If you're a high school senior or a recent graduate, you’re likely starting to prepare for your college career. This is an incredibly exciting time in your life, as you’re going to be on your own for the first time.
But starting school — whether it’s community college, trade school, or a four year university — is also nerve wracking. So, we’ve prepared a list of our top 48 tips for incoming college freshman.
Money saving tips
As you start your college experience, you’re going to find you need to budget. The phrase “broke college students” exists for a reason.
Taking some time to follow these money saving tips can help you out greatly. You may be able to save some money on tuition or find on-campus resources you may not have known about before.
1. Keep scouting for scholarships
A lot of folks only think of school funding options when the bills are almost due. But many scholarships, like the Nitro Scholarship, are available year-round.
And because you’ll be applying at off-peak times, you’ll have less competition from other students, and therefore a higher chance of snagging those funds. Every scholarship dollar you earn is a one less dollar tacked onto your student loans.
2. Use the resources you're paying for
le.Everything you see on your campus is paid for, in part, by your tuition dollars. In that way, not taking advantage of campus resources is like leaving money on the table. You’ve already paid for it. Why not use it?
Free gym memberships, free movies, free lectures, free resume editing, free, free, free. But you know nothing is actually free. You’re paying for it. So go ahead and use it!
cIf you're living on campus, don't bother with a car unless you absolutely need it, say to get to a job.
Most college campuses with dorms are designed to be walkable and that's especially so these days as colleges compete with each other to be more sustainable. With buses, bikes, college shuttles, and car shares, there are lots of options to get you where you need to go.
Why fiddle with the cost of parking, insurance, and gas when most of the time your car will sit parked anyway?
4. Comparison shop for your books
There's no reason to spend a fortune on your college textbooks with so many options at your disposal.
These days, you can comparison shop online, buy your books used, or even rent them. Take a look at all of your options before you start forking over hundreds per textbook.
Lots of clubs and organizations offer free pizza if you attend their informational session. What's not to like about free food? You might even find out about cool programs or opportunities in the process.
Studies have found that students who work 12 hours or less each week actually do better in school than their peers who don't work, perhaps because the extra obligation forces them to focus and stick to a schedule.
Regardless, working can be beneficial to more than just your wallet—just remember to practice moderation. If you sign yourself up for too many hours at work, your grades will likely suffer as a result.
7. Avoid credit cards
The minute you turn 18, you become fresh meat for the credit card industry, especially if you're in college.
Credit card companies bombard college campuses with credit card offers, hoping young students with no financial experience will sign up, unable to resist the temptation of quick money. But credit card debt can pile up quickly and destroy your credit if you aren't careful.
Don't sign up for any credit card offers you receive until you are completely sure you understand how it works and are fully equipped to manage it responsibly. (And don't just take the salesperson's word on how easy and great it is. Their job is to get you to sign up.)
Better yet: Take a personal finance course or read books on the topic (there are plenty that aren't snooze-fests) and learn how to use credit cards responsibly and to your advantage.
8. Pay a bit towards your student loans
It's tempting to sign that promissory note and forget about your loans for the rest of the semester.
If you've got a part-time gig and you have a little money coming in, why not kick at least some of it toward any of your student loans that are accruing interest? Making interest-only payments can save you thousands of dollars over the life of your loan, and allow you to get out of debt faster.
It doesn't have to be a ton — just $10 a month or a chunk of your summer earnings will help whittle down that balance and make your student loan payments that much smaller after you graduate.
9. Scrutinize financial offers and quick-cash work
There are a surprisingly large number of jobs available for college students to earn some quick cash.
Some are legitimate, like selling programs for football games or doing experiments for the psychology department. But not all financial offers have your best interests at heart. Be wary of signing your name away for a "free gift."
And while selling your plasma may seem like an easy way to make a buck, make sure you're not doing so at the expense of your well-being.
When you're living on campus, sometimes the food options can get monotonous, to say the least.
If you're tired of turkey sandwiches, try other locations on campus. These days, campuses offer a lot of different styles of food to cater to all kinds of students. Depending what resources you have in your room, consider cutting down on your meal plan and buying more groceries you can eat in your dorm, like frozen dinners or PB&Js.
11. Take your bike
Faster than walking and better for the environment and your bod, biking is a great and efficient way to get around campus.
If you already have one at home, take that baby to college with you!
