The New Student Handbook

It's the first day of college. Your parents (and the hideous electric blue mini van they rented to lug all of your stuff in) have just pulled away. The glorious day of freedom you've been dreaming of for 18 years is finally here. Sure, you now live in a room the size of a refrigerator box with a roommate that collects troll dolls, but life is good.

Then a few days go by and the harsh reality of starting over sets in. You decide you're much better suited for your old life, with your family, friends, and dog. You've had a good run, you'll grab a school t-shirt on your way out, but this whole college thing? Not so much.

Before you pack it in and convince yourself home schooling is your best bet, check out this advice from experts at colleges across the country whose job it is to help you adjust, and quite frankly, get a life at school.

Get with the program!

From the BIG 10 to even the smallest of schools, colleges nationwide offer unique services to freshman that begin with summer orientation and last all the way through commencement. Take advantage of the new student programs your school offers because they're created to assist in your academic and social transition to college. Go to your school's website for info on up-coming events, and important resources.

Give yourself time to adjust

It takes more than a couple weeks to form meaningful friendships, adjust to a demanding schedule, learn the ins and outs of a new city, and get used to being on your own.

Wren Singer, Director, Orientation & New Student Programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison says it might take a full year. "If you expect that it's going to take that long and you view that year as a transition period, I think there will be less pressure to immediately know what you're going to do and where you're going within the first few weeks."

The adjustment period really depends on the student, according to Tom Ellett, Assistant VP for Student Affairs at NYU. "Getting involved and finding your niche is really important. The more you put yourself out there and try numerous things, the better off you will be."

Drew Tinnin, Assistant Director, Office of New Student Programs says, "We encourage students not to go home every weekend, particularly the first few weeks of college. The first few weekends are usually filled with campus activities and can be a great way to meet new friends."

Be independent

Another area of adjustment, is your ever changing relationship with your parents. It's important to stay connected, but learn how to make your own decisions. Singer says, "I wish their parents and their relatives would stop asking them what they're going to major in or what they're going to do when they get out of college. Because I don't think they have to know."

Look to mom and dad for support, but don't depend on them to solve your problems for you. Singer advises parents to change the way they parent by being a coach, rather than a problem solver. Ellett recommends scheduling a time to talk regularly, but not daily!

Get into a routine early

If you're sleeping until noon and haven't stepped foot in a gym since your high school prom, it will effect your success at school. Healthy habits and time management skills are key.

Ellett says, "The routine should include eating healthy and regularly, exercise, and studying 2 hours (at least) for each credit hour of class. Get involved in an activity, have a part time job (it's a good thing!), and get your 9 hours of sleep a night! Yes, research shows that students 18-21 need 9 hours a night."

Tinnin adds, "From my own college experience and other students I've worked with, it seems having a campus job or getting involved early-on in one or two activities can actually help with time management by providing a little structure."

Make Connections

Make it a point to find a good group of friends at school. Ellett says, "All the research on student development points to the fact that peers are the greatest influencer on peers, so finding that group is key to enjoying and being successful at college. Don't spend all the extra time on Facebook or other social networking systems, go out and meet face to face. Communication skills are only improved by personal interaction."

Tinnin adds, "Students often check their roommate's profile on websites like before ever talking to them in person. This may tell you some surface information (like interests) about a person but shouldn't be your only idea of them. As you get to know your roommate you will hopefully learn much more beyond just their Facebook profile!"

Meet new people by attending student organization open meetings, information sessions, and your residence hall's events.

Find a mentor

Singer urges new students to, "Try to make a connection with some adult in some setting. Whether it's a professor, a teaching assistant, a staff member, an adviser, or a doctor, there are so many more people that are part of the campus than just the faculty. And I think a lot of students don't recognize all of these other resources."

Some schools, like the University of Michigan, offer mentorship programs which link new students with a current student or faculty member.


Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Yet most students underestimate the amount of studying they need to do in order to succeed in school.

At UW-Madison, "Most students that come here do very well in high school and are used to being very successful and the top of their class. They're usually the best at just about everything they do. And then they come here with everybody else who is like that also, and really have to compete in a different way. So, 4,5,6 weeks into the semester, I think students are really hit with the overwhelming feeling of how much studying they have to do," Singer says.

"We provide a student planning calendar & handbook to new students at orientation," Tinnin says. "I recommend students record all of the assignment due dates from their course syllabi at the beginning of each term on whatever calendar they are using and plan backwards the time needed to study or prepare a paper, etc." Make a study plan and stick to it! Many students find that reviewing notes every night after class helps in the long run. Form regular study groups with friends, don't wait until the last minute to prepare for midterms and exams, go to office hours, and manage your time wisely.

Words of Wisdom

Tinnin advises students to, "Be curious — explore everything available to you. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Singer's advice? "View college as your chance to move from being a child to an adult. It's not just career or job training. It's the whole experience — living in the dorms, having a job, getting involved in organizations — it's not just classes that you're learning from."

Your freshman year will be a major turning point in your life. The choices you make will set the precedent for your entire college career. You'll be challenged in every aspect of life. But according to the experts … that's the best part.

Keep checking iMag for more back to school tips!