The freshman year of college brings abundant change — brand new routines, changes to living situations, new relationships, and increasing adult responsibilities among them. However, statistics show that college freshmen are a resilient bunch. After all, in 2020, 74% of college freshman returned for their sophomore year, according to the 2021 Persistence and Retention Report.
Educational leaders who are trying to level that steep freshman-year learning curve are increasingly suggesting more thoughtful onboarding of incoming students. One facet of that onboarding: Making them aware of common freshman-year pitfalls. That’s the goal of this guide. In it, we offer typical challenges faced by first-year college students, followed by practical ways to overcome these obstacles.
We’ll begin by addressing the common mistakes made by college freshman in general, then drill down to the challenges specifically facing online students and healthcare students, and conclude with a list of practical resources for all college freshmen.
Ready to bolster your resilience and prepare yourself for an amazing first year of college? Keep reading, and acquire all the tools you’ll need to dominate during your freshman year.
Mistake: Deprioritizing Their Mental and Physical Health
One of the most detrimental mistakes college freshmen can make is ignoring their mental and physical health. For instance, despite the commonality of conditions such as depression and anxiety, many first-year students may not take them seriously enough to seek treatment. And while society may jokingly instill a fear of the “freshman 15” in college newcomers, gaining weight can be a symptom of mental and physical struggles ushered in by an unhealthy diet or an overly sedentary lifestyle, both of which can harm your health for years to come.
Mistake: Failing to Form Good Study Habits
Even the brightest, most successful students must develop good study habits to have a fruitful college career. This can be a time of transition for students who may have succeeded in the past without extensive studying. But your ability to learn and understand the material is essential, and many college texts and materials are incredibly dense. A failure to intentionally create a study routine may lead to late-night cram sessions just to get passing grades.
Mistake: Falling into Credit Card Debt
Being a freshman may also mean taking control of your finances for the first time. Unfortunately, many college students don’t have the income to keep up with bills and expenses. This may cause them to start using credit cards, and while responsible credit card use can actually help you, irresponsible use can lead to many years of financial struggles. Therefore, college students should go the extra mile to avoid using credit cards they can’t afford to pay off quickly.
Mistake: Neglecting Financial Literacy
Although some consider the term “financial literacy” to be a new-age buzzword, it should be a helpful reminder that everyone can benefit from learning about money just like we learn about academic subjects. We have abundant books, websites, videos, and courses designed to teach financial literacy at our disposal, and college students who spend time researching and building their financial acumen will have a leg up in the long term. But sadly, college freshmen often skip these important lessons.
Mistake: Not Getting Involved on Campus
Many freshman students are so focused on their schoolwork and personal lives that they neglect campus life. However, did you know that getting involved on your college campus can provide a whole host of benefits — including building a robust network, getting better grades, participating in discounted trips and events, building your resume, learning leadership skills, feeling more connected to your college community, and discovering new interests? Without experiencing all that your campus life has to offer, your college experience may feel far less fulfilling.
Mistake: Not Taking Advantage of School Resources
It’s fairly common for college freshmen to simply not be aware of all their school has to offer; after all, you’re acclimating to a brand new place, so it takes time and energy to discover what’s available to you. Some of these unexplored resources may include writing centers, media rooms, used bookstores, food discounts, hair salons, safety programs, mental health services, etc. And better yet, many of these resources are free or discounted for all students.
Mistake: Rushing into Choosing a Major
Many students feel pressured to choose a major quickly — often because they want to figure out their career paths and not miss opportunities to take necessary requisites. However, this rush to choose can often cause more delays than solutions. While some students may be entirely sure about their majors, others may take months or even a year or more to figure it out, and that’s OK! It’s better to spend a semester or two discovering your professional passions than to feel forced to stick with a major you chose out of convenience or obligation.
Mistake: Skipping Classes
College is one of the first times in your life when attendance doesn’t feel mandatory. And that’s likely because it’s created for adults, and adults typically understand there’s no benefit to skipping a class that you’re both paying for and gaining valuable knowledge in to prepare you for a successful career. Of course, you can miss a class or two for legitimate reasons, but outright skipping class is a waste of your time, money, and future opportunities, and it can be a slippery slope toward failure.