Tips for making new friends freshman year
Another big stress point for incoming students is finding a new group of friends. Follow these tips to learn more about student organizations and other ways to make friends your freshman year.
1. Join clubs
Speaking of friends, get out there and make some! Find a club, group, or activity that's your vibe and get involved.
Sitting in your dorm room gets boring after a while. Plus, for many people, the friends they make in college are friends they have for the rest of their lives.
Find people that make you feel like yourself and like you belong. Setting up that social network is vital to combatting loneliness and homesickness in your first year of college.
2. Avoid a really serious relationship
(I know, I know. Just hear me out.)
More than any other time in your life, college is your time to learn about yourself. It's a time to explore possible career paths, friends, and interests. A time to go on road trips and explore new places and people.
College students in serious, long-term relationships, rightly so, devote a lot of time to their significant other. But that time and mental energy has to come from somewhere. When you’re spending time with your partner, you’re less likely to be spending that time forging new friendships, trying new things, or just generally focusing on your own needs.
Only you can know what is right for you, but if you’re in a relationship or considering one, remember to prioritize time for yourself, your interests and, most of all, your studies.
3. Be candid with your roommate(s)
You have to see this person every single day. You also want your room to be a refuge and a place to relax and unwind. But you can’t do that if there’s tension between you and your roommate or roommates.
Set your expectations up front. Establish a way of communicating to each other when you need privacy, quiet, support, or space.
When a disagreement arises between you, as they tend to do with most roommates eventually, the most important thing to do is talk through it. You could even try texting or emailing if face-to-face is too uncomfortable for you.
Whatever you do, don't let issues fester. The longer a problem builds up, the bigger the fallout will be when things inevitably come to a head.
4. Leave your dorm room
If you're new at college and struggling to adapt to a new social scene, you're not alone. Not by a long shot.
It's tempting when you're going through a transition to isolate yourself and stick to the comfort of your dorm. But keeping yourself roped off is one of the worst things you can do. Isolation is self-perpetuating.
You need friends to help keep you happy and motivated for school. But you'll never be able to meet people who can help if you don't leave your room.
And remember: You're not the only one! There are probably others that feel just like you do. Seek them out and you can lean on each other as you get adjusted to college life.
Your packing list for college is probably pretty long, but there are some things you may find useful that you won’t think of. After all, your dorm room is often fairly small in size, so you may need to get smart with the things that you decide to bring.
Here are our top tips for creating your college packing list.
1. Say it with me: smart storage
College dorms, especially at older schools, were designed in an era where people had less ... stuff.
Nowadays, you have to be strategic if you want to fit all your shoes, books, snacks, notes, laundry detergent, shower caddy, and all those other must-haves into your room.
If you're in a dorm with shared bathrooms, or your bathroom is small and shared by multiple people, also consider that you may need to set aside space to get ready in your room.
Luckily, finding solutions isn't hard. Most big-box retailers have a plethora of specialty dorm items, including bed lifts to maximize under-the-bed storage, gadgets to create over-the-door storage space, and even slim hangers to maximize closet space.
2. Shower shoes (trust us)
Foot fungus isn't fun. All it takes is a cheap pair of flip flops to prevent an irritating case of athlete's foot.
Buy some. Wear them. You're welcome.
3. Eye masks, ear plugs, and fans
You'll have a lot on your plate, so you're going to need your beauty rest. But your sleep schedule may not coincide with that of your roommate or neighbors.
Learn how to sleep no matter the conditions. If your roommate wants to keep the lights on to read, block it out with a sleep mask. If your neighbor is blasting their tunes while you're trying to nap ahead of a big exam, block the sound with a fan, a white noise machine, and/or ear plugs.
Do whatever you have to do to ensure you can recharge and get some sleep whenever you need to.
4. Get a good pair of walking shoes
College sCollege students have busy lives and college campuses require a lot of walking, which means a little injury like a blister or an ankle sprain can make everyday life a total slog. Invest in a quality pair of supportive sneakers to keep your feet healthy and keep you moving forward.
Whatever footwear you choose, you might want to bring along some blister bandages. Yes, they exist! (And they are awesome.)
College study tips
Of course, the entire reason you’re going to college in the first place is to study. While having fun is important, you’ll need to map out some time to dedicate to homework, exams, and other coursework you may have.
Here are our top tips for mapping out study time and remaining diligent with due dates so you can get good grades.
