What to Expect for Your First Year of University? (Tips & Guides)

Last Updated on June 28, 2022 by David Shaw

Expections and Tips for First Year's Entering University

It’s the time of the year again for new intakes! Entering college is a big moment to celebrate for incoming new students, especially if they’re leaving home to a new place or state. However, we understand that some of you might have mixed feelings of nervousness, and confusion because you never know what to expect, and that is totally cool and normal!

Admittedly, things can be daunting in a society full of bright and interesting youths and young adults, especially when everyone looks like they know what they’re doing except you.

In this article, I will share with you some gold nuggets and truths about what you should expect going into college during your freshmen year based on my personal 4 years of tertiary learning across 3 different colleges and universities.

Your First Year of College Is Really Short (and Precious)


This is one of the lessons I feel only people from experience can emphasize and advise others because we often misuse our time and procrastinate on things that are really unproductive. Deep down we know how important the concept of time is, but are often sleeping on this philosophy. Among the countless individuals I’ve encountered in my college years, almost everyone can tell me something they wish they’d done or would’ve done differently in their first year of college which could’ve channeled a productive future impact. I hope this reminds you, future first years and freshmen, that there is a lot of value to this precious first year of college!

Every college student will only have 10 to 16 weeks of each semester depending on your school system. Once you settle on the thought of how fast a month can pass by, the next thing is realizing how quickly a year can also pass by. If you’re already at a point where this fact speaks volumes to you, then it’s time to act early and do the right thing! Curate a solid plan — list down questions, goals, and productive things you’d like to achieve in your first year. Research them, break them down into simpler tasks and get to work!

Win the morning, you’ll win the day.

Win the day, you’ll win the week.

Win the week, you’ll win the month.

Win the month, you’ll win the year.

Small wins stack up.

Richard Yu, Entrepreneur and Business Coach

I can’t stress enough how precious and short our time in college is really is, so don’t let permanent choices be wasted on unproductive tasks and distractions! If there’s one thing you should remember from this article, I will definitely say it’s this. Make use of your first year to identify your goal, and once you set your ambitions aflame, let nothing will stop you from success by contributing small progress and improvement daily.

Mental Burnouts Are Very Common During Your First Years

tired student resting head on table

Entering college exposes you to a whole new spectrum of new challenges unlike any other stage of your education journey. From choosing and planning classes, figuring out which clubs to join, and finding your ideal social community, there are simply a plethora of small yet impactful decisions that could very well impact your future.

Many undergrads experience burnout because they either forget to take healthy breaks or just simply don’t know when to stop impressing the community by trying too hard. Don’t go chasing success by only knowing how to impress others, instead learn to value your own ideas and opinions before others. By learning to put down your ego, you’ll be less likely to get disappointed in yourself because you don’t always have to conform to the standards of others. Never let peer pressure compare yourself to others, but instead work on yourself, and a better version of your past!

I hope these won’t overwhelm and scare you, but simply trying to give you a heads up because I personally believe burnouts are avoidable. Most of the time, even the most successful, driven, and positive people experience burnout during or after the peak of their careers, but the strong ones always learn to pick themselves back up.

A Change in Perspective or a Little Burst of Courage Will Help You Greatly

lightbulb and mindmaps

My mistake during college was focusing too much on the obstacle, blinding me from the solution which is often easily accessible if I simply looked for the right sources and place for help. In the end, the solution to my problem was just a matter of mustering a little courage, and looking for tutors which helped guide me through tough assignments and concepts.

The next time you are caught up in stress from school, slow down and remind yourself help is always around, learn to break problems down into smaller challenges and go through them one at a time while taking consistent breaks and reflecting on what you could’ve done differently or better. In the grand scheme of things that are not in our control, time and patience are your best teachers at facing new challenges.

You’ll Likely Sign Up for Random Classes (Whether You Like It or Not)

room with 7 doors

If you think you’re going into college spending 60 to 80 percent of your of taking classes related to your major, you’re probably wrong. In reality, the amount of curriculum related to your major should only constitute around 50 to 60 percent because colleges and universities typically require students to take general education or elective classes of your interests non-related to your major.

That doesn’t sound too bad right? But the truth could often be disappointing, because like every other student who wants to maintain a high GPA, you’re probably going to resolve to choose easy-A classes to protect or boost your GPA, especially after knowing how much it hurts to see your cumulative GPA drop from 4.0 to 3.6 from a class you messed up.

