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30 Solutions to the 10
Common Mistakes College
Freshmen Make

Even though every college student is different, many of the mistakes they make during their freshman year are the same. Use this guide to learn about some of the most common ones and how you can avoid them.

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REVIEWED BY: Edumed Editing Staff

Last Updated: 06/05/2023

Editorial Values and Practices

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.

Solution: Balance Your Academics and Personal Life

Freshmen may want to schedule workouts to avoid extended periods of inactivity. Students should also ensure that they are maintaining a healthy social life; studying is essential, but making time for recreation is a great way to reduce stress, which can positively impact mental and physical health.

Solution: Make Caring for Yourself Part of Your Routine

Make no mistake: Your first year of college may inspire feelings of stress, depression, or anxiety. This is especially true if you’re struggling academically or dealing with personal issues. That’s why self-care needs to be built into your freshman routine from the outset. Prioritize rest, healthy eating, exercise, and fun — all of which are vital to your mental and physical health.

Solution: Take Advantage of School Resources

Another excellent way to care for your mental and physical health is to use available school resources. Colleges offer counseling services, support groups, mentorship programs, gyms, and other tools and resources that can allow students to seek help and thrive as students. Visit your school counseling office for more information.

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.

Solution: Develop a Consistent Study Schedule

If you’ve never set a study schedule, your first year is a great time to create one. Doing so can allow you to choose the best days and times to optimize your study time and get the best results. For instance, you know studying while tired is not ideal, so you may want to design a study schedule based on the times you are typically most studious and alert.

Solution: Explore Various Study Techniques

Everyone learns differently. If you struggle to digest new material, try a new technique. For example, while some may learn using more traditional methods such as flashcards, video, teaching others, enhancing their focus, etc., others may need more creative study approaches such as the SQ3R Method, retrieval practice, the PQ4R Method, and various others.

Solution: Find a Study Group or Partner

Some students struggle to study alone and need at least one accountability partner. This can be because of attention issues, material difficulty, or a tendency to procrastinate. Whatever the reason, the best solution may be to find a study buddy or join a study group. This will help you learn the material while holding you accountable to your study routine.

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.

Solution: Create a Budget and Track Expenses

One of the best ways to avoid credit card debt is to create a routine of documenting incoming and outgoing money. A simple way to do this is by using Microsoft Excel to create spreadsheets, allowing you to plan out your budget and track how much you spend.

Solution: Research & Learn Before Signing Up

If you’re going to apply for credit cards, spend time investigating the fine print. Some credit cards carry much higher fees and interest rates than others. Therefore, you need to conduct research to avoid ending up with predatory credit card companies that can wreak havoc on your finances for years to come.

Solution: Use a Debit Card or Cash

Some college students must sign up for credit cards simply because specific bills and expenses require cards to enroll. However, getting a simple checking account can provide you with a debit card that can be used for this purpose. Otherwise, students can use the debit card to withdraw money and pay in cash.

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.

Solution: Attend Financial Literacy Workshops & Classes

One of the best paths to financial literacy is by attending financial literacy workshops and courses. Many universities, recognizing the importance of this topic to their student populations, have special events that include guest speakers who are finance experts. Therefore, you can boost your financial literacy simply by contacting your university to inquire about upcoming financial conversations or classes.

Solution: Read, Watch, and Learn

Additionally, there is a wide array of financial literacy materials available online. For instance, Afford Anything is a helpful website and podcast that walks users through how to properly manage their finances to be able to afford virtually anything they want in the future. There are also various other books, videos, podcasts, etc.

Solution: Seek Advice from a Financial Advisor

One lesser-considered option is seeking advice from a professional expert. Depending on your chosen avenue, these services can sometimes be free or discounted. For instance, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling offers free financial services and resources to those who need them. If you’re struggling to get out of debt or pay bills, consider reaching out to a financial advisor.

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.

Solution: Accept Invitations and Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone

One of the most straightforward solutions to a lack of campus involvement is simply to accept more invitations when you’re asked to attend events. Some offers may sound unattractive, but you may be pleasantly surprised. Even if it ends up not being relevant to you, attending campus events is still an excellent way to network and become more acclimated to college life.

Solution: Attend Club Fairs and Campus Events

Universities often have a robust calendar of job fairs, concerts, speaking engagements, etc. Each time you attend an event, you will have an opportunity to network and become more connected with your school.

Solution: Start a New Club or Organization for Your Interests

If you’re genuinely disinterested in all events and organizations on your campus, you can start a club of your own. Although it may take some time and effort, virtually anyone can start a club in college. Doing so will help you establish yourself as a leader, find your tribe, and network with like minds.