1. Go to class
Skipping class is easy to do when you’re on your own—but there are some very important reasons to make sure you go.
The first reason is that ditching can hurt your GPA. Some professors take attendance and include it as part of your grade.
But it’s bad to skip even your huge, lecture hall classes. Going to class means learning things that aren’t in your textbook. And even if they aren’t taking formal attendance, professors know generally who shows up to class and who doesn’t.
As you'll see further down the last, forging relationships with your professors could lead to other important career help down the line.
2. Get to know your professors
Professors are gatekeepers on the road to professional success. For starters, asking for help on class material means you're likely to do better on exams and get better grades. Obv.
Professors are also the people who could offer you part-time work to collaborate on research with them. You can pick up valuable skills and knowledge from them that aren’t taught in any class.
Local employers also often reach out to professors looking for promising students to recruit after graduation. If you get to know your professor, you're more likely to come to mind when those employers come calling.
Professors are more than likely going to be the source of your letters of reference, too. If you’re considering graduate school, you’ll want glowing letters of recommendation from your professors as part of your application package.
Do the work now to earn that reputation. Go to class. Reach out when you have questions. Go to office hours, even if just to chat and get to know their field of study a bit more.
3. Actively develop the habit of working ahead
Give your future self a break.If nothing on Netflix looks good, why not just pick up your textbook instead?
Getting a head start on work means less stress and higher quality work. Those who put their work off are more likely to have multiple assignments competing for their attention at the same time.
And if an emergency pops up, you’ll have the freedom to tackle it without having to worry about sacrificing your grades.
But seriously, Future You really wants you to go ahead and just read that chapter now.
4. Seek out your adviser
If you’re having any problems with your coursework, don’t be shy. Reach out to your adviser to set up a meeting to talk.
They know the campus resources best and can tell you about tutoring centers, websites, methods of learning, and other professional resources to help you succeed in your studies.
5. Make a weekly schedule
Schedules are absolutely key to staying on task and meeting all of your obligations. It’s much easier to make it to the gym every week if you’ve carved out a certain time of the week to do so.
The best thing about schedules is they're self-perpetuating. Once you’re in the habit, it’s a whole lot easier to just stick to your schedule, get things done and keep on going.
Making friends with the people in your class is helpful for multiple reasons. If you're sick and need someone to take notes for you, you'll have someone you can rely on. And when it comes time to study for exams, you can cross-reference your notes to gain a larger understanding of the material. A study group or buddy is a great way to level up your study habits.
Finally, if you understand the material better than your classmate, explaining a concept to them has been proven to help you learn the material even better than just studying it alone.
7. Know your procrastination triggers
Another way to help you focus on your studies is to know your procrastination triggers and head them off at the pass.
If your BFF usually texts you in the evening, but you've got a big paper due the next day, tell them you're putting your phone on silent to study and set up a time to catch up later.
If you often find yourself going for snacks and drinks when you study, stock up and be prepared before you start your study session.
And if your attention span just can't handle reading 100 pages in one sitting, accept that and plan for it. Start reading ahead a few days in advance and chip away at it over time.
Whatever stops you from studying, give some thought to why that is and look for workarounds to keep you focused.
8. Find a favorite study nook
Another way to get the maximum amount of studying done is to find a favorite study nook.
Some people like to be in a busy central building with noise around them and plenty of opportunities to chat with friends and take a break. Other people need the absolute quiet and solitude of the library stacks in order to be able to focus. Figure out how you work best and seek out a spot that you can rely on whenever you need to do work.
9. If you’re undecided, reach out to career services
Lots Lots of students enter school not knowing what career path they want to choose. That's OK! College is a great place to explore your interests and find a field that matches your talent and skills.
But you don't want to take too long to decide. The longer you wait to declare, the more classes you'll need to take to catch up to other students in the major.
If you fall behind and don't graduate on time, it could mean spending thousands extra on tuition. So plan a visit to career services. They can help you narrow down your choices, as well as point out some options you may not have been aware of.
10. Don’t give up on the classes you want
A lot of people assume that if a class is full in the online registry, there is no way to get into it. But that's not always the case.
The first thing you'll want to do is continuously check the website throughout the summer up until the first day of class to see if there is an opening. Even if the registar shows 0 available slots, try to add the class anyway.
