20 Jan 21 College Tips I Wish I Knew Freshman Year
In this guest post USC junior Stefano Ganddini has great advice for college
freshmen (although sophomores might find it appropriate too). If you are
headed to college next fall, I recommend that you read his tips at least
seven times, print it out, read it again and set a reminder for yourself to
reread it prior to starting college in the fall.
Every year I look back and think, Wow, how was I so stupid last year if only
I knew then what I know now.
Two years ago I was just another naive, unknowing Freshman. I was stoked to
be done with high school but I had no idea what college was actually going
to be like.
Today, I’m a wise, all-knowing Junior. HA. Just kidding.
But I do have two years of college experience under my belt, and in those
two years I have learned quite a bit. And I’m not talking about the stuff I
learned in my physics and calculus classes (I forgot most of that stuff
after the final).
I’m talking about the things I’ve learned outside of the classroom, and the
things that will help you succeed in the classroom, so that hopefully when
you graduate you’ll already have a badass job lined up.
One of the most important things I’ve learned is how to work smarter, not
harder. That’s a pretty broad statement, but it pretty much boils down to
learning how to be productive, make connections, and take advantage of your
If you’re smart you might’ve been able to goof around in high school and
still pull off good grades, but college is a whole nother beast. Classes
are harder, parties are crazier, and for the first time in our lives no one
is breathing down our necks telling us what to do.
So yes, you have the freedom to do whatever you want, but with great
freedom comes great responsibility. If you’re a Freshman reading this, let
me tell you now, you do not want to be that Freshman who can’t handle the
freedom (or the alcohol).
That’s why its crucial to develop some good habits and find a
comfortable balance between your social life and your academics that works
I’m sure you’ve probably read at least a few articles about college tips
for freshmen or tips on how to succeed in college, but they’re usually
pretty lousy, and with the start of the school year just around the corner
I figured I’d write one of my own. I’ve put together a list of 21 college
tips I’ve found incredibly useful and wish I knew freshman year. (It’s a
bit of a read, so if you don’t have time right now I’d recommend
bookmarking this page to read it later).
Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Go to the library in between classes.
Instead of wasting time by going back to your dorm room or apartment
between classes, go to the library and actually do some work. You’ll be
surprised by how much work you can get done during the day, which will give
you more free time to relax and do whatever else you want at night.
2. Go to office hours.
Few students take advantage of office hours, so simply showing up puts you
in a better position than most of your peers. Even if you dont have any
major questions or concerns, office hours are an opportunity for you to get
to know your professor and for your professor to put a face to your name. A
good relationship with your professor could end up being the difference
between an A- and a B+.
3. Ask questions.
If anything is ever unclear, raise your hand and ask your professor to
clarify. Dont be scared of asking a stupid question. The only stupid
question is the one not asked and chances are youre not the only one
confused. Plus, asking questions in class is another great way to get on
your professors good side because it shows that youre actually paying
attention. You might even want to make a point of raising your hand and
asking at least one question every class.
4. Don’t fall behind.
Seriously. High school forced you to stay on track with daily homework
assignments and tests at the end of every chapter. But in college your
entire grade may be determined solely by a midterm and a final, which
doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room. Don’t think you can wait till the last
minute to cram for your midterms and finals. You might be able to pull it
off every now and then, but eventually it will come back and bite you in
the ass. Try to learn the material the very first time its presented. If
you ever miss something, make sure you learn it before moving on.
5. Keep an updated resume and LinkedIn.
Every time you gain a new experience, make sure you add it to your resume.
You want to do this while its still fresh in your mind so that you can
describe it accurately and positively. Do the same with your LinkedIn
profile. For tips on keeping your LinkedIn profile up-to-date, check out my
post on managing your online image.
6. Start creating a master contact list.
Create a spreadsheet with professors, industry professionals, employers,
and anyone else you have ever worked with or met that you may want to
connect with in the future. Include their contact information, their title,
and a brief description of your relation with them. This will be invaluable
when you need to reach out to someone in the future.
7. Become friends with at least one person in every class.
This can be a life-saver if you ever miss a class or forget to write
something down. Find someone who would be willing to share their notes or
help you out in case of an emergency.
8. Don’t drink during the week.
Tequila Tuesdays are tempting, I know, but trust me, this is not something
you want to get into the habit of. Drinking during the week will screw up
the rest of your week and its just not a sustainable lifestyle. If you work
hard during the week you can party all you want on the weekend.
