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20 Pieces of REAL Advice for a College Freshman

From the desk of the Dean…(Updated for the Class of 2023)

College Freshmen AdviceIn a few weeks, summer will end and you will become a college freshman.  You won’t be alone. Thousands of new college freshmen will file onto college campuses and populate college residence halls.

Most college students will enter college with tons of advice from parents, teachers and college counselors.

With all the advice out there, it is hard for college students to separate the advice that will lead to long term success.

If you are a new college freshman or know one, let me share with you my 20 favorite tips with real advice. These tips are not just based on my own college experience or that of my kids, but are the result of 18 years in higher education, working with college students.
Not all of these tips will apply to every new college student. Usually I advice students to select 5 to 10 that will fit on a note card or 8 x 11 sheet of paper.

Keep those 5 to 10 accessible and work on them one at a time.

Real Tips for College Freshmen

1. You don’t have as much free time as you think you do! If you find you have time to burn; something is probably wrong. There is something you should be doing and you probably need to get help figuring out what that is ad how to manage your time.

2. Keep in mind that you write your resume every day, with every action and every choice you make. Yes. you are just starting out, but after being in four college career centers and running The HBCU Career Center for a decade, I know this – If you haven’t done it by the time you get to graduation; it can’t end up in your resume.  So having a resume ready to apply for internships, jobs, scholarships or grad schools is an early priority in your college life.

3. Begin good career habits early! Find your campus career center in the first semester and follow them on Twitter or Instagram for relevant career, major, job search and internship information.  Follow us too on Twitter (@HBCUCareerCntr) and IG (the_hbcu_career_center).  Remember, this is why you are on campus.  Get career ready!

Presidents Must Support Career Centers4. Do some personal exploration to learn more about who you are. Don’t leave college without knowing your V.I.S.A. (Values, Interests, Skills and Abilities).  I have worked with too many college graduates who fear the next steps because they have no idea what their V.I.S.A. is and what these things mean to them. Exploring these things will make the college experience way more valuable.

5. Plan to participate in at least one Internship, Study Abroad, Alternative Spring Break, Volunteer or Campus Leadership experience the summer after your freshman year.  There are three things I think every college student must do to create a competitive resume: Internship, leadership and an international trip.

6. No matter how big the class will be; a professor can still know you by name, if you participate in class, ask questions and/or go to office hours.  It is never an excuse to say the class is too big for my professor to know and care about me.

7. Find and use these study-resources on campus – Academic Advising office, First-Year Experience Program and/or Writing Center.  Yes. Everyone knows where the Financial Aid and Student Accounts offices are, but these other offices are just as important to keep you in good academic standing.  You might have to seek them out.

8. College freshman year is FULL of decision-making points. Take responsibility for your own actions and learn how to make decisions.  Can’t stress this enough.  Offices like Judicial Affairs, Campus Police or Title IX exist for a reason.  They are about keeping students safe.  However, they can’t be everywhere.  You must make good decisions.

Advice for Incoming Freshman9. Find wise people to have conversations with and ask questions.  It’s super tempting to hang around with just your new roommates or people in your major.  Think broader.  The world will need more interdisciplinary thinkers so don’t stay in a cocoon.

10. Keep connected with your off-campus support group. All those people who helped you get to college are still available for you. Don’t keep challenges to yourself.  It is great to handle things on your own as a sign of maturity, but please, please know you have a ton of supporters back home.

11. Don’t be worried if you change your major.  Don’t panic and most of all, tell your parents not to panic. Most college students change majors. However, the smart thing to do is to get advice on how to do it.  Don’t sit in the wrong major for too long. Your GPA, your finances and your psyche could really suffer.

career center12. Don’t jump into career decisions. Think more about what you want to DO when you graduate, instead of what you want to BE. The career direction you ultimately choose might not even exist now.  There is so much unfolding in the future of work, keep an open mind.  Get email alerts from our internship board so you know what is out there!

13. Watch your social media habits. Keep your reputation online positive. Like never before, YOU are responsible for your own brand. A good name is a good thing to have, easy thing to lose and the hardest thing to get back. College campuses get really small when your reputation is destroyed.  Lots of social media activity – stalking, drinking – ends up in the Dean’s office.

14. Do all you can to develop your teamwork skills, your communication skills and your ability to analyze situations. Not only are these skills that employers really look for in new graduates, these are just great skills to develop for “adulting” purposes.

15. Expect to feel overwhelmed sometimes. Whether you are living on campus or living at home; The college freshman year will bring a lot of changes.  I mean a lot of changes.  For many, it is the first time away from home, managing your own schedule and making choices at this level.  Counseling services is there for you!

16. Make good choices about how to spend your money.  In some ways, the semester will fly by really quick.  In other ways, it will seem to drag on.  Being broke in college is a reality for a lot of people. If there is any kind of program for college spending – take one early.

17. Make good choices about the food you consume.  Yes. I think some college students think about alcohol like food and I am here to tell you that being sick at school is no joke.

18. Read your syllabus and know when things are due. Mid-terms will come before you know it.

19. Time management MUST become a priority. Use tools like day-planner, stop watch on your telephone or alarm to keep you focused on priorities.  Ask your Alexa, your Siri or whatever personal bot you use to help you stay on task.

20. “Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are.” Keep this as one of the mantras you try to live by as you discover your way through college.   I love to see these positive stories about students who live together and ultimately graduate medical school together or reach a goal together.  That is rare. Pick your “ride-or-die” team members carefully!

Your campus years will fly by really quickly.  Make all your experiences count!

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