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Overwhelmed at School? Some Tips for College Freshman

It’s September and for at least 2 million Americans, that means a new beginning at college campuses across the country. While the excitement of Orientation Week lingers on, class is now in session, so listen up: we’ve written this blogpost to give you freshman a head’s up on two major college pressures, and subsequently, mistakes to avoid and methods for success to make the most of your first year.

  1. Freshman Year Matters but Bad Grades Aren’t the End of the World

Let’s be clear: if you’re enrolled in a post-secondary program, your primary purpose is to complete said program, earning yourself an accreditation. Why else would you laden yourself with the average of nearly $30,000 in student debt to attend? It’s a time to invest in yourself through education, for your future.

But honestly, the first year of college is just as much about the experience of independence as it is about your academic mission. According to a Gallup-Purdue study, seeking out more social and extracurricular activities during college translates into greater career fulfillment later on.

If your social calendar is consistently taking precedence over your academic one however, your grades might not be hitting the mark. If severe enough, low grades could mean not being allowed to continue in your major or academic probation.

Yet, it’s worth noting that it’s not the end of the world – your future employer likely won’t care how you did in your first year Econ course. And according to Fiona Doyle, dean of the graduate division at University of California-Berkley, graduate school admissions put more emphasis on student academic progress than initial grades. While your GPA might take a hit, there’s always subsequent semesters to pull it up.

If this sounds like you …

What to do:

  • Find a study buddy: according to research from Berea College, students who surrounded themselves with studious peers spent more hours studying themselves and posted higher grades during their freshman year. Friends and good grades? Best of both worlds.
  • Meet your professors and use office hours: As a freshman, professors can be intimidating. If you’ve missed a few classes or feel lost in class, you might feel too sheepish to talk to them and seek help. You shouldn’t – remember that you’re paying for that service. Be honest, take responsibility and ask your professor how you can catch up. You might find they care about their student’s performance.

What not to do:

  • Think there’s no way out: tragically, there are students that commit suicide because of academic pressures. If you’re feeling significant stress or are considering self-harm, reach out immediately to your school’s mental health services program. They’re there to help and they can help you save your school year and your life.
  • Make Friends But Don’t Get Too Stressed Out About Popularity

In a lot of ways, the first year of college can feel like high school all over again. Sure, your parents aren’t there to enforce curfew and you won’t need a note to excuse you from class but there are some similarities.

For one, if you’re living in an on-campus residence, your assigned roommates and surrounding floormates mean there will already be group social dynamics to contend with, from the get-go.

Two, just like ninth grade, everyone’s new and trying to figure out where they belong. You’re now a fish in a much bigger pond, given the average high school size student population is roughly 800, while the average college has over 6,000 undergraduates or more than 45,000 at the 10 largest colleges.

Some look toward the Greek system to find new brothers and sisters, while others might find a bigger pool of people means a higher chance of finding someone who shares the same interests as you, whether through a school club or extracurricular. If you’re in your first year of school and haven’t found your tribe yet, don’t worry. Some tips below:

What to do:

  • Seek out experiences: If you don’t leave your dorm room, you can’t expect to make friends. Joining a sports team, whether you’re playing varsity or co-ed intramurals can be a great place to make friends and a way to stay healthy. Many schools have hundreds of student organizations and clubs – find one that’s in-line with your interests and you’re likely to find other students that you’ll get along with.
  • Positivity and empathy: A recent Stanford study on freshman found that those who exude positivity and/or empathy are likely to be more popular with peers, and are sought out for excitement and trust networks. Looks like Dale Carnegie was right!

What not to do:

  • Let things get out of hand: It’s no secret that a big part of campus life gravitates around alcohol. It can be a “social lubricant” but it can also be a danger to your health and your popularity. Binge drinking can lead to blackouts, which can lead to “shame-overs”: waking up the next morning with no idea what you did or with a recollection of some embarrassing moments. Stay in control and you should stay in the clear.

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