Two freshmen college students sitting outside on campus grounds
Outlier Articles Home

College Success

15 Top Tips To Prepare for Freshman Year

06.14.2023 • 9 min read

Jennifer Rivera

Subject Matter Expert

Learn how to prepare for your freshman year of college. Here are powerful tips for freshmen going to college, so you can have your best years yet.

In This Article

  1. Prepare for the Best Years

  2. 15 Tips for a Great College Start

  3. Prepare for Moving Day

Imagine you’re about to leave for a trip to Majorca, Spain.

To travel to this island paradise, you prepare. You book your flights and hotels. Probably look up a few attractions and restaurants to go to. Maybe take the time to brush up on your Spanish.

You get out your suitcase and pack up your essentials and some clothes to wear to the beach.

It’s all pretty straightforward.

Going to college for the first time is nothing like a beach vacation—there are so many unknowns. No matter if you’re going to college right out of high school or ]going back to school in your 30s, the questions are circling in your head.

What do I need to take? Who can help me when I’m struggling? Where do I need to go? How hard are classes going to be?

Answering a few questions before your first class can make a big difference in feeling prepared. In this article, we will discuss some useful tips to help you find success in college and feel prepared for moving day.

Prepare for the Best Years

Get excited! You’re going to college!

College can be some of the best years of your life. You have a chance to live in a new place, gain new experiences, and meet new friends.

And you’re not alone! On average, over 19 million students are enrolled in college each year. Most of these students have a lot of the same concerns you have about going to college.

It’s important to keep an open mind about the journey ahead. Nobody does college perfectly, so let yourself enjoy the process of learning—both learning the content of what you’re studying and learning how to be the person you wish to be in the world.

College is a time to discover who you are.

But having a good experience requires some preparation, especially during your first year of college. Here are some tips!

15 Tips for a Great College Start

1. Look into housing requirements

One of the first things you want to do is look for housing. Depending on your age and where you live, you might be required to live on campus.

At some schools, college students are required to live on campus for 2 years. At other schools, it’s all 4 years.

However, students who live within a close radius of the campus or who are age 21+ are often exempt from these requirements. So be sure to check housing requirements on your campus.

2. Look for housing in advance

If you’re going to live on campus, get your housing deposit in as quickly as you can. Many times, whoever gets their housing deposits in first gets their choice of room.

Also, know that some larger campuses don’t have room for everyone who wants to live in a residence hall. At that point, you will be looking for an apartment.

Be sure to check the university housing page. They often have tips on apartment searching in the area, and they may have a space where students can search for roommates.

Pay attention to how far away your apartment is and whether it’s near campus transportation (if it’s available).

3. Pack your bags with extra time

Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to pack, and be realistic!

Take a look at the apartment or campus room you’re going to be staying in so you have a good idea of the space you’ll have. Most campuses and apartment complexes have floorplans on their websites, so look at the measurements and take them into account.

Also, think about how often you plan to go home during a semester. If you plan on going home somewhat frequently, or if you plan on going home over the breaks, you should probably bring fewer items and clothes at first, and then you can add more if you need them.

4. Create a budget

Before you arrive on campus, create a budget!

Consider tuition, room and board, books, school supplies, computer equipment, printing costs, food, and of course, fun!

You will live with ease when you make a college budget and stick to it. You’ll know how much money you have and how much you can spend, so you don’t get into trouble later.

Make sure you leave room for emergencies because they always come up. Create a budget before you get on campus so you have a realistic understanding of where your finances will be.

Don’t worry, you can always adjust your budget down the road.

If your budget is tight, you can save money by taking online courses. provides students with high-quality online courses for a fraction of the price of most colleges. All courses can be done on your own time, and they’re accredited and transferable.

5. Know your campus and community

Get to know your new home before you go by looking at the college website and maybe taking a virtual campus tour. Learn about the campus and where important offices and buildings might be.

A few campus locations to be aware of:

  • Library

  • Financial Aid Office

  • University Center

  • Health Center

  • Fitness facilities

  • Tutoring Center

  • Writing Center

  • Dining halls/Eateries

  • Dean’s Office for your college

  • Department Office for your college major

Also look around your town. Where is the closest hospital, pharmacy, and grocery store?

If you’re taking public transportation, where does it pick up and drop off? How frequently does it run, and how long is your trip each way?

If you’re driving, what parking lots are you able to park in? How long will it take to walk from your car to your destination?

If you live on campus, what are the hours for each meal? How long will it take you to walk from your room to the dining area? And how far is the dining area from where your classes are?

All this information will help prepare you for campus life.

6. Get there early on move-in day

Most colleges have you move in at specific times on specific days. Don’t get there ahead of your scheduled time, but get to the town early so that you’re able to get into your dorm room at your scheduled time.

