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Preparing for Your First Year of College

Students move into the dorm preparing for their first year of college

By Indhika, IvyWise Academic Advisor

Your first year of college is critical in establishing a strong foundation that sets you up for academic, professional, and personal success. As you prepare for your first semester on campus this fall, embrace the changes of this new journey and lean into some advanced planning and self-directed goal setting to help you smoothly transition to campus life. Below are some tips to help you get ready for college and make the most of your first year.

Prepare for Your First Week

Your first week on campus will be jampacked with activities — moving into your dorm room, attending orientation, and starting classes. Before you head into this hectic week, make note of housing and scheduling logistics.

Organize Your Dorm Necessities 

Get in touch with your roommate and coordinate any shared room supplies. Since you will be living in a small space, make a thoughtful list of everything you will need and pack strategically. Minimize the amount of last-minute shopping you’ll have to do during your first week.

Prepare for Orientation 

Go over your orientation schedule — make sure you know which events are mandatory and identify any additional events or meetings you would like to attend. Take note of free time between events and determine any logistics or errands you need to take care of on campus (e.g., getting your student ID, meeting with financial aid, etc.).

Plan Your Courses

As you are enrolling in courses, keep your options open and identify alternates. Attend a few courses to get a feel for the learning environment, and carefully look through syllabi. Don’t hesitate to drop a course that is not the right fit for you during the add/drop period.

Organize Your Schedule

In addition, look into time management resources, tips, and tools. There are lots of apps that can help you organize your time and optimize your schedule. The first few weeks of college can be overwhelming, so enabling time for breaks and personal wellness is critical.

Familiarize Yourself With Important Campus Resources

A few important offices to be aware of as soon as you get to campus include Student Accounts, Financial Aid, the Registrar’s Office, and Student Housing. These offices will help you resolve issues regarding student balances, loans, course enrollment, and housing. Make note of their appointment scheduling systems and walk-in hours. In addition, colleges have numerous student support services including academic resource centers, career services, health and wellness centers, and community centers.

Academic Resources

Academic resources like peer tutoring and advising can be instrumental in getting support early on and feeling confident in your coursework. The Writing Center is also an incredibly important resource, as first-year courses can be writing-intensive with lots of essay assignments.

Career Services Office

Many first-year students think it is too early to visit their campus Career Services Office; however, familiarizing yourself with their services, workshops, and events will enable you to maximize their benefits later. In your first year, check out resume and cover letter workshops, attend an alumni networking or speaker event, and sign up for industry-specific internship and job listservs.

Office of Undergraduate Research

For students interested in research-oriented majors and careers, check out your college’s Office of Undergraduate Research. On their website, you will find research opportunities, funding opportunities, conferences, and campus events. While you may not apply for a research project right away, it’s good to know what types of research and funding are available and plan to apply for these in subsequent terms.

Health and Wellness Centers 

Health and wellness centers are an integral part of campus life. Most health centers take a holistic approach to health and have robust offerings including medical services, counseling, and wellness activities ranging from meditation to stress-relieving nature excursions. Be mindful of your overall health. Even if you don’t think you need these services, see what is offered and how to schedule appointments.

Community Centers

Finally, community centers are great spaces to be with people with similar identities, backgrounds, and values. They offer an opportunity to explore different aspects of yourself while tapping into a broader network of peers and faculty. Community centers host events, promote dialogue and friendship, and some may even offer auxiliary services such as advising and counseling.

Explore Majors and Intended Areas of Study

Whether you are undecided on your major or have already identified your specialization areas and long-term career goals, take time before arriving on campus to reflect on your academic interests and professional aspirations. Choose your first-year courses wisely. In addition to attending introductory courses, make sure you pick general education courses carefully, as they can be a great way to explore new subjects and interests.

As you consider majors, research core requirements, specialization areas, and electives. Draft schedule options for your remaining time in college to get a clear understanding of what courses you need to take and how to integrate any summer coursework or study abroad.

To get program-specific information, peruse websites of relevant departments and take note of faculty expertise and research areas, relevant labs and research opportunities, advising resources, events pages, and any listservs to join. Make a point to engage with departments rather than just attending classes. For insights and guidance on coursework and careers, talk to professors, department staff, peers, and alumni.

Go to Office Hours

The importance of office hours cannot be emphasized enough, especially if you are in large lecture-style classes. Getting to know your professors and showing initiative in your studies will bolster your academic engagement and help you stand out.

Going to office hours is helpful in a number of circumstances. If you are struggling in a course, it is an opportunity to ask direct questions to help you better understand course content and expectations. If you have questions about a recently submitted exam or paper, schedule an appointment during office hours to discuss the feedback you received. And if you are working on an assignment or class project, use office hours to share your ideas and initial outlines.

If you are excelling in a course and find the content highly engaging, meet with your professor to delve deeper into course materials, share your interests, and find out about related projects or co-curricular initiatives you can get involved with. This is a great opportunity to cultivate a mentorship with a professor whose expertise and interests align with your own.

Be reflective and intentional about the questions you ask during your appointment. Make sure you are receptive to feedback and take notes on recommendations, clarifications, and any to-do items. After the meeting, send a thank you email and follow up on any commitments or provide relevant updates. And keep the conversation going — don’t just attend office hours one time, make a point to regularly check in with your professors.

Research Student Groups and Other Co-Curricular Activities

Most colleges host a student group fair during the first few weeks of school. In advance of and in addition to this fair, do your own research on co-curriculars you would like to be involved with. First, identify what types of groups are most appealing to you — academic, professional, social justice, faith-based, community-oriented, service-based, etc. Co-curricular involvement should complement your overall profile, providing opportunities to explore your strengths, goals, identity, background, and interests.

Second, determine which clubs you can commit to over the course of your college career rather than for just one or two terms. Find clubs through which you can take on leadership roles, direct special initiatives, and have a lasting and meaningful impact.

Third, look into the process of becoming a member — some student groups are open to everyone, and some may be application-based. If you are interested in application-based student groups, make sure you have enough time to write a compelling application.

Finally, carefully consider if there are any other co-curricular commitments you want to get involved with during your first year, such as on-campus jobs, conferences, or spring break volunteer trips. Be mindful of your bandwidth and course commitments. If your first year is not the right time to take on additional co-curriculars, plan to integrate these later.

Make a List of Goals for Your First Term

Setting feasible goals for your first term (and each subsequent term!) will help you stay on track and make the most of your college experience. Make sure your goals include co-curricular involvement, professional development, and personal growth. And be specific — instead of listing broad goals such as ‘explore major options,’ focus on tangible goals such as scheduling office hours with a professor in your department.

Some goals for your first term might include:

  • Sign-up for office hours.
  • Meet with an academic advisor.
  • Set up your Career Services account and sign up for industry-specific career/internship listservs.
  • Update your resume and LinkedIn profile.
  • Join a student group.
  • Attend three to five campus events related to your academic and career interests.


Throughout your first term, check in on your goals and determine if anything needs to be modified, removed, or added. Don’t overload your goals for your first term. It is better to have a smaller, feasible set of goals that you add to over time.

The first year of college is an exciting and overwhelming time. As you make plans and set goals, prioritize your health, happiness, and growth. Your college campus is your community for the next four years. Regularly check in with yourself, utilize campus resources, proactively connect with professors and advisors, and don’t hesitate to ask for help if you need support or feel overwhelmed.

At IvyWise, our team of experts don’t just help applicants get into their best-fit colleges, they also support students throughout their higher education journey. Contact us today for more information on how we can help you achieve your personal and academic goals through both  Admissions Counseling and Academic Advising.

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