How to Succeed Academically and Socially as a College Freshman: Advice from Recent Grads and Last Year’s Freshmen

At the end of this past academic year, I decided to send an email to my former students, asking them to share advice on what helped them to succeed academically and what helped them to succeed socially. I sent the email to two groups of students – seniors who had just graduated, and freshmen who had just completed their first year at Villanova.

I wanted to compile their responses and then share it with the incoming freshmen this Fall. My initial thought was to start grouping together common suggestions, like “take advantage of your teacher’s office hours” or “join clubs that look interesting to you”, and just show such suggestions once.

But then as I started reading through the replies, I thought it would be more powerful to simply share the student responses in their original form. If a certain suggestion shows up multiple times, that’s a pretty good indication that it is kind of important.

I have grouped the responses into tips for academic success and tips for social success, both of which I think are critical to having the best college experience possible. I have further divided the tips into the graduating seniors and those students who just wrapped up their freshmen year.

I believe the advice below is not just limited to incoming freshmen; a student at any level of college will likely find some useful words of wisdom in the tips below.

I’d also love it if any of my fellow bloggers have any advice they would like to share in the comments as they look back (fondly, I hope) on their college years.

How to succeed academically:

from seniors:

  • There are two groups of people that you need in order to succeed in class. Your professors and friends in your classes. Getting to know your professors through office hours is one of the most valuable things you can do as a student. It helps you to get to know them better and to always have someone to support you as you navigate many decisions throughout college. Taking the extra time to ask for help and visit a professor can make all the difference in the long run, when you need advice or further explanations! Secondly, you need to have people to study with, to teach, and to be taught by. The number of hours I spent in the exchange, poring over accounting problems, or working on presentations was made much more worthwhile by sharing it with people in the same boat. It’s how you bond with people in VSB and provides another layer of a support system that can make Villanova feel that much more like home!
  • One thing that I was fortunate enough to realize early is the amazing resources that we have at our fingertips, specifically our professors. My professors during my time at Villanova have been some of the smartest and most hardworking people I have ever met in my life. Even better, they are REAL people. They are not only willing to help you with that concept that you just can’t wrap your head around, but they will also be ready to give you a high five when you ace the test in their class. If you find a class that really piques your interest, don’t be afraid to share that interest with your professors. Simply speaking up can open the door to research, networking, and even job opportunities. At the end of the day, professors can be more than teachers, they can be friends.
  • be efficient with your time and productive – prioritize the quality of studying over quantity in terms of hours. Do things in advance and get help before its due if needed. Some students will sit in the library all day during finals, but I never think that’s productive. Spend 4 productive, quiet hours studying, because that is much more helpful than spending 8 hours half studying half talking to friends.
  • One piece of academic advice for freshmen, in my opinion, would be to go to office hours. It is a great opportunity for students to get to know their professors outside of the classroom and a way for students to make improvements or get back on track in a specific course.
  • Sleep. If you can balance sleep with studying you will reach maximum performance, be less stressed, and pull information out of your brain much easier.
  • I would say try not to sweat the small stuff. These are honors students so clearly they’re all extremely bright and hard-working. I remember feeling a lot of pressure to do well in my freshman year, which can be a good thing. But I would tell them that in the grand scheme of thing, one bad test grade or not doing as well as you may have wanted in a class isn’t going to make a huge difference.
  • always take classes that are interesting for the sake of academic curiosity, not necessarily to fulfill a requirement.  I thought coming into Villanova that I would be a certain major, however, after taking a number of classes outside of that field I found a new passion, and have had a very interdisciplinary education because of it.
  • take a class outside of your major that you think would be interesting. Although I was an accounting major, I decided to take intro to criminology my junior year and it was one of the best decisions I made at nova. I truly believe it made me more knowledgeable about the world around me.
  • I would say the biggest thing is to stay on top of tasks/assignments early. This may sound trite, but it definitely helped early on in my college career. College is certainly different from high school and it takes time to adjust. Procrastination in high school is much much different than doing it in college. Once I started to get more experiences in colleges, I was able to feel more comfortable with my abilities / recognizing things I could actually procrastinate. These skills of discernment take time though, and college could become extremely overwhelming without staying on top of your game before learning how to make adjustments.
  • When it comes to classes, they WILL get difficult. Maybe not right away freshman year but at some point, you will get bombarded with work and when this happens just relax. Try not to get overwhelmed, you were intelligent enough to get into this great school so you WILL get through it. Use your professors as a resource. Villanova hires incredible faculty who want to see their students succeed. If you’re struggling in a class, make time to go talk to your professor because they will help you until you understand the material, no matter how long it takes.

from freshmen:

