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Making the Most of Your Freshman Year of College

Writing, writing, writing

  • Papers are not just an exercise to make you miserable. They provide valuable practice in gathering information, organizing it, and presenting your original thinking about it. If you developed solid writing skills in high school, good for you. You can skip this part. But most students do need some help to bring their writing up to college standards. Fortunately, most colleges now have writing centers staffed by either peer or professional tutors who are there to help. Use it.
  • Do what is asked. Read the directions for a paper carefully. It doesn’t matter how brilliant your answer is if it doesn’t answer the question that was asked. If you have an idea for a different approach, talk to your professor first.
  • Neatness, spelling and grammar count. Your papers are a presentation of yourself. Taking the care to present yourself well often can make a difference if the content of your paper is hovering between two grades.

Relationships with Professors

  • Get to know your teachers. Most really are there to help. Introduce yourself. Participate in class. Go to office hours. An interested, engaged student not only gets more out of class but also develops relationships with professors who can help them on their way.
  • Focus on getting to know tenured faculty. More and more schools are hiring “adjunct professors” to teach some courses. Adjuncts are qualified professionals in their fields who work very part time for the school, usually just teaching a course or two. Some adjuncts, for reasons of their own, find the time to meet with students and develop relationships beyond the classroom even though they are paid only to teach. Most don’t. Tenured faculty, on the other hand, have a long-term commitment to the school. They are paid to be available as well as to teach their classes. They are likely still to be around when you get to your senior year and need recommendations.
  • Manners do count. Show up on time for class and appointments. Call if you can’t make an appointment. Say please and thank you. A little respect goes a very long way.
  • Be honest. Professors have heard it all before. The dog ate it. My grandmother, dog, uncle, died. My best friend, roommate, sister, went into crisis last night. Please. If the paper was too challenging, if you were confused, or if you fell asleep, meet with your teacher, fess up, and work out a plan for getting your work done. It’s not fair to pull on another’s sympathy for a tragedy that isn’t true. On the other hand, if there really are problems at home and you want to finish out the semester respectably, most teachers will work hard to help you. Professors, and your advisor, usually know what options are available to you and will do what they can.

The Other 123 Hours a Week

  • There are 168 hours in every week. Typically, a college student spends 15 hours in class and another 20 to 30 in study. Subtract another 56 hours for sleeping (averaging 8 hours a night which most people don’t get but should). That leaves 67 hours a week to be on a team, participate in a student organization, hang out with friends, eat, and party. All of those things are just as important as going to classes. (See College Activities: Not So Incidental Learning ) Make sure you give your social life the time and attention it deserves or you will end up burnt out, depressed, and generally miserable.

Students who graduate with honors, who get the awards, and who get into the graduate schools of their choice are the students who take themselves seriously, at least some of the time. They get to know some of their teachers and carefully build a college career that will get them where they want to go. They also know how important it is to balance schoolwork with other experiences. They use their social time to make lifelong friendships and to explore relationships. It really is a full-time job. You can do it. Go to school with a sense of purpose and enthusiasm. You can make college what you want it to be.

Making the Most of Your Freshman Year of College

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2020). Making the Most of Your Freshman Year of College. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Jul 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 30 Jul 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.