general.

Up next in the Freshman Fifteen – Making Finals Suck Less

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  • It’s such a weird, hard transition, honestly, I’m not surprised. I didn’t start getting everything under control until about sophomore year and it made such a difference!

  • This is great advice! I wish I would have read something like this my freshman year of college. It got a bit crazy and I was very unorganized.