Mistake: Staying Silent When They’re Struggling
No matter how smart and resilient you may be, most students struggle at some point. Personal issues, academic struggles, and other factors will likely impact your freshman year experience, yet many students hide their struggles out of shame. When you don’t reach out for help when it’s needed, you’re almost guaranteed to increase your suffering and impede your ability to pass a course — or worse yet, to even graduate.
Mistake: Ignoring the Importance of Good Sleep
Since many freshmen are getting their first taste of freedom, some may begin to make poor choices. One of the biggest mistakes is neglecting sleep. According to the CDC, sleep is essential for college students because it can help improve concentration, focus, and academic performance. Most college freshman need at least eight hours of sleep every night; if you’re getting far less, you can be at risk for adverse effects on your health and studies.
Online College Students: Common Mistakes to Avoid
If you’ve enrolled in an online college, you might believe there are no hidden obstacles to success. This may be especially true for students who also attended high school remotely. Nevertheless, attaining a college education is arduous, no matter where or how you receive your instruction. Therefore, you should do your best to prepare for your remote college experience just like any college freshman. Moreover, you should be aware of the fact that online college has its own unique set of challenges. Here’s a closer look at some of the most common ones.
Assuming Online Programs Are Easier
Just because you’re learning online doesn’t mean you’ll have an easier, less complicated experience — in fact, it can be quite the opposite. Sometimes subconsciously, many people don’t take work-from-home tasks as seriously as those that must be completed in person. But online learning is designed to reflect the same academic rigor as on-ground programs, meaning if you’re not properly prepared to take a college-level course, you may fall behind from the beginning.
To avoid this cyber trap, you must approach online learning just as you would any college-level course. This means developing good study/note-taking habits, finding study buddies, purchasing all necessary supplies, etc. You can also speak to those who have already taken similar online courses to ask them what to expect. This is especially helpful if you know someone who has had the same professor or taken the same class. Ask about what to expect and best practices for success, and you’ll start class armed with both knowledge and tools.
Failing to Communicate with Professors and Peers
The online learning modality can feel more isolating and anonymous. But while attending class online means you’ll likely get used to reviewing lectures and other course materials alone, you shouldn’t approach the entire experience alone. Your peers and professors are there — albeit at different times and in different places — so you should consider them a resource for discussing information, asking questions, and brainstorming ideas. Interpersonal engagement can help you better understand the material and prepare for exams. So while not communicating is a common mistake, failing to correct it can cost you in the form of comprehension or even your grade point average.
To avoid this mistake, you should make it a point to reach out to others early and often. For instance, you may consider introducing yourself to your professor by messaging them and giving them some insight about yourself. This is a great way to inspire a dialogue. Likewise, you can also do this with students whose comments resonate with you.
Not Creating a Dedicated Study Space and Schedule
Although learning online can allow you to set your own schedule, some make the mistake of assuming they can get to their work “whenever” — and therefore they never create a schedule. Being in the comfort of your own home can inspire some students to have a lax approach to managing their course load. Rather than sticking to a daily schedule or studying in a designated area, you may find yourself skipping days of instruction or working in front of the TV. However, doing so will only serve to make you fall behind and miss valuable details.
To avoid this mistake, you should first create a designated study space. Ideally, this is an entire room that you could use as a home office/private study room. However, if you don’t have enough room for such things, you can simply section off an area in one of your existing rooms. This section should be enough for a small table or desk, chair, computer, and other necessary materials. Then, use a paper calendar or calendar app to schedule study times, and also make note of any synchronous online classes you need to attend.
What Not to Do as a College Freshman in Healthcare
Healthcare students face their own set of unique challenges. As a future CNA, RN, LPN, NP, or MD — among other important titles — you’ll be learning information that can literally translate to life-or-death realities in your professional future. Therefore, you’ll likely need a different level of focus and dedication to thrive in this field. As a freshman just starting your healthcare education, here are some of the most common mistakes you might make — and how to avoid them.
Failing to Plan Prerequisites
In a healthcare major, prerequisites are in place to help you plan your academic journey. They can help you establish a specialization or build the skills necessary to thrive in your chosen career. However, since many students are overwhelmed with the massive course load before them, they may not plan their prerequisites effectively. This can result in a lack of direction in your academics and may cause you to need to take lower-level courses as a senior or even extend your time in college.