You’ll never know, sometimes the pressure of maintaining a high GPA, or perhaps the choice to get more peaceful hours of sleep by not choosing a difficult class will draw you into taking easy general education classes.

Easy-A Classes Will Soon Enough Be Too Tempting to Avoid

Going into college I was prepared to take a nerdy amount of computer science classes, but I ended up taking classes like Philosophy, introduction to Theater, Biology, and Economics which you gotta agree is absolutely not relevant to my declared major at all! And for those wondering, yes, I took them solely because they were ‘easy-A’ classes at my university. Conveniently, here’s my other article on recommendations of easy A class to choose from in unversities.

Prioritize Better Professors Over a Desirable Class Schedule

college kid with class schedules

The only major reason for choosing the right professor’s class rather than a more favorable class schedule is pretty much related to maintaining a good GPA. Otherwise, if you feel confident or comfortable with any lecturer who might give you a difficult time securing a good grade, you can simply disregard this tip.

However, if you’re in a college plagued with short-staffed issues, you ought to do everything you can to register for classes early or try your luck with a ‘TBA-lecturer’ labeled class.

I find that short-staffed faculty issues are a less common thing for elite or competitive private universities which have the privilege to control the number of students they enroll to achieve a low student-to-faculty ratio. Or else, you should be expecting to see many popular classes having short-staffed faculty issues in your university.

The Quality of the Lecturer Makes All the Difference

teacher with students

This might be obvious to some based on their prior experience, but I choose to mention this because I know some professors or lecturers exceptionally skilled in their profession often played a very influential role among students, enough to make students switch majors and give up their current ones.

On the other hand, I find it incorrect to categorize a course or class with terms like ‘good’ or ‘bad’, because the quality and usefulness of its contents may be subjective. For example, in a Calculus class, some might say its content is useful while some might disagree because the contents apply differently to everyone.

In my opinion, lecturers play the single biggest role to help you determine if a class is well-delivered, and nothing else will change that. I believe there are 3 main factors to define a well-delivered class:

  • How passionate the lecturer is about explaining their knowledge of the subject
  • How patient and thoughtful they are about the challenges of teaching
  • How genuine they want their students to succeed

Often in every university, there will always be professors that either teach long enough to become the ‘evil professor’ that made people hate their major or the ‘good professor’ that made students fall in love with another field of study. So the next time you find a difficulty liking a class or doubting the choice of your major, you probably just haven’t stumbled upon a good professor yet, so don’t always be hard on yourself if you feel some difficult classes of your major don’t completely align with your interests, maybe it’s because of how your professor delivered the class.

Universities Have an Abundance of Free Resources (Always More Than You Know)

free groceries in basket

I am not exaggerating when I say free stuff is everywhere around campus if you look at the right places, although I may speak mostly for U.S. universities, so let’s first talk about food, shall we?

Food security is taken seriously for college students in the US, and colleges typically allocate a good amount of funds to combat food security among students or partner with food security organizations to provide students access to food. Besides, the most popular and budget-friendly trick that clubs and faculties do to garner attention or spread information is through food, which sometimes comes in gift cards just by having students participate.

Besides, many for-profit organizations or companies that promote themselves on-campus always make sure to come with goody bags, gift cards, tech, and freebies to make sure they can leave with profits and leads. Anyways, the list goes on but here’s a quick list of things and resources on-campus that you can look into according to your needs.

  • Food pantry/bank (Groceries, Cooking oil, Wheat, Canned food, Vegetables, Fruits)
  • Mental, academic, and career counseling
  • Textbook or Software vouchers (Adobe, Google Cloud, Microsoft)
  • Stationaries (Scantrons, Pencils, Notepads, Sticky notes)
  • Food coupons
  • Merchandises (Hat, Clothes, Bags)
  • Basic pharmacy care & common prescription drugs
  • Toiletries (Toothbrush, Tampons, Shampoo, Deodorant)
  • Contraceptives (Condom, Birth-control pills)

In the end, you really should realize you’re in some way the person paying for these ‘free’ gifts for the big bucks you pay for the college degree. So why say no to free stuff on campus if it even means a little guilt for a few extra free snacks? You’ve actually paid for most of them in some way!