9. Buy ear plugs.
Because people will be celebrating Tequila Tuesday when you have a midterm
on Wednesday morning. You do not want to be up all night when you have an
important test the next day just because your hallmates are being loud
drunks. This became a real issue for me when I moved into my fraternity
house sophomore year. If you’re looking for some really good noise
canceling earplugs, I recommend the Hearos Ear Plugs Xtreme Protection. Pop
these bad boys in and you wont hear a thing.Warning: If you go to sleep
wearing ear plugs, make sure your alarm is loud enough so that you can hear
10. Take advantage of the career center.
This is another thing every student should do, but very few do. The career
center is an extremely valuable resource in helping you brush up your
resume and find jobs and internships. I stopped at my career center last
year before applying for summer internships and had my resume reviewed in
20 minutes. A few weeks later I landed a summer internship by attending one
of the internship panels hosted by the career center. Go to these things. I
cannot emphasize this enough.
11. Get a part-time job.
If you’re tired of asking your parents for money, get a part-time campus
job and start paying for your own stuff. Campus jobs are usually pretty
easy to find and not too demanding, meaning you can probably do other work
for your classes while on the job. Plus, you might actually learn something
and at the very least it will give you some work experience to put on your
12. Get an internship.
A campus job will give you some extra spending money, but it probably wont
advance your career much. Thats what internships are for. Try to get an
internship every summer. Internships are the best way to get real-life
experience in an industry and the more experience you have, the more likely
youll be able to find a job after graduating. It will be hard to find an
internship when youre a freshman or sophomore, but its not impossible. Be
pro-active by attending career fairs and taking advantage of the career
13. Always bring headphones to the library.
Sometimes the library can be an even more distracting environment than my
frat house. I don’t know why people think it’s okay to have conversations on
the phone in the middle of the library, but I see it way too often. You can
tell them to shut up and leave the library, but its usually easier to just
bring your headphones.
14. Choose courses based on the professor.
No one wants class before noon, or a class on Friday, but an awesome
professor should take priority over an awesome schedule. The difficulty of
a class can be entirely up to a professor. Talk to upperclassmen in your
major to find out which professors you want and which professors to avoid.
15. Learn how to manage your time and be productive.
If you want to do well in your classes and still have a social life, you
better start developing some good study habits and learn to manage your
16. Consider Greek life.
I never thought I would’ve joined a fraternity when I came to college. Now
look at me, I’m a frat star (just kidding, Im still a nerd). But honestly,
joining a fraternity has been one of the best decisions Ive made in
college. Aside from the parties, my fraternity has helped me gain more
confidence in myself, its given me life-long connections, and its helped me
figure out what I actually value and believe in. I’ll be writing a post
about my experience with joining a fraternity in the near future.
17. Don’t buy textbooks from the bookstore.
Unless it’s your parents money, then I guess it doesn’t matter. But even
then, you might as well find them for cheaper and keep the extra cash.
Check Amazon, ask upperclassmen, and post on Facebook. The bookstore should
only be a last resort. Also, if you have a huge list of reading materials,
dont buy all of them right away because you probably wont end up using or
needing all of them. Wait it out a few weeks and only buy the books you
will actually need.
18. Be aware of student perks.
Lots of local restaurants, movie theaters, and other stores will offer
student discounts with a valid student ID.
19. Develop your professional skills.
Attend workshops on networking, personal branding, and interviewing. No
matter how technical your major may be, having good soft skills will always
make you more employable than those without them.
20. Learn how to speed read.
You’ll be doing a lot of reading in college. Set aside 10-20 minutes a day
for a week to learn how to speed read. By doing this you can at the very
least double your reading speed. This is a huge competitive edge and
definitely worth the small time investment.
Get off campus and explore the city youre living in. Go to the beach. Go to
the mountains. Go on a hike. Do something adventurous. Ive been living in
Los Angeles for two years now and I still feel like I barely know the city
and the surrounding areas. This is something I plan on fixing in the next
There you have it. The 21 best college tips on the internet I could come up
Pick and choose a few things that you want to focus on this year and then
leave a comment with your own college tips!
Stefano Ganddini is a Junior at the University of Southern California and
creator of Collegetopia, a blog that provides students with advice, tips,
and hacks on how to be successful in college, both inside and outside of
the classroom. He writes about topics ranging from productivity to career
growth to personal development.