  • Find a study spot that works for you (preferably not your room) as soon as you can! It took me until the second semester to realize that I was exponentially more productive on the third floor of the library. A study spot produces more efficient work and also helps you get out of the dorm during the day and get acclimated more quickly to campus.
  • recognize early on that you will need to study and prepare for tests far earlier than in high school, and to realize what classes you need to spend more time in and prioritize work in.
  • Get into a studying/homework routine early. Find a place where you can focus, but also relax whether it be a favorite spot in the library, in Bartley, in the dorm lounges, or in your own dorm. Keeping on top of homework and staying up to date with the content is essential and building a study routine can help immensely.
  • one piece of advice on what I think it takes to succeed academically at Villanova is to make friends in each class so that you can use each other for either simple questions or study sessions before a test! One example of this that still sticks with me now is that my friend taught me a pneumonic for deferrals and accruals: abc (accrual: (rev/exp) before cash) and dac (deferral: (rev/exp) after cash).
  • go to office hours and ask for help.  Even going in when you aren’t confused on a topic and reenforcing new material will help you understand it even better and when the test comes around you don’t have to relearn old material.
  • one tip that has helped me tremendously this past semester was utilizing peer tutoring. As soon as I had trouble understanding a concept I would go to them with homework from the slides and we would work on it together until I was able to make sense of it on my own. It’s imperative to go as soon as something doesn’t quite make sense or is a bit confusing because if that is left unattended it will continue to haunt students because a lot of the material builds on itself.
  • do not be afraid to reach out to your professors for assistance by attending office hours. This is a great way for them to get to know you as a student.
  • One tip I would say that was crucial in my success this past year at Nova was time management. It’s hard to juggle 5+ courses so it helped me a lot to have a planner to write down when all of my tests, homework, and projects were due. From looking at the due dates, I could plan accordingly for what I was to spend my time working on.

specific advice for VSB2004 – Intro to Financial Accounting:

  • 1) Read emails from your professor carefully and take all advice on what to review for upcoming quizzes and tests 2) Stay up to date with the notebook and do exercises as many times as it takes until the skills become fluent 3) Watch the recorded lessons and take advantage of the pause button to take great notes 4) Do the Wiley assignments and make sure to do them on paper then plug in answers after. I believe doing the Wiley assignments greatly helped me
  • Many people say that VSB 2004 is difficult, but I want to say it will be easier if we spend time on it. And I believe this works in every subject. As long as we are willing to spend time on it, we’ll do well in it. And don’t forget our professors are always available for help!
  • My biggest point that I would make to freshman in accounting is that it is all about preparation. The material itself is not overly complex it just takes a little while to grasp. Almost everyone can be successful if they put adequate amounts of time into studying for exams. The best way I studied for the exams was going back through the slides and copying them all down multiple times to memorize the information. Also on the test when I was stumped I would skip the question and go back because everything was so related that another question would usually remind me how to do what was stumping me.

How to succeed socially:

from seniors:

  • I think a good piece of advice to remember is that you will make friends at every stage of your college experience. In the beginning, it’s easy to get caught up in the fact that it seems like groups have formed, and that no one will branch out after the first month or so. This isn’t true at all! Some of my best friends were made the second-semester senior year, which is something I never expected! There will certainly be people you meet freshman year who will stick with you, but if you’re feeling unsatisfied socially, just know that new relationships will come into your life when you least expect it. Freshman year is great, but there is so much more time at Villanova to meet new people, so don’t close yourself off to anything too soon!
  • Overall, to succeed socially at Villanova, you should say yes to people, and yes to new experiences and activities that allow you to meet more people at the Villanova community. Go on the break trip, volunteer, sit at a circular table in the library and just be open to all that people can offer you. You never know where you’ll meet your best friends, but I guarantee you’ll find them at Villanova. Be patient, be kind, and be excited about this new adventure!
  • There are definitely some “popular” extracurricular activities at Villanova. Everyone does SPO, wants to be in Blue Key, and wants to join Greek Life. While these are all amazing opportunities and highlight the Villanova brand, this campus has so much more to offer. My biggest piece of advice is to read the Wildcat Newswire. This is where I learned about the plethora of activities that Villanova offers that aren’t as mainstream, but I found incredibly rewarding. This is where I learned about free workout classes through the health center and various interfaith events that made my senior year special. There is something out there for everyone, you just have to look.
  • develop some sort of relationship with everyone you meet, and try not to burn any bridges. I think the school feels much smaller and friendlier when you get to know everyone you encounter – whether it be just as acquaintances or best friends.
  • One piece of social advice for freshmen at Villanova would be to always try something new. It may seem overwhelming at first the number of activities and groups you can join, but don’t limit yourself too much. You never know when you are going to find your passion or some of your best friends, so be open-minded to new opportunities.
  • There is always somebody new to meet; always smile, say hello, and ask how somebody is doing.
  • meet as many people as possible during their time at Nova and say yes to everything, even if it means doing something a little outside of your comfort zone. There are some incredible people at this school and the friendships you make and the people you share experiences with is the stuff you’re going to really remember after four years. Time flies so take advantage of everything and everyone Nova has to offer!
  • hang out in common spaces as much as possible (ex. dorm lounges) for the first few weeks of school.  During this time, everyone is extremely open to meeting new people and friends- and the group of people that I met in the Caughlin first floor lounge is still my closest group of friends to this day.
  • Socially I would just say to put yourself out there as much as possible. I do not mean each student should just sign up for as many clubs and activities as possible and hoping something will stick, as these relationships and friendships seldom lasted during my time in college. Students should participate in things that they are actually passionate about and the friendships will surely follow. For me, this was basketball. Literally every single day I would walk to the basketball court on South Campus (by myself typically – especially early on) and then just play and meet people. Once people see your passion, like-minded individuals will flock to you. Early on everyone is really nervous about making friends, so often times they will look for any reason to exchange numbers / look to hang out. Sharing similar passions is the best way to make connections. Some of the people I met on South’s court four years ago I still consider my closest friends.
  • Don’t go right to your room after you finish class, hang out and do work in the communal areas on campus.
  • my number one takeaway from the past three years I’ve had at Villanova is to enjoy each and every minute you spend on this campus. We get so busy and can get very stressed with our classes and extracurricular responsibilities that we forget to take a minute and think about how lucky we are to have the opportunity to attend a school like Villanova. There are people who would do anything to be in your shoes and go to a great school like this so while staying busy is important, don’t forget to take time every once in a while to think about and enjoy the opportunity you’ve been given.  Lastly, BE YOURSELF. Having spent three years on this campus, I’ve realized that you are entering some of the best years of your life and if you spend it trying to be someone you’re not to try and impress others you will regret it. Villanova admits an incredible student body and you WILL find your group of friends, sometimes it takes a little time.
  • Right through my senior year of college, I would still say “oh, I had class with that person freshman year! We’ve been friends ever since.” Don’t discount your classes as a way to meet people, because those relationships stick. Just remember – homework, studying, social life – becomes a lot more easier when you are in class with friends, not strangers. And in VSB, those friends could turn into your colleagues and coworkers in the real world! I’ve only been working at my job in NYC for a month, but I already rely on the Nova kids at my firm as people I know I have something in common with and can trust. And then at least once a week – you run into someone from your graduating class just walking down the street!  These were all “random” kids I sat next to in class/hung out with/said hi to over 4 years, and I never would’ve guessed we’d all be doing “real life” in the city together.

