First Year of College: Tips for Freshman

03/11/24 | 8 MIN READ

Welcome to your college journey! You have probably committed to a school and want to succeed in your freshman year. While there is no way to measure every individual’s direct college success, there are a few tips you can use to make sure you’re off on the right foot. Everyone from a senior to a second-semester freshman likely has some insider information to help make your college-ready checklist a little easier, so let’s get started.

Freshman Orientation

For many freshmen, the first extended period of time on campus, beyond a campus tour, is typically freshman orientation. No matter what school you attend, expect a freshman orientation, which nearly all schools require freshmen to attend.

Not only is it an opportunity to get on campus before everyone else arrives, but students can benefit from their peers, and get insights and valuable freshman tips they might not otherwise learn.

Orientation tends to be run by college staff, including residential staff, faculty, administrators, and current students. Combined, their experiences make them experts in the freshman experience and the reality of being an on-campus student at the college or university you attend. These individuals will also have great tips to offer you about campus life. Moreover, students are put into orientation groups, so there’s a great chance to meet new friends who can provide a friendly face when classes start.

In the video below, you can hear directly from UC Berkeley alumnus, Craig Woodson, about how his freshman orientation set him up for success on campus.

📽️ Watch this Video!

Freshman Tips: Financing College

Before starting your freshman year, make sure your college finances are in order and fill out FAFSA. College is expensive and there are accrued costs many students often do not factor into their budget. A few expenses to consider are included in the list below.

⭐ Read more Here about FAFSA.


Tuition and Campus Fees

Before beginning classes, the school ensures all expenses are paid. The university sets the tuition and is subject to change, often depending on your residency. Tuition is often charged to the student as either “resident tuition,” “nonresident tuition,” “in-state tuition,” or “out-of-state tuition.” When you open your tuition bill, students are also charged for additional expenses. For instance, the campus will have additional set fees for items such as campus maintenance or equipment charges. These additional charges may fluctuate from year to year.

Campus fees also cover a lot of on-campus activities and go to support campus groups, organizations, and student government, so be sure to take advantage of those!

Books, course materials, supplies, and equipment

Another expense that needs to be considered is your supplies for school. These items might include technology costs for a laptop/computer, books, lab notebooks, extra supplies requested by the professor, and any specific equipment requested. A fun freshman tip: enroll in your courses and then wait until after the first week of classes is over before purchasing your required supplies.

Professors will always put the required books and supplies in the syllabus. However, some students choose to drop classes within the first week and you may not get the same money back on books or supplies.  Similarly, you might meet someone who has a used or digital copy of the text and, sometimes, professors will provide other options for you to get the book at a lower cost.

No matter the case, always wait, unless a professor makes it mandatory for you to have the required materials by a certain class date.

Freshman Tips: Don’t Forget Living and Miscellaneous Expenses (Housing and Food)

Living expenses are another cost that needs to be planned and considered. Living expenses can be broken into rent, utilities, food, and one-time expenses like housewares  (cooking ware, silverware, etc.) and furniture (bed frames, mattresses, couches, etc).

Living expenses vary depending on housing type (on-campus, off-campus), furnished versus unfurnished living arrangements, and many other economic circumstances. Living expenses also include groceries, which vary based on different factors, some out of your control. In general, a student’s living costs are truly unpredictable and the best you can do is plan and save.

Unexpected and Personal Expenses

Miscellaneous and personal expenses might include personal items or costs that come up unexpectedly. These costs vary per person but being prepared for a variety of expenses can help relieve stress when they do come up…and they will.


Do not discount transportation, even if you live within walking or biking distance of campus.  Transportation might also be the total cost during the holidays (flights, trains) or unexpected forms of transportation (uber, Lyft). Regardless, almost all transportation systems require payment, thus, it has been factored in. Please note all schools are different and some even have contracts that offer student deals on public transportation. 

Health Insurance

All students are required to have health insurance, and proof of the coverage, per university policies. Health insurance may or may not be an expense for you, depending on individual circumstances. For example, some students who are dependents receive insurance through their parents, spouse, or their private plan.

Sometimes, even when, a student might have insurance, they are enrolled into a health insurance plan by the school. It is the student’s responsibility to waive out of the school’s health insurance plan to avoid additional charges. Every school has a different waiver/form, so consult with your campus to see if  you are eligible to waive out of the school insurance plan and how you can do that.


⭐ Read more Here about Financing as a College Student.

Freshman Tip: Choosing and Enrolling in Classes

Enrolling for your courses as a first-time student can be daunting. There are multiple components to consider before signing up. For example, you’ll need to consider not only potential major requirements, but also university requirements, course priorities and prerequisites, professor preferences, and scheduling.

It is up to individual students to consider their priorities and decide the course load that best suits their needs and abilities. The class schedule and load you commit to can make all the difference in your performance and success. When signing up for classes consult with your peers and sites like Rate My Professor. Online sites like Rate My Professor are student-run platforms that provide a professor’s name, the specific course they are being rated for, the grade the student received, and any note-worthy tips that can help you be successful in the course. If there is a class with a specific professor you should avoid, this information will also be available.  Peers who have already taken the classes will offer the best insight and tips, so, ask and listen to your fellow students.