To avoid this mistake, healthcare students should take the time to research all requirements for their chosen major and determine a timeline — don’t forget to consider classes that are only offered during certain semesters. Perhaps more importantly, you should meet with an advisor as soon as possible. They can help you better understand what is required for your chosen path and which prerequisites need to be taken early to accomplish your educational goals.
Overlooking Volunteer and Shadowing Opportunities
Given that all healthcare majors require hands-on experience (and often internships), freshmen should consider the benefits of volunteering or shadowing others to grow their networks and gain valuable practical skills. These opportunities can provide an insider perspective and experience you may not receive elsewhere. But as a freshman student, you may not even realize these are options for you.
To avoid this mistake, consider searching for volunteer and shadowing opportunities before you officially begin your college career — or as early as possible in your freshman year. This will enable you to hit the ground running once the semester starts. You can learn about the hours, tasks, and other requirements of the various volunteering/shadowing opportunities to choose the best one for your career/educational goals. Consider consulting with an advisor or faculty to see if they are aware of any such opportunities, which can also help you establish a strong relationship from a very early time in your educational journey.
Limiting Exploration of Different Healthcare Fields
Lastly, many students choose to enter the healthcare field because they want to save lives and make a difference. However, they may make the mistake of assuming they already know which field is best for them, often based on assumptions about a path and their perception of the experiences of others. But this confidence in a chosen path is often misguided.
This is why all healthcare students, especially freshmen, should consider exploring as many healthcare fields as possible; doing so may enable you to discover a great field you never considered. Ask questions, volunteer, research, and explore different career paths. This will ensure that you get the most out of your education and truly choose the sector that’s best for your career goals.
10 Resources to Avoid Making These Common Mistakes
Although everyone makes mistakes, preparation can help limit them. These days, plenty of resources were created by those with insider knowledge to help up-and-coming students avoid making the same mistakes they made. Because everyone is different, there’s no foolproof resource. But new college students can do their best to absorb as much information as possible to help guide their decision-making throughout their college careers. Here is a list of some of the best resources on the internet:
- Chegg: Chegg offers valuable tools such as textbook rentals, math solvers, plagiarism checkers, career advice, and much more. This site is excellent for those seeking resources to improve their study habits and general college experience. It also offers links to student-discounted products and services and other resources to make college more economical.
- Collegehood Advice: This podcast, hosted by renowned college success coach Katy Oliveira, is designed to help college students survive and thrive. You’ll hear commentary and tips on topics such as how to get better grades, find a major, choose a career, get organized, and more.
- How to Adult: College is often a significant milestone on the road to adulthood. The How to Adult YouTube channel teaches young adults much-needed skills such as finding employment, seeking housing, managing finances, paying taxes, maintaining good mental health, completing household chores, and tasks that can help you become a thriving adult.
- “How to Survive and Thrive in College”: This excellent book for freshmen delves into topics such as how to budget, get along with roommates, become more social, thrive as a full-time student, and more. This book is ideal for students who may not have many friends on campus or friends nearby.
- Instructables: Going to college may mean learning how to do many things for the first time. Instructables provides step-by-step instructions on how to do everything from cooking to home repairs, how to build things, and more. Best of all, it has a contest section that allows students to enter competitions to showcase their skills and win prizes!
- TED: No matter if you lack motivation or need help overcoming past trauma, TED is a fantastic website that provides people with lots of practical, first-hand information. Because most of the videos are relatively short (20 minutes or less), this site is ideal for students who may be looking for answers but don’t have enough time to search extensively.
- The College Investor Audio Show: Bringing listeners world-class financial advice that can help students achieve financial freedom, this site was created to be an audio version of the blog of the same name. Listeners can learn about things such as how to get out of student loan debt, invest and build wealth, start a side hustle, and earn more money to fund a college career.
- “The Freshman Survival Guide”: If you prefer to get your information in written form, this book is a fantastic resource. Read thoughtful guidance and commentary on important topics such as social media, cultural changes, mental health, dating, money management, and more.
- Thomas Frank: More than 2.9 million subscribers follow Thomas Frank’s YouTube channel, which provides students with insights about how to study more effectively, be more productive, stay motivated, and other pertinent information that can help you hit the ground running in your college career. The channel also covers various valuable tools and resources that can be used to excel in college.