How to be Successful in College: Advice for College Freshmen & Beyond
Whether you’re fresh out of high school or it’s been a while since you’ve taken a class, transitioning into college may feel like uncharted territory. Creating a new routine takes some time, but Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) academic advisors, students and alumni offered up advice that worked for them.
Here are eight college success tips to carry with you throughout your degree program.
1. Don’t Procrastinate
It might be easy to put an assignment off when it isn't due in the next day or two. But, if you start early, you’ll feel less overwhelmed when the deadline approaches. It’ll also give you plenty of time to ask your instructor for clarification or guidance if you need it.
- “Do not procrastinate,” Chris Burris, an online information technology student said. “Set little, manageable goals each week and build a routine. I managed to build in days that had no school, and it served me very well over the last four years.”
- Alumnus Steve Jarosz '18MBA said, “Book consistent time each day or week like an appointment, and keep it.”
- Lauren Hudson, an online psychology student, said, “Make sure to set a schedule for yourself weekly. I bought a planner and would plan study days and rest days in-between. Try not to procrastinate and leave everything last minute because then you end up overwhelmed.”
2. Manage Your Time
Identifying a time management strategy that works for you is one of the most important pieces of advice for college students, especially if you’re balancing a career and family obligations, said advisor Sherri Provencher.
“Generally, we take a look at (learners’) responsibilities they have outside of school and talk about what has to be a priority and what can be pushed off,” she said. “Once we have identified the ‘non-negotiables,’ we start using a calendar to schedule those events and see where there is space for school.”
If you map out your assignment deadlines and manage your time wisely, you’ll be in a better position to balance all of your commitments. Your syllabus outlines your assignments for the term, and you can refer back to this when you're planning your monthly or weekly schedule.
- “Make a set schedule for each term and the assignments. This helps you to balance family, social life, work and school and not feel stressed or pressured," master's in healthcare administration student Bonnie Wilson said. "Always remember, you got this. Just take a deep breath and do one thing at a time.”
- Alumna Heather Nehiley '19MBA values the ability to view all the assignments for the term from the start. “Take advantage of that and plan accordingly," she said. "Work on the assignments the week prior, and don’t wait until the weekend that they’re actually due. If you know you have a busy weekend with personal obligations, take advantage of the assignments being posted early, and get something done ahead of time so you can enjoy yourself.”
- Kristine Ducote, an online criminal justice student, said, “Create a schedule that works for you, including balance with time for yourself and family along with study time. Stick to it and get your work done early in the week. That way, if you need help, you have time to access resources, and you aren't pushing up against deadlines.”
If you’re struggling with time management, it may be time to dig a little deeper into your motivations, said advisor Melissa Wisniewski.
“I think it’s important to first explore why a student is struggling with time management,” she said. “Are they procrastinating? Do they dislike the course? Are they getting distracted when trying to complete schoolwork? … Once that ‘why’ is determined, we can start to figure out what will help them combat these issues.”
3. Reach Out to Your Advisors and Instructors
You’re not going to school alone. Your advisors – academic, career and financial aid – are there to guide you and connect you with helpful resources. Your instructors know their courses inside and out and can answer any questions about the subject and offer you feedback on your work.
- “Have a great relationship with your advisor," Lacey May, an online human services student, said. "I can call and know mine will help me any and every way he can. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your professors. If you’re (struggling), don’t struggle alone. Speak up and say something to get help.”
- Online healthcare administration student Jesyka Garland said, “Always ask questions. Your advisor will generally have the answers. If they don’t, they can point you in the right direction. I love my advisor. She’s always quick to respond and help.”
- Alumna Nancy Uliano '18 said, “Your instructors understand that life gets busy sometimes, so don't be afraid to let them know what's going on. They'll usually work with you if you have any issues, so you don't fall behind or fail.”
4. Build Relationships
When you tap into your school’s community, you’ll discover you have a whole support system that wants to see you succeed.
- “Build a relationship with advisors, professors, other students and support staff," online accounting student Marjorie Dyksinski said, "This will help to increase (your) success.”
- Kayla Pinard, a campus psychology major, said, “Make friends with the professors. It’ll help you find community and motivate you to do well in class. Some of the best people I have met on campus has been the staff. Remember, they are there for you and want you to succeed.”
- Campus communication major Aubrey King said, “Don’t isolate yourself. Go out and sit in the pub, your common space in your dorm or in the library. You’ll end up meeting some of the greatest people, and you might even meet your best friends that way.”
5. Get Involved
School isn’t only about studying. You can also join clubs and organizations and attend events. By getting involved, you’ll find activities that interest you and meet people in a less formal setting. There are also professional development opportunities you can take advantage of, such as career webinars, workshops, student leadership roles and internships.
- “Get involved with different groups and clubs to have an easier time meeting people that share your interests," said Molly Vallee, who is earning an associate in liberal arts. "Go to as many activities that interest you as possible. There’s always nice people to meet; just don’t be afraid to talk.”
- Alumna Annelise Fillion '19 said, “Internships and experience are just as important as the classes you take. Take advantage of internship and volunteer opportunities. They will be crucial to your resume, and employers really love to see the experience you have … Make friends and join clubs. Greek life and other organizations give such great opportunities for networking and experiences as well. Make the best out of every situation, good or bad, and everything works out in the end. ‘Trust the process.’ I sure did, and it worked out for me just great.”