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.

Solution: Get Familiar with School Offerings

Make it part of your job as a successful student to explore what your school offers and leverage those resources to boost your college experience. In addition to the options above, don’t forget about the various student centers and communities that can also provide social outlets.

Solution: Go with a Friend

If you need to get more familiar with everything your college offers, one fantastic solution is to phone a friend. If you know someone in a higher grade level or who is more familiar with your school’s offerings, asking them to show you around campus can be a quick and easy way to learn about the resources your school offers.

Solution: Schedule Meetings with Academic Advisors

Don’t forget that your academic advisor is a great resource if you want to efficiently learn about the amenities your school provides. Their job is to be fully aware of everything your school offers, and they can give you tips on how to best take advantage of the resources at your disposal.

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.

Solution: Enroll as an Undeclared Student

If you’re unsure about which major to choose, you can enroll in school as undeclared. Doing so will allow you to explore various topics and courses, which will enable you to discover new passions or affirm existing ones. Best of all, you will earn college credits while figuring it out.

Solution: Take a Variety of General Education Courses

Exploration is vital as a student, and taking a few general education courses will expose you to many different areas of interest. You’ll need to take requisites like math, English, and science for most majors, so knock these out early while exploring different electives in order to get a feel for which courses resonate with you most.

Solution: Gather Insight from Professors and Advisors

If you’re feeling very unsure about your major, who better to ask than an expert? Professors and advisors are highly knowledgeable about career paths and professional prospects. By simply setting up an appointment and bringing a list of questions, you can gain insight, allowing you to uncover your unique skills and the best major for you.

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.

Solution: Mark Your Calendar

The first solution is to use a calendar — it doesn’t matter if it’s digital or paper. At the beginning of a semester, take the time to add your classes to a calendar, and don’t forget to set a reminder if you’re using a calendar app. Simply setting up your schedule is a great way to reinforce a new routine.

Solution: Set an Attendance Goal and Reward Yourself for Hitting it

Unlike primary and secondary school, there are no rewards for perfect attendance in college — other than the benefit of learning as much as possible. However, what’s preventing you from setting your own attendance goal and rewarding yourself for achieving it? A dinner out, a spa day, or a trip to see your favorite sports team may just be the incentive you need to get yourself to class.

Solution: Use a Buddy System for Accountability

Pretty much everything in life is easier when it’s done with someone else. The same is true for college: Make it a goal to connect with one or more fellow students and agree to contact one another if you are either excessively late or missing class. By making this connection, you can create a support system and encourage one another to get the most out of every class.

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.

Solution: Communicate with Friends and Family

One of the best ways to overcome adversity in college is to stay in touch with family and friends. This can be a great way to vent, relieve stress, and get support from those who love you. Rather than suffering in silence, talking to your family and friends can be a quick way to start feeling better.

Solution: Reach Out As Soon As Possible

Another way to handle silent struggles is to reach out to someone who can help immediately. For instance, if you’re feeling depressed, you can call 988 to talk about your feelings and get help immediately. Alternatively, if you’re dealing with money issues, you can seek financial counseling or speak with a family member who might be able to help.

Solution: Reflect and Monitor Your Academic and Mental State

Some students suffer simply because they are overwhelmed with the transition from being a high school student to the massive responsibility of being in college. Take some time to assess your grades and acknowledge your progress; contact an advisor for help if you’re struggling. Also, journaling can allow you to reflect on your mental state and better understand your emotions.

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.

Solution: Create a Consistent Bedtime Routine and Sleep Schedule

The human brain benefits most from a consistent bedtime routine. Your routine helps your mind and body prepare for a restful sleep and may include bathing, reading, or other self-care rituals. You also should try to go to sleep at the same time each night. This consistent routine will become a habit over time, creating relatively effortless ways for you to get quality sleep.

Solution: Limit Exposure to Screens and Stimulants at Night

Falling asleep to TikTok while sipping a cup of coffee? Probably not the best idea. Too much screen time before you sleep can suppress the release of melatonin, making it harder to fall and stay asleep. You should also avoid stimulants such as coffee, energy drinks, etc., as they can have the same effect.

Solution: Use Natural Remedies to Fall Asleep

The simplest solution may be to embrace natural ways to fall asleep. Some options include creating evening exercise or meditation routines, taking melatonin or magnesium supplements, or enjoying a cup of chamomile tea. No matter which remedies you choose, ensure they make you feel comfortable and have minimal side effects.

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.