10 Golden Rules for Entering College Freshmen

By the time a young adult graduates high school and is ready to head off to college, they shouldn’t need to be given a full set of rules to follow.  After all, moving out of the house means they have the freedom (and burden) if making their own decisions.  Nonetheless, after going through this a couple of times with my kids I decided to capture my personal list of “golden rules”.  They seem so basic and obvious.  But then again aren’t most of life’s rules basic and obvious?  If you are an entering college freshman, check out the list below and see if you can’t stick to it.  Then, if you can remember to do so, look at the list again at the end of your freshman year and see how many of these rules you think are truly Golden. 

  The List

  1. Go to Class
    Duh, seems so obvious.  But without an attendance report or parents to make sure you wake up and go to class, it’s easy to let this get out of hand.  And in college the pace of classes is so much faster that missing a class means missing a healthy chunk of content.  Additionally, many professors test straight from their lectures rather than from the book.
  2. Get to Know Your Professors
    This isn’t quite like it sounds.  More completely, get to know how your professors teach, test and grade.  The range of teaching styles at the college level is dramatically wider than high school.  Some professors teach and test strictly from the text book while others purely rely on their lectures (and your ability to take good notes).  Some demand near perfect class attendance while others could care less.  Figuring out how to assess the style of any given professor gets easier and easier the more semesters a student has under their belt.  The best information about professors’ teaching and testing styles can come from Juniors and Seniors that have had them before.  Find some and talk to them before signing up for the class.
  3. Don’t Procrastinate on Projects
    College projects are typically much more involved than initially anticipated by an entering freshman.  The reason the professor gives out an assignment two weeks or more before it’s due is because it’s not intended to be completed in a few hours.  And if the project involves a team of classmates, the added complexity of schedule coordination really lends itself to starting as early as possible.  Another word of advice is to outline a general project plan for each assignment.  Figure out the order in which things need to be done and a general timeline to adhere to.  Then stick to it.
  4. Sleep Management
    Whether living in the dorm, an apartment or fraternity/sorority house, there are always other kids that stay up past midnight on any given night.  Establishing some sort of normal sleep pattern is very difficult, but should be attempted anyway on school nights.
  5. Eat Well
    Meal plans are typically use-it-or-lose-it, so take advantage of it and eat as many meals as possible in the campus cafeterias.  And try to eat at least one really good meal per day (with “really good” meaning something healthy that your Mom might make at home).  Falling prey to the various fast food vendors on campus and eating late at night is a sure way to put on that “freshman 15” (pounds) everyone talks about.
  6. Stay in Shape
    Most college campuses have amazing workout facilities with all sorts of different sports, activities and equipment.  Find two other people that also want to stay in shape and come up with a workout schedule together.  The guilt trips you can lay on each other will help ensure you stick to the schedule most of the time.  Even just two days per week is a huge difference versus nothing.  Intramural sports are also a great way to stay in shape while learning/perfecting a sport and meeting other people.  So is walking.  Why hassle with parking shortages?  Just walk everywhere.  You’ll get used to it and everyone else does it.
  7. Be Careful About Alcohol
    Many alcoholics developed their initial dependency while in college.  And drinking is everywhere, so just be careful and make some personal commitments to yourself ahead of time.
  8. Money Management
    Most college kids are poor all of the time.  And no matter how much money parents give their kids for allowance, it’s never enough.  So it’s better to build some basic money management skills.  If you had your own bank account and jobs during high school, then you should have a leg up.  But it’s still different when everything from batteries, cleaning products and razor blades are paid out of your pocket.  There are commonly financial “emergencies” that arise, but usually they are less than $100-200.  So another good practice is to always keep this amount tucked away in savings for a time when it’s needed.  But this takes some real discipline.
  9. Really Think About Your Schedule
    As a freshman you aren’t going to have the best choice of classes because the upper classmen get to register first.  But you should still put some serious thought to your daily schedule.  Try to cluster classes so that you aren’t going back and forth to your dorm four times each day.  Also think about lunch.  It’s great to have lunch at a time when the cafeterias aren’t most crowded and it’s also nice to have two hours so you can either rest, do some homework or study a bit more before a test.  Finally, do some real soul searching before taking on an 8:00am class (see #1 & #2 above).
  10. Have Fun & Get Involved
    After all, your college years are supposed to be some of the most fun of your lifetime.  Find the right balance so that your time spent having fun doesn’t overshadow your other priorities.  Get involved right away after arriving at college.  Go to the goofy freshman mixers, attend various club orientations and join intramural sports teams from your dorm.  The objective is to see what might be to your liking and to meet as many people as possible during your first semester.  Only one warning.  If you decide to pursue a fraternity or sorority membership, just realize the time commitment and financial costs are considerably more than they might appear (especially for sororities).  So just take it into consideration before jumping in.

See my related post titled “Tips for Optimizing Your Grades in College“.

Author: Gordon Daugherty

Over the past 15 years Gordon has seen nearly 1,000 startup pitches, advised more than 200 entrepreneurs and been involved with raising over $45M in growth and venture capital. Throughout his 28 year career in high tech, serving twice as President and three times as CMO, Gordon has both an IPO and a $200M acquisition exit under his belt. Now his emphasis is purely focused on helping startups and early stage tech companies. Through his Shockwave Innovations advisory practice and as Managing Director for Austin’s Capital Factory startup accelerator, Gordon is an active angel investor, VC and startup advisor.

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