Sometimes the registrar's website will only update once a day at midnight. That means if another student drops the class at 10 a.m., it won't be reflected online until midnight. The only way to be sure is to keep trying to add it.
Even if you can't add yourself online, attend the first class of the semester and talk to the professor. Some are willing to sign a permission slip to add you to the class manually. Other times, especially in larger classes, students will drop from the class due to conflicts or financial issues, freeing up slots for you.
Bottom line: don't assume you have to settle. Be proactive and try for the classes you really want.
11. Read the syllabus and put important dates in your calendar immediately
Syllabi can be rather dry documents, but they contain a lot of vital information about your classes and the professors teaching them.
Read them carefully and make sure you fully understand the policies about absences and late work so you'll know the consequences of missing your class obligations.
Plus, a major pet peeve of professors is when students ask a question that's already on the syllabus. Don't risk giving your professor the impression you're careless or haven't been paying attention.
Taking a few minutes at the beginning of the semester to read the syllabus and mark big assignment dates in your calendar is just one more way to prevent a headache later in the year.
12. Investigate all the available classes
Website design. Pottery. French. Canoeing.There's a lot to learn at school beyond the requirements for your major.
When you're on a college campus, you have experts in a number of different fields available to you simply by taking a class or attending an on-campus event.
Don't just take the easiest course options you can find. If your school requires a physical education credit, take the chance to learn a sport you've always wanted to try. If you need to take an art class, scan all the options and don't be afraid to try something unique.
13. Read your written assignments out loud
A little trick of the trade from a writing professional: Read your writing out loud.
Reading things out loud makes your brain slow down and process your ideas and words in a different way. When you're forced to actually speak the words, you're more likely to catch missing words, errors in verb tense, and fragmented sentences.
14. Map out your classes before the first day of school
The first day of class is a busy, whirlwind of a day. You're finalizing your course schedule, making sure you have all your supplies, and trying to make new friends.
Make things easier on yourself and map out your route before you leave your room.
Knowing where you're going, as well as where you might grab lunch or a snack between classes, helps you to focus on everything else without feeling overwhelmed.
Tips for time management and reducing stress
If you're worried about feeling stressed during the school year, you're not alone. Any transition can be hard and starting college is no different. Between challenging college classes, making new friends, and living on your own for the first time, it can be difficult.
Luckily, there are some ways you can help reduce stress and get better at time management. This will set you up for success throughout your college career and allow you to develop habits that will help you in the future.
1. Try the Pomodoro method (or another productivity system)
TimeTime management is a core skill that every industrious adult needs to have and everyone has their own way of developing it.
One common technique is thePomodoro method. Using a timer and a piece of paper, you commit to working for 25 minutes before taking a break for 5. The cycles repeat four times until you take a longer break.
While many people swear by the method, it's by no means the only one out there. Research different ways to increase your productivity and manage your time to maximize the results of your study sessions.
2. Create a stress-relieving toolbox
College has a lot of moving pieces to juggle and even your most zen friends can get frazzled when exam time rolls around. Know what activities best help you to de-stress and recharge at the busiest times of your semester.
Whether it's reading a fun book, talking to friends, listening to YouTube videos offalling rain, or taking things out on a punching bag, you need to be able to release that energy so you can refocus.
This may be news to you, but exercise is actually good for you! But seriously, whether it's running, sports, yoga, dance, or something else entirely, exercise has multiple benefits specific to college students.
Getting your blood pumping keeps your brain sharp for studying and learning. And staying at peak health means you're less likely to get sick or injured and miss out on classes.
It's also a great way to burn off some steam after a difficult exam, a fight with your roommate, or to just relax and allow your mind to focus on something that's not school for a little while.
4. Ask for help
On a personal level, if you’re having any trouble at all, reach out and ask someone for help.
If you’re feeling anxious or depressed, go see the folks at your campus counseling center. If you’re having problems with your roommate, reach out to your RA. If you're having trouble paying for college, talk to your school's financial aid office.
Don’t isolate yourself and don’t try to solve it alone. There are people that can—and want—to help you. You just have to seek them out!
5. Call home
It's important to ease your transition from home to college by keeping in contact with your family.
Your family knows you best and can help to support your in your studies and make sure you're taking care of yourself when you're first out on your own. Besides, mom and dad probably miss you just a bit, too!
Safety tips for your college campus
While college campuses tend to be safe places, you should still take extra steps to ensure you feel safe during your time there. Here are our top tips for on campus safety.