from freshmen:

  • join as many business societies on campus as possible! I made a ton of friends in the Equity, M&A, and GIS societies, both my age and upperclassmen. Also, I learned A TON, so it’s great resources and a lot of fun.
  • Get involved! Not only does being busy make the adjustment to college smoother, but this is probably the easiest way to meet like-minded people on a fairly large campus. There are only so many individuals that you can meet in your dorm or classes. The people are what make Villanova so special, and getting involved shrinks the campus and introduces you to great people whose paths you may have never crossed otherwise!
  • I would recommend a complete openness on how you are going to make friends as everyone does differently. The majority of people I know made friends through their dorm or a club, and although I was involved in a popular club early on and was social in my dorm this is not how I made my best friends. I met a kid in my orientation group and he introduced me to his friends in a different dorm and unrelated clubs, who I am closest with now, so drop any preconceived notions on how you make friends and just be socially proactive is my advice.
  • You will hear it from everyone you talk to, “get involved, put yourself out there to make friends, introduce yourself.” This may get repetitive, but there is a reason everyone says it. This is the most important part of succeeding socially as a freshman. The awkward beginnings and introductions may seem that way at first, but you will never regret putting yourself out there because there is a good chance you can build a relationship/friendship with that person or group.
  • One piece of advice on what I think it takes to succeed socially while at Villanova is to be yourself and do the things you love to do and the rest will come naturally; this means that getting involved in activities and events that you are passionate for matters because it is there where you will find people with the same interests as you. I also think one can succeed by just being friendly in class; I have made some of my best friends by talking to those around me and now we plan to take future classes together!
  • take advantage of the fact that you live in a dorm.  Go to lounges and try to meet new people.  Everyone is open to making friends in freshman year so chances are you will find other people in the lounges who want to socialize.  Some of my best friendships were fostered in those lounges.
  • be open and get involved with the communities on campus. The more students get out and get involved the more people and experiences they will have.
  • get involved on campus by joining clubs and other activities that interest you to meet people with common interests.
  • get involved in anything that they’re passionate about and from there they will make friends naturally.

If you made it this far, my guess is that you are going to have a great freshmen year!

*image from US News & World Report

16 thoughts on “How to Succeed Academically and Socially as a College Freshman: Advice from Recent Grads and Last Year’s Freshmen

      1. It makes all the difference at any level. I teach at the opposite end of the spectrum, a multi-age class of pre-k/jk children. 3,4, and 5s who benefit from the same connections. I have most of them for 2 years and their confidence level and growth is amazing

      2. my wife also teaches at the pre-k level, and she has great stories to tell about how much the students change from the beginning to the end of the year. By the way, I’ve shared your blog with her, and she’s been loving going through your ld posts about teaching!

      1. Yes, they did do great with their replies.
        An exciting time for him for sure, but its going to take this whole Senior year for me to prepare to let go! He is my “baby!” LOL!

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