How to Have a Successful First Year of College--Tips From a Current College Senior
Updated: Aug 10, 2019
An interview with Allison, senior biology major at the University of North Texas and Senior Leader for the Supplemental Instruction (SI) program:
Allison, tell me a little bit about what you do as an SI leader.
Supplemental Instruction is a peer-based group study program ran through UNT’s Learning Center. I facilitate three one-hour study sessions each week that are free to students and are based off course material covered in lecture. We utilize various activities to appeal to a wide variety of learning styles, while also trying to strengthen vital study skills like goal setting, critical thinking, essay writing, time management and planning, etc. We also act as “resource hubs” for students, meaning we’re trained to know about the wide variety of resources available for students on campus in case a student is unsure about which resource suits their needs best.
Working with underclassmen and freshmen in particular, what are some study habits or skills they may need help with?
1. Realizing not everyone likes paper planners – I feel like most students have the idea that they’re going to go off to college and they suddenly have to master the art of scheduling every second of their day in a paper planner. The reality is, that type of planning method doesn’t work best for everyone. Finding what type of planning works best for you is incredibly helpful, whether that be online apps (MyStudyLife is my personal favorite!), Google Calendar, phone alarms/reminders, or even a whiteboard you hang up in your room. Use whatever actually helps you and keeps you accountable, and try to make a habit of checking it every day!
2. Finding out what your learning style is* – One of the most helpful things for me personally was finding out what my learning style was. It’s a great way to change up your study plan if the way you’ve been studying doesn’t seem to work well for you.
3. Forming study groups – Not everyone studies best with others, but I genuinely believe I wouldn’t have been able to pass some of my challenging classes if it wasn’t for the study groups I formed along the way. Sometimes, studying by yourself can be exhausting, especially in more difficult subjects where sometimes you get stuck and don’t know what to do next. Study groups allow you to bounce ideas off of other people, identify the areas where you excel compared to where you’re lacking, and hold each other accountable to study together even when you don’t want to.
4. Utilize your professor’s office hours – Sometimes it’s kind of awkward or intimidating to go to your professor’s office just to ask a few questions, but I really think that not enough students know how helpful it can be to just stop by and introduce yourself. If they’re doing any research you’re interested in, ask them about it! Not only will it help your professor remember you during the semester, but if your name ever runs by them again in the future, you’ll be a familiar face. It’s also very helpful to get some one-on-one help for harder material, especially in larger classes. If you feel uncomfortable to go alone, make a friend in the class and bring them with you!
5. Finding balance* – Freshmen in particular are often worried about balancing their school, work, and personal life during their first year of college. Nothing really prepares you for the hectic, often insane, schedule you can develop during busy times in the semester. Over time, you’ll naturally find your footing but it’s important to remember that there’s not one “perfect” schedule for everyone. As a general rule of thumb, you should spend about three hours studying for every one hour of class time, but some classes require much more/less than that. By understanding areas where you naturally excel versus those that you struggle in, you can plan your weeks accordingly and make sure you have enough time to prepare and do your best in your classes.
What are some ideas that would help a freshmen have a successful first year of college?
Find an organization to get involved in, even if it means starting your own.
Seek out lab/internship/volunteer opportunities sooner rather than later.
Learn what resources are available to you and seek them out. A lot of universities have things like health clinics, legal services, or scholarship opportunities that students might not even be aware of.
Thinking back to when you were a freshman, what are some of the things that you did that set you up for success?
I got involved in a lab my freshman year. It really helped inspire me about what I want in my future career, as well as connecting me with some awesome friends. I loved getting to travel to conferences together and learning more about the scientific community.
I took on a leadership position in a club. My friends and I are all officers for UNT’s American Society for Microbiology branch. It’s been a really great experience, not only to do it with people I loved working with, but also learning about what all it takes to run an organization. Leadership experience is also always great for a resume!
I surrounded myself with a strong support group. Through various things like labs, classes, work and organizations, I slowly began to surround myself with a strong support network full of awesome people who truly care about me and wanted me to excel. It’s hard going somewhere new at first, especially if you don’t know anyone, but I tried to allow myself to keep an open mind and not worry about “forcing” myself to make friends. I searched for people who had my similar interests and ambitions, and found some people along the way who have ended up positively impacting both me and my future.
*NOTE FROM SUE: I did not prompt Allison with any of the above comments, but you'll notice she mentioned two things that are a part of the college planning journey that our clients learn here at Insight.