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What to expect your first college semester

First, congratulations on getting into college! All that hard work you put into getting into a postsecondary degree program is about to pay off — you’re on your way. Are you curious about what you can expect during that first semester in college? No matter where, when or how you start your college degree journey, that first semester is new for everyone.

Below are pro-tips, warnings and some fun facts about what college life looks like in your first semester. We cover things like professors, living on campus, freedom and responsibilities, scheduling your time, getting connected, finances and some potential challenges. And when you’re ready, we also created a College Resource Index, to help you store all this useful information for your own institution or degree program.

The following tips and best practices can be useful for both rising high school seniors and recent high school graduates.



General tips for your first college semester


  • Professors will treat you like an adult. They will expect you to arrive prepared and on time. Stay for a few minutes after class on the first day to introduce yourself to them! You don’t have to ask to leave the room or to use the restroom, and you are responsible for remembering when assignments are due.  Pro Tip: Professors are more likely to grade leniently if they know who you are when they are grading your papers or exams.
  • They really do want to see you succeed! Pro Tip: Ask them for help, see them in office hours, and make them your mentor or friend. They will be great recommenders in the future for jobs, internships, or grad school.
  • Professors want to get to know you. Pro Tip: Professors are great resources for letters of recommendation for future jobs or furthering your education, but you’ll need to get to know each other first!


Freedom and responsibilities

College life presents you with lots of free time, so take care of your responsibilities!

  • Financial responsibilities. Make sure you get your financial aid, and you pay for tuition and room and board. You can check your student portal to ensure this happens. Pro Tip: Stop by the financial aid office for help.
  • Class Responsibilities. There is lots of reading, but there are often few assignments and tests, so study hard because each assignment can be worth a large percentage of your grade! You have to buy course materials, like textbooks, notebooks, calculators, etc. Check to see if your bookstore offers a textbook rental program because this can be a cheaper option for getting your textbooks. Pro Tip: Reference your syllabus to know when in the semester you will need to purchase each book, but don’t wait until the last minute, because the bookstore may sell out!
  • Life Responsibilities. Take care of your body and mind. Make sure you keep in contact with your friends, family, and community. Pro Tip: Find a group of students whom you share a class with, and go do something fun together!
  • There will be less accountability than in high school.  Remember, it’s all on you! No one is going to make sure you do these things. Pro Tip: Organize and prioritize your responsibilities by using a planner or calendar.


Scheduling your time

Unlike high school, you pick your class schedule, so each day doesn’t look quite the same, and you won’t be in classes all day long.

Make sure you carve out time for:

  • Classes
  • Working
  • Sleeping
  • Studying
  • Student organizations
  • Socializing
  • Eating
  • Calling home
  • Doing laundry

Great resources for scheduling your time include: time management apps like Toggl or Focus Keeper, Google Calendar, a printed calendar, or even a whiteboard.

Getting connected

  • Student organizations. Joining a club or organization is a great way to make friends, and it looks good on your resume. Some examples include Greek life, academic fraternities, service organizations, book clubs, political groups, sports clubs, anime club, etc.
  • Social Life. There will be parties in all forms: the chill to the crazy; but Balance is Key. Remember, you are here to get a degree, so ensure you get good grades by prioritizing your coursework! It is a common myth that you need to go to parties to make friends, when in fact, you can make friends in lots of different ways in college! Take the time to spark up a conversation with your classmates before and after class.


  • Create a budget! Check out some of these budgeting apps: Mint, Nerd Wallet, or EveryDollar.
  • Make a list of all your known expenses for the upcoming semester. When budgeting, be sure to plan for things like fun, food, rent, health expenses, hygiene products, hair cuts, and transportation costs in addition to the costs of attending college.
  • Check-in on your spending frequently and ask yourself if there are any nonessential things that you are spending money on. If you are struggling with finances, stop by your school’s financial aid office to see what options might be available.


