Advice for New College Students: 10 Tips to Know

A female and male student talk while looking at a computer with a cup of coffee in the foreground

Starting college is a huge transition. For non-traditional students, this transition can get complicated quickly with kids, work and other life circumstances vying for your attention. You know you want to further your education, but you might be worried about managing your time or money.

So, what can you do to help set yourself up for success in college? We’ve compiled 10 practical tips for new students looking to hit the ground running.

10 Tips for new college students

1. Get into a routine

First and foremost, it’s important to get yourself into a routine and work with the schedule you’re on. Your life is likely already busy with work, childcare or other commitments and responsibilities.

Remember, you don’t have to turn your life upside-down to make college work. If you are willing to carve out dedicated, distraction-free time to study, you are going to be productive. Another thing that’s essential to build into your routine is a break (or two or three!) Sometimes, stepping away from an assignment or reading is just what you need before you can get back into it. Breaks are necessary for our brains to mull through the information we are learning—so take a walk, step away and do a little bit of unconscious processing between study sessions.

2. Take advantage of school resources

Your school knows that college is an endeavor that requires dedication. They also know how to help their students achieve and get the help they need to succeed. One of the most important things to do when you’re in college is to take advantage of school resources.

Talk to your advisors and instructors. They will be able to connect you with information specific to your needs. Whether you need help getting back up to speed on now-rusty algebra skills, have questions about how to format a citation or just need someone to vent your feelings to, there’s a whole team of support staff that can help set you up for success. There’s no shame in asking, and frankly, you’re paying for the services—so don’t hesitate to use them to your advantage.

3. Plan ahead & spread out your studying

In addition to sticking to a routine and incorporating breaks, it’s important to build a plan that will allow you to spread out your study time. Cramming for a test is never ideal, and it likely isn’t helpful for your long-term mastery of the subject.

Make sure to consistently review your notes and chip away at required readings at a steady schedule. That way, when test study time comes around, you’ve already done much of the heavy lifting and can focus your attention on the areas you feel least familiar with.

There are plenty of ways you can help facilitate this planned approach. Set reminders on your phone, talk to your loved ones so they understand when you won’t be available and read your syllabi to prevent any confusion about courses further down the line.

4. Form relationships

The friends and acquaintances you make during your college experience are important. Your peers can serve as study buddies who help keep you accountable. By getting involved in different extracurriculars, volunteer opportunities and campus events, you will meet people with similar interests and values. That’s the stuff that helps make attending class and putting in the work needed to be successful much more enjoyable.

Another bonus to forming these relationships is that they will serve as connections and support for you as you move forward in your career. You never know who might be able to put in the good word for you or give a heads-up on a new career opportunity down the line, so don’t be shy!

5. Don’t neglect your sleep schedule

You’ve probably heard repeatedly that sleep is important. But how important, really? The answer is: extremely. Sleep has many benefits for the body and brain. Getting enough sleep helps solidify memory, so it’s the last thing you want to skip when learning. While you may have unavoidable late nights here and there, a consistent lack of sleep is usually due to poor time management. When making a routine for yourself, don’t forget to plan for a stable sleep schedule as well.

6. Explore your financial aid options

If you qualify, financial aid can help you meet the cost of higher education—so don’t make the mistake of overlooking it. When making an investment in college, it’s especially important to pay attention to your budget. You will still have to take care of bills, groceries, student fees, books, childcare and other expenses during this time. Finding scholarships and financial aid options takes a little time and effort, but it’s often worth it. Even a small scholarship or award is still a portion that you don’t have to pay for out of pocket (or see accumulating interest).

When looking for scholarships, try looking for unique opportunities that are specific to your interests and background; this can help narrow the applicant pool and better your odds of being selected. Be sure to work with your school’s financial aid office—they have an in-depth knowledge of financial aid options and can help you find ways to maximize your potential aid.

7. Ask questions

“There’s no such thing as a dumb question” is a common refrain from educators—and for good reason. Questions mean you’re thinking and mentally working your way through the subject. You’re in college to learn advanced material and lay the foundation for a long and successful career, but that doesn’t mean you’re expected to fully grasp every concept without asking questions.

If you’re confused or something seems unclear, do not be afraid to ask about it! You are not a bother to your instructors. They are here to help you get the most out of your time in college and want to see you succeed. Even if you don’t think it’s worth the effort to ask an instructor, reaching out to a peer for clarification can be a helpful habit. Usually, if you have a question about a subject or assignment, someone else will either have that same question or will be able to explain it in a new way that makes sense to you. There is no shame in asking for help.

A less obvious benefit to asking questions is the opportunity to build relationships. Demonstrating curiosity and interest in what you’re learning is often the start of a great relationship with professors and peers alike. Your interest shows that you care and can help you build a network of support.

8. Keep track of important dates

In the same vein as spreading out and planning your study time, tracking important dates keeps you on top of class material and can help you be proactive about adjusting your schedule if necessary.

Whether you have a household calendar or use a personal planner, it’s a good idea to write down and track important dates. These could include exams, when assignments and large projects are due, and other important events. Taking the time to record these milestones will help you map out the term and avoid any accidental last-minute scrambles. 

9. Have a designated workspace

Non-traditional students might spend more time learning online, which can be challenging when your class isn’t in a typical brick-and-mortar classroom environment. Because of this, it will be imperative that you set boundaries and utilize study strategies to get the most out of your online classes.

First and foremost, have a designated workspace where you can keep your school materials. Our brains learn to associate physical spaces with their purposes, and things can become challenging when those purposes become blurry. For example, it’s probably best to keep your sleeping space separate from your workspace. This way, you won’t be thinking about all the things you need to be doing when it’s time to sleep or getting sleepy when you need to focus on an important assignment.

If you don’t have an office or separate room available to you, try to work in a particular part of your home. Maybe it’s at the kitchen table or at a desk in the corner of the living room. Wherever makes sense for you, keep it consistent. This will help you get the most effective focus out of your study time.

10. Seek out formal help from peers

While organically forming relationships with other students is great, sometimes it’s not easy at first to break the ice. One way to get past that initial barrier is to seek out formal peer-based resources. At Rasmussen University, students have the opportunity to take part in Peer Educator and Peer Tutoring programs that help facilitate these initial conversations. These peer-based programs can help you get generally acclimated to college life as well as find more course- and program-specific assistance.

You can do it

Being new to higher education can feel daunting, but that doesn’t mean you need to learn how to navigate it the hard way all by yourself. Following the advice above will help put you on the path to success.

You have what it takes to confidently take on this next stage in your academic career. Don’t believe us? Take it from Rasmussen University students like you who’ve set the foundation for their future success.

About the author

Will Erstad

Will is a Sr. Content Specialist at Collegis Education. He researches and writes student-focused articles on a variety of topics for Rasmussen University. He is passionate about learning and enjoys writing engaging content to help current and future students on their path to a rewarding education.


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