It is really important to get off to a great start in college in the first few weeks of college. There is no question that the first semester of the first year is the most critical.

Many studies show that this is the time when students most likely drop out of college, if not permanently, then temporarily.  It is when many consider transferring (though most don’t). 

There are various factors at play.  Remember that college is meant to be a transitional point from being the responsibility of others—guiding you, directing you, really—to being responsible for yourself.  Parents, teachers, coaches, someone always told you what to do and when to do it.

While there are rules in college, suddenly you are expected to figure things out for yourself.  No one makes you do your homework.  Assignments are rarely daily, and it’s unusual to be quizzed on the previous night’s reading. 

You’re obliged to find help if you need it.  There are no curfews or bed checks.  No more babysitters!

So how do you get off to a great start in college?

So, one of three things can happen. You breathe a sigh of relief and take charge of your life in a mature way, getting rest when you need it, making friends who are good for you, getting assignments done on time, partying in moderation. And that would be how to get off to great start in college.

Or you go crazy with the freedom, partying every night, making friends with persons who would petrify your parents, putting off assignments until the night before they’re due.  Or you become overwhelmed by the many options and crawl under the covers, hoping no one notices and feeling that you alone are unable to navigate this new path. These would be not getting off to a good start! I have seen all three scenarios, in the extreme and in moderation.

 get off to a great start in college  So how do you kick start the first few weeks to get on that track to success and get off to a great start in college?

You use the resources that are there for you. Here are some tips for right this minute so that you can get off to a great start in college:

  • Be sure to immediately read the syllabus for every class and get all the books or materials needed and note assignment due dates in your calendar or planner. Also put down steps to getting assignments due  (like going to the library to do the research for a paper.) Get into good time management practices now as a way to really get off to a great start in college.
  •  Make at least one friend for every class you are in. Hopefully (and most likely) there will be some students who are in more than one class with you. Begin the core of a study group.
  •  If you have any inkling from the first class that you may be over your head in that subject then immediately seek help from the professor, an advisor, the tutoring office or maybe all of them. You may need to change the course and it is best to do that quickly. You can’t get off to a great start in college if you are overwhelmed and so you need to see how to fix that fast.
  •  Find your way to key offices including your professors, the library, the advising center, the career office, the gym, the health office, financial aid. You get off to a great start in college if you know where all these offices are located.
  •  Join one club or activity (not more at this point) so you have some extracurricular life and are not isolating. It may be something familiar like the school paper or a sport if that is what you excelled in during high school. It can be a group that relates to your faith practice or ethnic origins if that creates a sense of the familiar. Being at ease is important so you get off to a great start in college.
  •  Start asking questions in class and speaking up as soon as possible. Make yourself known in a good way. Get used to asking now. College is a safe space to learn this skill. Not only should you ask questions of professors and advisors but also upper classmen are a great source of information and they love to share it. But go to the ones who are doing well—the ones you want to be like one day (like next year!) This is another secret to understanding how to get off to a great start in college.

One of the biggest mistakes new students make is in not engaging or using all the tools, resources, and people who are there for you. You have paid for these tools and people and so you are entitled to take advantage of everything there. It is silly not to. Trust me the students who are at the top use everything. Follow their lead and you will be able to get off to a great start in college.

Marcia Cantarella   Marcia Cantarella, Author, I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide  is a former College Dean and senior administrator. See Chapter 7 of I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide  for more on how to get off to a great start in college.

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