College Freshman Checklist: Guide to Your First Semester

    June 27, 2023 | Admin

    Starting college is exciting, but it can be tough to stay on top of all the things you need to do. Choosing your classes, understanding the resources that are available on campus, navigating new relationships, preparing to live in a new place—it’s a lot. Using a college freshman checklist can help you stay focused on what college has to offer and how to make the most of your first semester. We’ll go through everything you need to consider, from creating a balanced schedule to prioritizing self-care. Let’s dig in.


    Getting ready to choose your classes? You’ve got a lot to think about. Creating a balanced schedule is key, as failing to do so can leave you overwhelmed and struggling to stay on top of your course load.

    A smart first step to developing your class schedule is to talk with an academic adviser about what number of credits you should take during your first semester at school. While you’re getting used to a new level of academic rigor, you’re also going to be getting used to college life. You may be surprised at how tiring it can be to simply get used to a new way of life, and you’ll want to set yourself up for success. Your academic advisor can help you understand the challenges of your major and work with you to create a balanced schedule that sets you up for success.

    Creating a Balanced Schedule

    You’ll need to consider your daily habits when you’re planning your course schedule. Be sure to create a schedule that you can actually stick to. For example, while scheduling several back-to-back classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays might have some appeal, will you make the most of your Monday-Wednesday-Friday free time? Unscheduled time is important—you need it for social activities and self-care—but try to keep your schedule balanced.

    If you find that the schedule you create is tougher than you imagined, it’s a good idea to talk with an academic advisor who can help you make adjustments. The advisors at your school want you to succeed, and will work with you to help you develop a schedule and habits that make it easier for you to do your best.

    Additional Resources

    Rate My Professor

    When you’re signing up for a class, you’ll find that you have many options when it comes to choosing a professor. One option for research is Rate My Professors, which gathers insights from students about teachers and their classes. Other sites with professor ratings include Rate My Teachers and Uloop. and Be sure to take reviews with a grain of salt, however—some students who struggle in a class could give a professor an unfair rating.

    Time Management

    If you’re on your own for the first time, you may find it surprisingly hard to get through your daily to-do list. Time management is a skill that takes time to learn. If you were used to having a very structured schedule with school and extracurriculars before you started college, you may find that you’re not sure how to manage your unstructured time.

    Practicing some of the following time management tips may be helpful:

    • Spend a few minutes at the beginning of each week creating a schedule for the rest of the week, detailing when assignments are due.
    • Pencil in time for relaxation—don’t overextend yourself or set yourself up to fail.
    • If you aren’t eating at the dining hall on campus, do all of your grocery shopping for the week at once, saving you time from having to make multiple trips to the store.
    • If something in your schedule isn’t working, don’t be afraid to change it. Figuring out how to manage your time in college can take some practice, and it’s important to figure out what works well for you and what doesn’t.

    Prioritizing tasks is key when it comes to managing your schedule. When you receive your syllabi for your classes, be sure to write out exam dates as well as paper and project due dates. Giving yourself smaller deadlines (such as the date by which you’ll create an outline for a paper) can help you prioritize your time in a way that makes sense for your workload.

    Creating a study schedule can also be helpful in allowing you to stay on top of your classes. If you’re planning on studying with others in your class, creating an ongoing meeting time for a weekly study group can be a smart way to both socialize and get the help that you need to succeed. While you may be tempted to create your study schedule before classes start, it can be more helpful to wait until you have a day or two of classes and can grasp which subjects may be the most challenging for you.

    As a new college student, it’s normal to want to find friends and spend time socializing, and many freshmen find that it’s hard to balance a social life with academics. Having a set schedule that determines when you study and when you spend time with friends can help you strike the right balance. If you find that your grades are slipping, don’t be afraid to up your study time—your friends will still be there once you get things back on track.

    Additional Time Management Resources

    Utilizing Resources

    Many new college students are unaware of the vast resources offered by many colleges that can help you succeed. The resources available on campus can also help ease the transition to college.

    Many campuses offer student resource centers where you can work with professionals who can support your academic and personal life. Student resource centers often offer counseling, tutoring, financial aid, academic advising, and more. If your student resource center doesn’t have the resources that you need, they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.

    If you’re struggling with a subject, you’ll want to check out your campus tutoring center. In addition to in-person tutoring, many colleges now offer online tutoring, which can make it easier to get the help that you need from the comfort of your dorm. You’ll also want to check in with your academic advisor regularly, even when things are going well. Your academic advisor can work with you to help you make sure you’re on track, getting the course credits that you need, and setting you up to graduate within your planned time frame.

    To learn more about making the most of your college experience, check out our guide on essential college hacks that every student should know.

    Mental Health Care

    It’s normal to go through an adjustment period when you begin college, and for some students, this leads to struggles with mental health. If you find that you’re feeling anxious, depressed, struggling with substance abuse, or going through another mental health issue, you aren’t alone.

