Almost 30% of college students do not return after their freshmen year. Most of those students never return. There is another whole group of students who get through and come back but had a terrible first or second semester. We have taken to calling that “the lost semester”. For a variety of reasons things fell apart and those that did return often spent the rest of their college experience attempting to regain their mojo and bring their GPA into a quasi-respectable status.
At LaunchingU we created our Freshmen Program called Starting with the End in Mind to combat that lost semester. We help our students set goals, start to identify and test hypothesis about majors, problem-solve effectively, and build relationships of support on campus. The following are tips that help set expectations and develop tools for that first semester.
Summer Before You College Freshman Year
1.Establish goals for your first semester. Think broadly in terms of your goals. What are you reaching for academically? How do you want to be involved in activities or clubs? What are your goals for your social life and for your health? One way to determine this is to imagine yourself home over the Christmas holidays and reflecting on your semester. What do you want to say you were able to accomplish?
2.Find a planner system that will allow you to keep focused on your goals and your schedule. Some of you will want it to be online, others will want a physical planner. There is no right system – but we do know that time management is often one of the biggest challenges for freshman. This means that having a system and then actually using it can be critically important. It should be one that allows you to track the times that your assignments, projects and exams will occur, and to see what is coming up on a weekly and monthly basis. It should also allow you to schedule your classes, activities and study periods. Try experimenting with a couple over the summer.
3.Select your courses. This seems to happen earlier and earlier each year for rising freshmen. Most of you will be doing this before mid-July. You may do this at summer orientation and be able to meet with an advisor – others are having to figure this out on your own.
We recommend taking at least one course in each of the areas you think might end up being your major. If there are course requirements that every student needs to take, consider doing one of those now. It might also be useful to take a foreign language if there is a requirement for this. We know that time away from a language you study in high school makes your proficiency drop significantly.
Absolutely consider a class that just strikes your interest. Remember you are in college to, among other things, explore. So, if there is a class on relationships between hip hop music and social justice work – and you have recently fallen in love with hip hop music – give it a shot.
4.Read the student handbook. Most are online now, and you will be expected to understand the rules, dates etc. One date to be clear about is the last day to drop/add courses in the semester.
First 30 days of the semester
1.Put that planner to use. By the end of your first week, your planner should be populated with your class schedule, any activities you are committed to, and when specific assignments are due, or when exams are occurring. Then fill in how you are going to address the out of class work that you are expected to complete. Map it out.
2.Find a place or way to make sure that your goals stay top of mind. Be creative. Plan how you are going to take steps to bring them to fruition. Check in to see how you are doing on the goals you set. If your goals change – actually change them versus just drifting away from them.
3.Meet with your academic advisor. You don’t need to know what your major is going to be to go ahead with this meeting. But it is helpful to have a couple of hypotheses you will be testing as you take courses and engage in activities. In preparation read the descriptions of each major you are interested in and look at what is required. Find out about your advisor’s background and field of study. You will probably be working with this person until you select a major, so it’s worth getting to know them.
4.Go to office hours of each of your professors. You are more-or-less introducing yourself here. Share why you took this course. If you are struggling, ask for help. If you are really enjoying the class share why. Tell them what your thoughts are about a major and whether you are certain or exploring. We know that professors that you connect with are more likely to be helpful down the road if you take the time to go in and talk with them. Their help may be useful when you are looking for internships or recommendations.
5.Meet your RA. Find out how they think of their role. Ask them what questions you don’t know enough to ask, but would be helpful for you to know and what they wish they had understood as a new freshman. If you have a problem with your roommate, or with mice in your suite (entirely possible), or with other issues it is easier to go talk with them when if you have already had a conversation with them.
6.Visit the tutoring and/or writing center. Writing at the college level is different and harder. Our clients have found that it was very helpful to have someone go over their first paper in draft form and get some advice.
7.Find out where the health services facilities are, when they are open, and whether you need appointments, etc.
8.Figure out what clubs and/or activities are most interesting to you and attend any open house opportunities they have. Try a few of these activities out. Figure out how much time you will be committing to them and whether you can work them into your schedule. Join at least one – you can always change if it isn’t what you hoped it would be.
9.Develop a couple of study locations that work for you . There is no right or wrong space – just your relative comfort and ability to focus in that environment. Routines are a college student’s friend!
10.Remember – college campuses are full of resources to support students as they adjust to the myriad of ways that life at college is different than life at home in high school. As you run into problems, obstacles or opportunities think about how you can problem solve your way through them and ask yourself “who on campus can help me with this?” Then go talk to that person 😊.
Stay tuned for how to take stock after your first semester and establish goals that will have you pleased with how your year went as you look back on it next summer. If you feel like you could use some help navigating this first year feel free to reach out to us to talk about our Freshman Program. The call is free and we can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 603-398-7278.
Have a Fabulous Semester!