Once there, give yourself time to organize your room, meet your roommate (if you don’t know them already), and say your goodbyes to anyone who came with you.

7. Know where your classes are

Once you get on campus, grab your schedule and find out where your classes are.

Don’t just go to your classes in a random order; go in the order you will go to class each day. This will give you a real idea of how long it will take you to get from class to class.

Pro tip: Check the room numbers again on the morning of your first day of class. Sometimes room numbers change at the last minute.

8. Create a schedule

Unlike in high school, your class time is only a small part of your schedule in college—about 12-15 hours per week.

You need to make time to study, eat, socialize, and sleep. Plus time for any other commitments you have, like a remote job, student organizations, or other extracurricular activities.

A calendar or smartphone app can help you organize your schedule. Developing good time management skills in college will benefit you for the rest of your life.

9. Go to orientation activities

No matter what, you should go to orientation. This is a great place to make friends outside of your residence hall or your major and get your first year of college off to the right start.

It’s a place for incoming freshmen to get tips on how to succeed in college life. Every school has its own ways of doing things. In orientation, you can find out everything from study tips, to the best time to get in line at the dining center, to where to sign up for student organizations and other extracurricular activities.

Often at orientation, you may go with small groups to purchase textbooks, get student IDs and learn about important university policies like general education requirements.

Plus, it’s a great way to meet people and find friends to hang out with during all the first-week activities.

10. Participate during class

Start off on the right foot on your first day of class. Get there early and sit in the front. This is especially important for a class you see as challenging, or if it’s an early class and you aren’t a morning person.

When you’re in class, make it your goal to participate at least once every class period where possible. When a course is all lectures, that might be more difficult, but give it a shot.

Also, ask questions, do the readings well ahead of time, and take notes during class. Participating in class will help your professor get to know you, and since participation often factors into grades, it will bump up your final grade.

11. Create a study group

Study groups help you to stay on track with your coursework and think in different ways, which can help you understand and remember material better.

They’re also places where you can create and solidify friendships while practicing great life skills for the working world (Teamwork is always near the top of important skills that employers want).

12. Be aware of your own mental health

Since the COVID pandemic, mental health concerns have skyrocketed. This is no more true than on a college campus.

College can be an exciting time, but it’s also filled with challenges that might seem overwhelming. If you have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, make sure to connect with the counseling services on campus.

They can be there if you need them and let you know what extra help you may be entitled to based on your diagnoses—such as extra time on tests or a note taker.

If you had similar services in high school, it’s important that you continue getting those same services. If later you find you don’t need them, then you can ease out of them.

13. Get to know your advisor

Your advisor (who may be one of your professors, depending on the school) is an important person to get to know.

This person will help you navigate all the requirements of your academic program, let you know whether you’re on track to graduate on time, and sort out which classes to take when.

The more your advisor knows about you, the more they can help. If they know you are an athlete, work part time, have family responsibilities, etc., they can help you schedule your courses to maximize your success inside and outside the classroom.

14. Read your syllabi

Syllabi may seem long and tedious, but one of the first things new students should do is read their syllabus for each course.

Your syllabus contains all kinds of information about the course, some of which might make the difference between getting good grades and not.

For example, some professors will take off points if you are absent. It’s important to know that ahead of time. Some professors won’t take late work. Others will.

It’s better to know those things at the beginning of the course than to find out the hard way when it’s too late.

15. Get to know your professors

Many students only see their professors during class, but getting to know your professors can make your college experience more productive.

When you get to know your professor, they also get to know you. This can help with things like participation points (they may count office hours as participation). Or, if your academic behavior shifts suddenly, the professor is more likely to try to find out what’s wrong rather than assuming.

Your professor can give you insights into their class that no study group can. Also, if you run into an issue during the semester (loss of a loved one, mental health issues, etc.), it will be much easier to discuss that with a professor you have built a relationship with.

Finally, get to know your professors because…who do you think is going to write those letters of recommendation when it’s time for a scholarship, internship, or job? The professor that knows you well is more likely to write an impactful letter.

Prepare for Moving Day

It’s normal to feel some anxiety around starting college. This is one of the biggest transitions of your life.

Remember—you’ve got this!

While having the information you need for moving day is important, it is your attitude that matters the most.

As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Moving day is that step.

No matter how much preparation and packing you do, you will forget something. This is totally ok. Give yourself some grace to not be perfect.

Ask questions when they come up, and take the time to get to know the people you run into. The more people you meet, the larger your community will be.

Success in college is all about embracing what you are doing fully. Once you can learn to do that, the rest will come naturally. Enjoy the journey!

Degrees+: Discover Online College Unlike Anything You’ve Experienced

Outlier (winner of TIME Best Inventions 2020) and Golden Gate University (#1 school for working professionals) have redesigned the experience of earning a college degree to minimize cost and maximize outcomes. Explore a revolutionary way to earn your college degree: