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6 Regrettable Mistakes College Freshmen Should Avoid

I started poetry class wearing the same button-down as a fellow classmate.

It wasn’t planned.

I met her maybe once before.

She sat next to me and complimented me on my shirt. Everyone laughed.

Immediately after class, I took it off, stuffed it into my backpack, and wore a T-shirt for the rest of the day.

I suppose I could have done worse, however. This was a minor scrape compared to other mistakes made by college freshmen.

Freshman year is an exciting time. You’re looking forward to new experiences, making new friends, learning new things, starting a new chapter, being independent.

As you move into your dorm and start your first semester, avoid these common mistakes:

1. Doing too much (nonacademic stuff) too soon

Some of the guys in my dorm joined clubs, tried out for teams, started dating, got campus jobs, and held Super Smash Bros. championships late into the morning. No wonder they were exhausted by November.

Spend time getting to know your campus and the people in it, taking note of helpful resources like open hours and research tools, and developing your personal routine. It’ll keep you sane when those final papers are due.

2. Not being social enough

That being said, don’t indulge the other extreme and hide out in your room. Your first few weeks are the best time to meet new people and make new friends. It’s before studies have picked up. It’s before groups cement. Meet the people on your wing. Meet people in the cafeteria. Go to campus events.

As Cousin Jasper tells a young Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, “You'll find you spend half your second year shaking off the undesirable friends you made in the first.” That’s inevitable and good and desirable. What’s not desirable is trying to make friends when groups of people have already bonded. It’s not impossible to get “in” with them, but it can be harder.  

3. Not planning for your semester

Midterms and finals are like turbulence in an airplane: they make you reflect on your life choices and decisions.

Rather than regretting your lost leisurely (and sometimes not-so-leisurely) hours, put all your class and project deadlines in your calendar at the start of the semester. You’ll know what to expect and how to prepare for it.

4. Not taking care of (health) business

Sleep. Eat well. Exercise.

Take care of yourself. If you have anxiety or depression, confront it. If you’re not exercising regularly, do it. Don’t wait for deadlines and stress to bring the worst to the surface.

A spoonful of discipline makes the semester go down a lot easier.

5. Not studying enough

So obvious I almost didn’t write it. But there it is. Freshmen almost always underestimate how much time they need to study. They don’t take notes or read as much as they should.

And then their assignments, like the ghost of Jacob Marley, haunt them in the a.m. hours.

Study. Do the readings before class. Start writing papers a week before they’re due.

6. Ignoring professors

Listen up:

Pay attention to your professors in class. Take advantage of their office hours. Pick their brains. Ask them to connect you to resources and opportunities. If they’re in the field you’re studying, your professor could become a mentor or at the very least an invaluable source of knowledge and experience.

Good students are like unicorns these days: they don’t exist. Simply showing interest in your studies will open more doors than you thought possible.

You’re in college to learn. Make sure to seek out and learn from the best.

What are some other common freshmen mistakes? Leave a comment to tell me which ones I forgot! 


Joseph Cunningham is digital media editor at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. 


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Complement with the student's guide to liberal learning by James V. Schall, R. J. Snell on what a successful college career looks like, and Chad Chisholm on the rhetoric of an excellent essay.

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