When you are ready to make your classes official follow your school portal directions. The portal for signing up for classes is the only way to enroll. The school will provide you with a date and time for course registration.  Pay careful attention to your course enrollment window, as if you miss it, you may have to wait and risk being closed out of courses you need or want. Once you are enrolled your seat in the class is saved.


Now that you are enrolled in your courses, one of the most important freshman tips is “Do not underestimate the power of office hours.” Whether you attend office hours with your professor or the teaching assistant (TA), there is always something to gain by attending. Even if you don’t have a specific question, you might hear another student’s question and learn something new. I can almost guarantee, if you are confused, someone else is also confused. Attending your professor’s office hours can help clarify difficult concepts or assignments.

Study Groups

Another tip to finding success in your classes is to take advantage of others in your class. Forming study groups, where you can struggle together is one of the best ways to learn. If someone in the study group needs help, the student helping is reinforcing their own understanding. Similarly, if you are receiving help, you may better understand the concepts when explained by a peer or in a new way. Study groups are effective, as one student bluntly shares “Studying alone is how you fail.”


⭐ Read more Here about the Importance of College Networking.

Freshman Tips: Housing

Although housing was briefly discussed as part of college financing, there are some important aspects of housing that every freshman should be aware of. 


Some universities require first-year students to live in on-campus dorms. Other schools that do not have this requirement might have benefits for first-year students, including but not limited to priority housing or guaranteed rooming arrangements. 

If you are living in the dorms, some perks include furnished living, a meal plan, and your living expenses are all one set cost. While dorms are communal, you will be asked to fill out an application so you can request living preferences. Most universities have more than one dorm, so the application process is also used to check where you might best fit. Dorm considerations that might be important to you include one-gender floors versus co-ed floors, community-theme-based dorms, or major-based dorms. For example,   as a freshman at UC Berkeley, I opted to live in an all-female, Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) dormitory.

On-Campus Living

On-campus housing is usually run through the university or partners with the school to provide housing to students. On-campus housing includes apartments or a co-op (community housing program).  If living in on-campus apartments, most will be furnished, and include standard appliances, and utilities. Prices for these will range based on the apartment complex, and floor plans like a single, studio, or multiple occupancy (double or more). 

Co-ops, on the other hand, are meant to be affordable because these spaces help low-income students. With on-campus apartments and other housing arrangements, plans do not need to be made until the middle of your freshman year, but it is good to consider early. All campuses offer an online portal to apply for university-run housing.

Off-Campus Housing

Off-campus housing might mean living in an apartment not run by the university, a community house, or even living at home. It is, in simple terms, any housing not affiliated with the college you attend. If opting to live off-campus consider that your monthly bill extends beyond a single monthly payment. Instead, monthly costs might be associated with utilities (trash and mail service, gas, electricity, water, internet, and washing and dryer services, and parking). Always keep these extra charges in the back of your mind when deciding if off-campus housing is a living arrangement you want.

Freshman Tips: Get Involved In the Campus Community

When you are not studying or at home, taking breaks is essential. From socializing to activities, one of the best ways to take a break from schoolwork is by getting involved with a campus community or organization.

In college, almost anyone can find a community where they can express themselves or engage in activities they enjoy. There is usually something for everyone and an opportunity to learn new things and get engaged.

While some students might struggle to find time for extracurricular activities due to work responsibilities and other commitments, doing anything outside of the classroom can provide the brain break you need to help you destress.

Further, the communities you get involved with may introduce you to new people who can provide academic, social, and emotional support.

Academic Clubs

Academic clubs are based, as one can imagine, on academic interests such as your major or perhaps even a minor. Sometimes these clubs invite guest speakers or host job fairs and networking events allowing you to make valuable connections in your field of study.
These clubs may also invite college alumni who can help give students leverage or a supportive hand in their academic journey, potentially offering advice on what courses they should have taken or what they’re glad they did take. When these guest speakers come, it is not only a chance for networking, but also a chance to consider doing an informational interview.

Social Clubs

Socially, clubs can help provide a community that allows you to feel as if you are among friends, safe and close. These may be groups based on activities you enjoy or communities you are part of or, sometimes, even both.

For example, members of the Hispanic Engineering Student (HES) club and Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHEP) society, active students frequently said the club felt like “home.”  Given that engineering is a field that lacks Hispanic representation, having a small number of engineering students gather together weekly, who share a similar background and, perhaps, similar struggles can be comforting and give students a sense of belonging.

For many students, who may be away from home for the first time, social clubs can help them find and develop communities for social and emotional support.

Freshman Tip: Utilize Campus Resources

Joining a club or community group, friends in dorms, and orientation are not the only ways to find support. In fact, universities have a multitude of different campus resources available.

As a freshman, you should find out what resources are available for you to use. For instance, you might find learning centers that offer free tutoring, career centers that offer professional development classes, and workshops to expand your network. On a college campus, you are simply opening the door to greater possibilities.

The truth is that a college campus is an expansion of your network and friends. You can meet a mentor, a study buddy, your next apartment mate, or even your future boss. Just remember that, while it sounds cliche, college is a journey that takes a village. Best of luck on your college journey and enjoy freshman year, graduation comes faster than you think!


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