Attending college as a first-time freshman is an exciting start of a new journey, but one with a unique set of challenges, too. Some of the biggest mistakes in college as a freshman are not making the most out of your academic experience early on and overspending during school.
Being aware of the common student problems in college — and knowing how to handle these scenarios — can help you avoid costly mistakes during your freshman year.
8 freshman mistakes in college — and how to avoid them
1. Not seeking guidance
2. Not attending classes
3. Not managing time
4. Not building relationships
5. Not handling money properly
6. Not using social media responsibly
7. Not taking advantage of student discounts
8. Not thinking enough about your major
The newness of college life and an unfamiliar campus might be intimidating and discourage you from reaching out for help. It’s easy to keep to yourself when faced with uncharted college student struggles as a freshman. This includes not asking for additional support from faculty or staff — but that’s a missed opportunity.
In fact, the Higher Education Research Institute’s (HERI) annual survey of the recent freshmen class found that students who sought out-of-classroom guidance felt more satisfied with their first year of college. According to the results, 91.6% of students who were “satisfied” or “highly satisfied” with their freshman experience took advantage of faculty office hours at least one to two occasions per term.
How to avoid
Although your overall trajectory toward a degree is ultimately up to you, you’re not necessarily alone in the process. Proactively introducing yourself at the start of the year to professors, tutors, academic advisors and mental health counselors can help you build rapport and feel confident about managing your college plan.
One of the biggest differences between being a high school student and being a freshman in college is that attendance isn’t always mandatory for college classes. You won’t have a professor or school administrator scrutinizing why you’ve missed class. But you’ll still lose out by skipping class.
Aside from the educational value lost by not attending a class session — your college tuition is paid upfront, after all — you’re potentially missing out on valuable course insight and information. Attendance during the first week of class is especially vital. This week is sometimes referred to as “syllabus week,” a time when professors hand out the class syllabus, a document that outlines the topics covered each week, when quizzes and tests are scheduled, and other important details of the course.
How to avoid
To avoid needlessly losing out on the college academic experience, the most straightforward freshman advice to follow is maintaining attendance throughout the term. At the very least, attend the first week of class to get familiar with upcoming course lessons, and speak to your professors about maximizing your use of their office hours for course-related questions, as needed.
The HERI report found that 95.9% of freshmen spent at least three hours a week in the classroom or lab, and 94.8% of students spent a minimum of six hours studying or doing homework weekly. However, being a freshman in college doesn’t mean you have to hole-up in the school library 24/7.
In your first year of college, you might find yourself juggling the demands of:
- In-class and lab sessions
- Homework and studying
- College clubs and organizations
- Intramural or college team sports
- Family responsibilities
- A social life
Considering all of the variables that make up a balanced college life, it’s possible to overextend yourself by taking on too many classes and responsibilities per term. Similarly, college student struggles also come up when prioritizing non-academic activities and procrastinating on school work and studying.
How to avoid
Finding the right balance depends on your priorities and lifestyle, so it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s helpful to keep your long-term goal in mind (e.g. earning your degree), and use that as the foundation for how to effectively manage your time. For example, calendar your classes, study blocks and any work study or other jobs, first. Then, limit extracurriculars to just a few activities that you can commit to in the remaining time you have left.
Although academics should be high on your priority list, one of the unfortunate mistakes in college is not forging relationships with your peers. Socializing — whether it happens organically on campus or through college-sponsored clubs and extracurriculars — enhances the college experience.
As a freshman, participating in these social environments can offer another layer of support. For example, you can form study groups through these relationships, or have a classmate to turn to for notes, if you’re sick and can’t make class. Socializing with students who might have different goals and life experiences also deepens your understanding of the world around you. Plus, if you nurture these relationships, it may lead to new opportunities beyond your college experience, such as a new job opportunity in your professional career.
How to avoid
One way to get a fast start to getting acquainted with new organizations and people on campus is to attend your school’s freshman orientation events. The costs associated with freshman orientation are typically mandatory. Participating in orientation is a great way to connect with other freshmen and campus clubs while getting your money’s worth.
Understandably, personal finance is not a typical requirement in high school. As soon as you transition into college, you may be thrust into figuring out how to navigate financial aid and the cost of tuition, buying expensive textbooks every year, and managing a restricted budget.
With the newfound freedom that being a freshman offers, mismanaging your money is easier than you might think. For example, a cash windfall from your financial aid refund at the end of the school year may feel like “fun money” to spend toward a shopping spree, when in reality, those funds can be used to repay your student loan debt.
How to avoid
There are different ways you might mishandle your money in your first year of college. Some ways to avoid that include:
- Staying on top of financial aid deadlines. To receive the most aid possible, submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as the annual October 1 application date opens for the upcoming school year.
- Waiting to buy textbooks. Avoid buying books too early so you don’t accidentally purchase a book that your professor might drop from the list. Another way to save on textbooks? Buy pre-owned books or ask your professors to put textbooks on reserve at the school library to help get significant savings.
- Not borrowing more than you need. It’s tempting to accept a higher loan amount than you actually need to pay for school — but remember, you’re required to pay loans back. Instead, apply for as many scholarships and grants during school, if possible, and use student loans as a last resort.
Getting accepted into your top school is a major accomplishment. But just because you received an acceptance letter doesn’t mean you don’t have to maintain an upstanding reputation with the school.
According to a Kaplan Test Prep survey, 68% of colleges considered it fair to use your social media posts as a basis for withdrawal from an applicant pool. Even if you’ve already received an acceptance letter from your college, it can revoke your admission if the content on your social media account is deemed offensive or what the school considers poor character.
How to avoid
In terms of general use, activate user privacy settings on your social media channels to restrict personal posts to friends and family. These settings, however, aren’t foolproof — it’s best to keep off inappropriate comments and photos on your social media.
The College Board found that the average cost of tuition, fees and room and board for an in-state student at a four-year, public institution was $21,950 for the 2019-2020 school year.
One of the costly mistakes in college made by freshmen is not maximizing available student discounts. This could mean significant savings on technology, online retailers and more.
How to avoid
Always carry your student ID with you for in-person student discounts at restaurants and retail stores. You can also reach out to your existing service providers, like your car insurer to see if they offer discounts to students. In some situations, you might be asked for proof of enrollment to show you’re a current student.
Figuring out your major as you go along your college journey lets you experience different areas of study to find a good fit. Although you generally have until the end of your sophomore year to choose a major, the longer you wait the more money you might spend on wasted credits that don’t go toward your degree.
The same can be said by haphazardly picking a major from the get-go without thinking it through and jumping ship later to a different major after investing credits (and money) toward a degree you don’t want to pursue.
How to avoid
Before you declare a major and enroll in your first year of classes, invest time to research a handful of majors you’re interested in. Good advice for college freshmen who are unsure about what major to pick is speaking with an academic advisor who can help you whittle down your options, based on your college plan and long-term career goals.
Resources for college freshmen
For more information and advice for college students, take a look at the following resources:
- Federal Student Aid website. Studentaid.gov provides information about different types of financial aid and eligibility requirements. You can also initiate your FAFSA through the website.
- The College Board. This site can help you find information about the college planning process, and scholarship and grant opportunities.
- Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB, a federal agency, offers resources on managing college costs and offers helpful tools when comparing schools.
Christy Rakoczy contributed to this report.
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