- Alumna Alexandra Comeau '19 said, “Take advantage of all the resources SNHU has to offer. It will help you in so many ways. (Visit) Career Development and the events they hold, join a club and be you. SNHU is so diverse, and that is what makes it feel like home; there is always something/someone like you.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
One of the best tips for college students is to remember that you’re not alone on your journey to earning a college degree. Asking for help from your instructors, advisors and peers is a key to success, said advisor Heather Brydon.
“This is a place where a lot of students are missing out and is key to unlocking more learning than just the class,” she said. “you’re going to get a lot more value added by interacting with your instructor – someone who has real-world experience in the subject. They are your gateway to learning more.”
Whatever you’re struggling with, reach out. There are people who can tutor you in a difficult concept, prepare you for a job interview, help you understand your financial aid and everything in-between.
- “If you are an online-only student like I was, do not for a second let that make you think you are all alone when it comes to the work," alumnus Anthony Knoch '19 said. "Reaching out to the instructors (and classmates via the discussion boards) is sometimes going to be a part of your process. It's not weakness, it's necessary. During my year at SNHU, there were times I needed the extra reassurance with the classwork, but also a couple of times that 'real life' made keeping up difficult. My instructors were amazingly cooperative and understanding."
- Jennifer Gardner ’19, a master's in data analytics student, said, “Make connections and use SNHU resources. Eventually, there will be a topic or assignment where you feel you need assistance. Being able to reach out to SNHU friends is wonderful. Plus, the online student resources like recorded lessons, help files, workshops, one-on-one peer tutoring and coaching, drop-in tutoring options and the Writing Center are fantastic. I will admit to being a bit biased about peer tutoring because I am one. I've also used these different options throughout my degree.”
- Online MBA student Susan Pivetz said, “For those ‘students of a certain age’ like me, the first term can feel so intimidating… Just breathe, give yourself time to adjust and ask for help if you need it. I've had as many tech desk questions as I have had classroom questions. The tech desk is great.”
Forming relationships with your instructors before you find yourself needing assistance can take your learning even further, Provencher said.
“Being open and honest with your professors and advisors gives you a real advantage because when those roadblocks are encountered, developing a relationship early on enables to work with you through challenges,” she said. “If we don’t know there is a challenge, we cannot help, and that is our goal. We are all partners in this journey, and we want to help you reach your life goals. Keep us informed on how we can do this.”
7. Be Kind to Yourself
Just like any life-changing event, transitioning to college will take some time. Be kind to yourself while you figure out how to best incorporate it into your lifestyle.
- “It will feel overwhelming at first, but take deep breaths, and you will get through the hard times," online psychology student Marlene Shafer said. "… If you manage your time well and remember there is life outside of class, you will do great. Save copies of everything: syllabus, rough drafts and even your discussion posts. You never know when old information will come in handy.”
- Alumna Sheila Beane '19 said, “Be upfront with friends and family that you will be doing school work and studying, so you won't be as available as you were before classes started. If you have specific times set aside for that purpose, tell everyone not to call or interrupt you during that period. It's so much easier to focus without constant interruptions.”
- Maureen DiTomaso, a student pursuing her associate degree in general studies, said, “Be kind to yourself. You are learning something new and different. It’s not a race to the end but a journey. Sometimes a misstep can be the most valuable learning moment.”
One way to be kind to yourself is give yourself some credit and celebrate your wins. Don’t wait until graduation to celebrate. Enjoying smaller victories along the way – like a good grade on a test or a great conversation with an instructor – can help you stay motivated.
“I always say to students that they’ve already done the hardest part,” said advisor Kristie Metzler. “You’ve reached out, you’ve applied to college and you’ve been accepted … You already took that scary, unknown leap of fait. Now it’s just all about doing it and going through with the degree program.”
8. Take a Break When You Need It
Sometimes you’ll need to take a step back from your work and decompress. When you return, you’ll likely feel re-energized and ready to tackle your assignment with a clear mind.
- “Try to plan a day each week that you have free from work and school, so you have time to unwind and enjoy the journey," Christa Romo, an online human services student, said.
- Online psychology student Alexandria McNiff said, “Take breaks. If the class is difficult… take the computer off the charger and when it starts to die, take a break from that class and recharge yourself and the computer.”
- Violet O’Neill, also an online psychology student, said, “Don't skip out on family events, vacations or making ‘me’ time because you have schoolwork waiting for you. Invest in a planner and plan, plan, plan. It makes all the difference. Good luck, and you got this!”
Working on improving your work-life balance is essential advice for students that can help you stay motivated and on-track throughout your degree program.
“It is important to be aware of your own personal needs and to pay attention to those needs,” Provencher said. “When we neglect our basic needs, we begin to feel detached, frustrated and often lose the momentum that we have worked so hard to achieve. Once we get to this point, it is very challenging to bounce back, adding another speed bump to the journey of earning your degree.
Follow these tips, and you can survive college, and, hopefully, even enjoy the journey.
Rebecca LeBoeuf ’18 is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
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About Southern New Hampshire University
SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.
Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.