1. Don’t walk around campus alone at night
College campuses tend to be safe places, but there's no reason to take needless risks if you don't have to. Find a friend or campus safety worker who is willing to accompany you when you have to walk home late at night.
If you're an evening runner, consider getting a companion to run with.
2. Take your keys anytime you leave your dorm room
Consider this scenario: You go to take a shower, leaving your keys in the room. Your roommate doesn't realize you're in there and leaves, locking the door. Now you're locked out of your room in a towel, with your shower shoes and caddy, but no keys.
Bottom line: Always take your keys.
3. Use the buddy system on weekends
If you're going out to a party or new place or meeting new people, go with someone you trust and look out for each other.
If you have friends 21 and over who drink, keep an eye out to make sure they don't consume too much and they're making healthy decisions. And if you're consuming a beverage, alcoholic or not, don't let it out of your sight. If you do, don't drink it. Unfortunately, there are all too many stories of students who were unwittingly drugged at parties.
Other top tips to set you up for college success
There are a few things we suggest doing that didn't quite fit into the other categories. The kind of small, but significant things that can make your time in college go more smoothly. So, our final few college tips for incoming freshman include the following.
1. Do your laundry on weekdays
Laundry is a pain in the butt.
Most people tend to do their laundry on weekends when they have the most free time, so you'll avoid a lot of hassle and competition for machines if you do your washing on a weekday. Laundry time is also a great time to multitask, so plan to do homework or catch up on reading assignments while you're at it.
Another reason to avoid peak weekend times: If you start the washer, leave to do something else and come back to put your clothes in the dryer, you might find that someone has left them on top of the machine or worse, in a puddle of bleach.
2. Make sure you’re feeding your body healthy fuels
Your brain needs nutrients to digest and store all this knowledge you're gaining in school. Make sure it's functioning at tip-top shape.
Stay hydrated. If you feel thirsty, you're already dehydrated. Get a reusable water bottle and take it with you everywhere you go. Make sure the foods you eat are wholesome and varied. Prioritize proteins, "good" fats, vegetables, whole grains and fruits. (Most of the time. It's college—you're not going to get through it without the occasional treat.)
And make sure to have healthy, power-packed snacks on hand like wasabi almonds, a granola bar, or pre-made avocado toast.
College is a huge change: The classes are harder. You're on your own. Your surroundings are new. Your friends are different. Your family may be far away.
Learning to develop resilience is a key step in increasing your emotional intelligence. It's a skill you'll need for the rest of your life. But that doesn't mean you don't have the tools to handle it. If you've made it to college, you've already shown you've got the goods to succeed. Have faith, keep it at it, and be proactive.
If you need help staying positive, seek out friends, a counselor, or even an online outlet that resonates with you and lifts you up.
Do whatever you have to do to stay in a positive mindset and keep putting in effort towards your degree. It will pay off in the long run.
4. Make the choices you want to make
You’re an adult now. Wear the clothes you want. Try being a vegetarian. Cut off all your hair. Grow your hair super long. Read books you're not used to reading. Try listening to music you might assume you don't like.
Prioritize your time like it's a precious resource. Spend it on activities you want to be doing. Get to know your own likes and dislikes.
College is a time of investing in and redefining yourself. As you get older your job, partner, kids, and other life obligations will inevitably make it harder to spend your time freely. Now, while you've got the time, make the most of it.
5: Finally ... have fun!
If you're off to college soon, you'll likely have heard a million college graduates talking wistfully about how much they loved college and how excited they are for you.
There's a reason for that. College is awesome.
Remember: You only go to college once. Enjoy your time and get everything you can get out of it.
Get more advice for college planning with Nitro
Starting the college planning process early is incredibly important. With so many new experiences happening at once, you’ll want to be prepared. From the time you start your college apps to when you start repaying your student loans post graduation, Nitro College offers great resources to help you out along the way.
Discover more tips and tricks for every aspect of college student life including scholarship resources, student loans, and financial aid. You can also apply for Nitro's $2,000 No Essay Scholarship in just a few minutes.
Carol Katarsky is a contributing writer for Nitro. She is an award-winning journalist with extensive experience writing about both finance and education. Her corporate and non-profit clients include AIG, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Project Management Institute. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, son, and one cat more than she should. Read more by Carol Katarsky