Your first year of higher education is, for multiple reasons, a significant time. You’ve spent the last twelve or so years preparing for this moment, studying hard, taking tests, writing an application essay, and waiting for admission, among other achievements. So now what?
There are so many changes afoot! You may be in a new geography (snow for the first time! Or a city in which you’ve never lived!), you may have to make new friends (zomg), or you may have a new living situation (roommates!). There’s a chance you are navigating a new institution (where is that lecture hall?), plus navigating a new way to study (find that library) and how to enroll in courses (argh, waitlists)--so many new and different variables make things exciting but also challenging.
Let’s clarify, though: your mission during your first year at university or college is really all about getting acquainted with your campus community and settling into new coursework.
So, how can you start your first year of higher education off right?
Get to know (and make use of) campus resources. Connect with your resident advisor (also known as a house fellow, resident advisor, community assistant, resident mentor, residence don, peer advisor, community advisor, collegiate fellow, or senior resident) for advice and input--they’re there to help orient you with your new environment and community. Consider thumbing through a campus guide or walking through campus to track your way through your class schedule ahead of the first week of school. Open every single piece of snail mail from your institution; along with admission, they may be offering scholarships that you won’t want to miss out on. Many higher education institutions also hold a first-year student orientation, which can introduce you to resources or ways in which to access these resources. Find that gym! Find the pool! Find out where you can use your dormitory (or residence hall) meal pass on campus!
Familiarize yourself with learning tools. Higher education institutions likely have an LMS (learning management system), which may or may not resemble tools you’ve used in the past. In addition to an LMS, there may be a campus-specific intranet with links to helpful resources (see above) or required software like Feedback Studio or Gradescope. It’s helpful to log in and check them out in advance, as opposed to encountering an avoidable learning curve the night before your assignment is due.
Acquaint yourself with communication methods. Log into your campus email. In the era of SMS, email may feel old school (pun intended), but it’s really how institutions still communicate with students. Review your syllabi and see how your instructors prefer to communicate. If it’s not stated on the syllabus, ask your instructor their preferred method of communication. If there is a class mailing list, check it out. See if there is a class blog or homepage. Check out social media and see what social groups at your institution are doing. Consider going to your professor’s office hours. Office hours aren’t just about class assignments but about establishing a rapport with your instructor--you can ask them questions about their research or how they became a professor, not just questions about the class (which of course you’re welcome to ask, too!).
Your first year of higher education is one that can be filled with mixed emotions. But we hope these tips help you acquaint yourself so that this year will be full of positive memories and triumphs. Before you know it, we hope you’ll be looking back on this year with fondness and nostalgia. And we hope it’s the beginning of an amazing journey ahead.