Good Connections Gives You More Benefits Than a High GPA

3 friends laughing

Most people only verbally tell you this, but I’m here to suggest and guide you on ways to make that happen. Here’s the truth for most things in life, if you simply can’t get what you want or the help you need, you probably just haven’t found the right person that can help get things done.

Well, the next question you might ask is where should you look, or what should you really look for? In my years of college, let me share with you the places, communities, or sources to often find good connections that might even set up your path ahead of graduation in your career.

Student Councils or Unions

  • A student council, or whichever similar terms a university might call it, is a group of students representative of their university or college. The power student unions possess can often directly impact the school’s direction or policies because they work closely with the school’s administrative board.
  • Befriending friends or even affiliating yourself among these crowds, you simply expose yourself to professional connections, up-to-date news, and exclusive resources from college insiders. Although you should note that involving yourself within the social circle of these people might drag you into some political dramas from time to time.

Campus Clubs

  • If you prefer a slightly more low-key experience in college or university, I highly suggest looking into joining campus clubs, primarily career or concept-driven clubs.
  • Campus clubs, depending on how large or professional their settings are, can potentially connect you with the brightest students among peers of similar interest while staying low-profile from other social circles within the campus. With these connections, you can be sure to learn more exclusive knowledge taught out of class but rather based on their personal projects and experiences.

College Departments Events

  • If two of the above don’t sound like your thing, the next best thing is connecting with faculties who can easily provide you with insightful and exceptional opportunities to kickstart your career or ambitious goals.
  • Universities and colleges typically have departments for different disciplines of study like Science, Business, Liberal Arts, etc. On open days or events organizations by these departments, take advantage of them by connecting with lecturers and professors who can sometimes be veteran industry experts in their field of studies.
  • Finding the right mentor could easily give you anything from the best research projects, intern opportunities, connections to industry experts, university partners from huge organizations, and more.

Now that you’ve got a good idea of where to find the brightest and most driven students on your campus, getting into the dean or president’s least should be the least, or even none of your interest because you can equip yourself with resources through bright peers, and can be sure you’ll secure a bright future full of good opportunities ahead of you from all the hard work.

Textbooks and External Paid Courses Are a Waste of Money

textbooks with money on top

It’s 2022, it might be obvious enough to you realize by now that $100+ textbooks or e-textbooks are straight-up rip-offs or scams. Yes, I said it, your Biology, Calculus, or Physics textbooks that cost over $100 are a complete waste of money, but don’t say that a textbook publisher’s face. Instead, the correct thing to do is to look for free Portable Document Format (pdf) versions or second-hand textbooks from your college seniors or other marketplaces.

Realistically, I just don’t see the need for professors to enforce students to buy textbooks or third-party educational platforms to access, submit or worse take exams out of our pockets.

Research Before You Take Instructors That Impose Expensive Third-Party Academic Services

You probably will stumble across instructors who use expensive services like WebAssign or MyMathLab to conduct their classes. Although I am not saying all professor who uses third-party education platforms to run their class is doing a bad job, most really are. Here’s a rule of thumb, if your instructor requires you to pay $100 or above for materials required in their class, it is usually the best to avoid them, given that this might also hint at their skill to deliver a quality class experience.

I’ve had a Philosophy professor which was the only option for the semester who required us to buy a $160 third-party educational platform service which he definitely took a cut from, and had us do quizzes and exams on that sketchy educational platform which I knew he was just too lazy to do himself. From that bad experience, anytime I hear other professors conducting their classes in a similar style, they are automatically under my radar to watch out for before having to choose their classes.

Final Advice

I hope by now you’ve understood college and universities obviously do have the potential to offer more than we can chew, especially during the first year. If you’ve made it this far, a last golden tip for you incoming freshmen is to be a nice person to work in college, because you stand out and get noticed by the right people.

Learn to ‘listen’ before we speak or judge, and don’t easily buy into vague advice like being open to making new friends, because genuine and true friends never come by easily speaking from experience. Join one or two campus communities that you’re really interested in or passionate about, start slow, and make friends carefully and diligently. Let time filter out and tell between genuine and bad friends.

With these advices that I’ve learned from my prime years in college, you should be able to be in control through your university years and create really awesome memories.

David Shaw

I enjoy blogging about the college experience, teaching people how to navigate and hack their way through college. I also enjoy promoting financial literacy among young individuals.

Recent Posts