Potential challenges

  • Homesickness. You are not the only student who feels homesick; most everyone does! Call your family when you’re feeling homesick, lean on a new friend, talk to a counselor, or make your living space feel as much like home as you can.
  • Mental illness like anxiety or depression. Again, you’re not alone. Talk to a mental health professional. As a college student, these services are typically low-cost at school. Pro Tip: add your school’s counseling resources to your College Resource Index!
  • Frustration with Online Classes. Try to reflect on the things you are learning during your classes and focus on self-care. There is so much to look forward to! This start to classes online will be a way to dip your toes into the college experience before diving into in-person classes soon. Pro Tip: Check out our resource on Succeeding in Online Classes.
  • Unbalanced life. Some people don’t know how to use their new-found freedom. So their grades suffer, which sometimes means they have to drop-out. Prioritize academics, make study groups to hold you accountable, remember why you’re here

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On campus

Living on campus

  • Moving in. Residence halls will have designated move-in days with volunteers to assist with moving into your room. Don’t forget hygiene products!
  • Residence Life. It’s an excellent opportunity to make friends! Remember you have an RA (Resident Assistant) to help you with any troubles or questions.
  • Dining Halls. These are another great place to meet new people! Learn the schedule because they are not open all the time.
  • Laundry. Locate this ASAP because you will need to do laundry sooner than you think! Make sure you bring laundry detergent and lots of quarters.


First day of class

  • Intro classes will be your biggest classes. At large universities, some intro classes can have several hundred students that are taught by a professor and several teaching assistants. Pro Tip: Avoid distractions and get to know your professors by sitting near the front.
  • Arrive early to your first class, in case you get lost on the way, or you accidentally go to the wrong room.
  • You will receive a syllabus on the first day of class. This document outlines the semester’s calendar, expectations, attendance policy, grading policy, exam/paper schedule, and more.
  • If you realize that a class isn’t going to work out after the first day, go talk to your academic advisor immediately.  Adding or dropping a class as soon as possible will allow you to rework your schedule comfortably, and will be less likely to impact your financial aid. Pro-Tip: Adding/dropping classes can impact your financial aid, so be sure to consult with your academic advisor first.


Getting lost on campus

Getting around campus can be difficult, so find a map! Maps can be found electronically or at the student services building. Pro Tip: Find your classes by walking the campus the day before classes begin

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Getting lost (online)

  • Create bookmarks for important websites you’ll often be using. You can even create your own index document with hyperlinks to helpful sites and resources! Pro Tip: Use the sample index below to keep track of important websites!
  • Use a calendar or planner to keep track of assignments and class schedules. You can do this online or on paper – whichever works best for you!


First day of class (online)

  • Don’t get distracted! Block as many distractions as possible before starting class such as closing other tabs in your browser, turn off the TV, and turn your phone face down. Some students find that wearing headphones with a mic helps to keep focus.
  • Log in a few minutes before your class begins. Don’t rely on technology when you are in a rush!
  • If you have any technical issues and the class is not already recorded, send the professor an email afterwards to find out ways to make up/access the class. Pro Tip: Check out our resource on Succeeding in Online Classes.

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College resource index

Create your own College Resource Index document using this template.

Copy this list of resources to a new document. Next, add hyperlinks by highlighting the text, right-click and select the link or use ctrl + K (PC) or command + k (Mac), then copy/paste the corresponding URL.

Don’t forget to add your own too! Save your index in your bookmarks bar or on your desktop for quick access.

  • My School’s Homepage
  • My Student Portal
  • My School’s Academic Calendar
  • My School’s Financial Aid Office
  • My School’s Academic Advising
  • My School’s Counseling and Mental Health Center
  • My School’s Health Center
  • My School’s Clubs and Organizations
  • My School’s Library Home Page
  • My School’s Student Affairs Home Page
  • My Campus Bookstore Home Page
  • My School’s Dining Hall
  • Federal Student Aid


Next steps

Now that you have an understanding of what to expect your first semester, let’s explore some skills that will contribute towards your success in college beginning with our resource on stress management.

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