    The vast majority of colleges offer free mental health services to students, allowing you to get the help that you need from a trained professional. Reaching out for help to support your mental health is the right thing to do when you’re having a hard time. Talking to a professional when you first notice a change in your mental health can help you take proactive steps that can support your wellness.

    Signs that you may need mental health support include:

    • Anxiety over assignment and test scores
    • Slipping grades
    • Substance abuse issues
    • Financial struggles
    • Changes in sleep or eating habits
    • Relationship problems

    There’s no shame in seeking support for mental health—doing so is a sign of strength and an indication that you’re on your way to success as a college student.

    Additional Mental Health Resources

    Social Life

    Whether you’re leaving home for the first time or you’re living at home and commuting to campus, it can be tough to make friends at your new school. It can be helpful to remember that everyone is in the same boat when it comes to meeting people, and that most are nervous about the process of creating a new social circle.

    Your school will provide you with many chances to connect with other students, and you’ll want to take advantage of these opportunities when you can. Joining a team or club can be a great way to get to know students who have similar interests to you. Attending events put on by your school can also be a fun way to connect with others.

    It can take time to make friends, and there’s no reason to stress if you don’t have a packed social calendar in your first semester of college. Taking your time to form genuine connections is key to developing lasting friendships.

    Additional Resources on College Social Life


    Dating in college can be exciting, but it can also be a source of stress for many. In addition to making new friends and balancing your coursework, dating can make it harder to adjust to college life. You may want to take it slow and get your bearings during your first semester, focusing on getting to know your campus and schedule before diving into a relationship.

    If you decide to date during your first semester of college, it’s key to talk to your partner about your boundaries and expectations for the relationship. Some people who are starting college are interested in serious, long-term relationships, while others want to date casually. Telling your partner about your intentions and understanding your partner’s intentions can go a long way when it comes to avoiding hurt feelings. Sharing boundaries around time spent together, sex, and the way you’d like to be treated should also be a priority at the start of a relationship.

    Communication with your partner is important, especially as you are both going through the process of getting used to college life. Talking about what’s working and what needs to change to improve your relationship can help you feel comfortable and happy together as you both navigate the pressures of your first semester.

    Stress Management

    As a first semester college student, you’ll need to add stress management techniques to your college freshman checklist. Establishing a support system is one of the first steps that you’ll need to take in managing your stress. It’s normal for much of your support system to come from the friends and family you had before you started college, especially in your first semester. As your social network grows at school, it’s likely that more of your support will come from your peers over time.

    Finding the right stress management system for you can take some time. Many people find that mindfulness can be a helpful way to manage stress. Apps like Calm can remind you to take a moment to be present. Practicing meditation—even if you only start with a few minutes at a time—can benefit both your mind and your physical health. Exercise can also provide you with stress relief, and many universities offer free or low-cost gym memberships and fitness classes to students.

    Stress & Mental Health

    Stressors during your first year of college can seem to come one after another, and having a self-care plan in place is key for your mental health. Self-care isn’t just about exercising and meditating—it’s also about taking care of the little things in life that can add stress, such as handling financial aid issues, talking with roommates or housemates directly when there’s an issue in your living space, and putting in the effort to keep in touch with family while you’re away at school.

    Stress Management Resources

    Health and Wellness

    When you’re enjoying your new friends and rushing from class to class, it can be easy to put your physical health at the bottom of your wellness checklist. Keeping up with an exercise routine and healthy diet can help you stay healthy and keep stress levels low.

    You’ve probably heard about the freshman 15. However, with a little bit of planning, you’ll be able to avoid the weight gain that typically comes with the first year of college. If you’re eating at the dining hall, load up on veggies when you can. Take advantage of salad bars and stir-fry options. If you’re eating at home, take the time to learn healthy recipes, and talk with your roommates about taking turns cooking dinner a few nights each week rather than relying on fast food or takeout.

    During your orientation, pay attention to the wellness resources available on campus. In addition to gyms and health centers, you may also have access to a pool, nutrition counseling, and more. If you’re struggling to develop healthy eating and exercise habits, reach out to a counselor or a physician for the guidance that you need to stay well.

    Safety on Campus

    While college campuses take measures to keep students safe, it’s still important to be aware of your surroundings on campus.

    In order to boost your confidence and help you feel safe at your new school, consider the following:

    • Take a self-defense class. When you know you have the physical skills to stand up in the event that something goes wrong, you’ll develop a new sense of confidence.
    • Travel in groups, especially at night. Safety issues are less likely to occur with people around, so traveling in groups is a smart move.
    • Keep your phone charged. This will allow you to call for help in the event that something goes wrong.
    • Abstain from drug and alcohol use. While many college campuses have a culture in which drinking is normalized, engaging in drug and alcohol use can increase the likelihood of safety issues.

    Above all, remember: if something seems off at a party or other social situation, trust your instincts.

    Campus Safety Resources

    Additional Resources

    Ready to learn more about getting ready for your first year at college? Check out these resources:

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