Ensuring Success In Your First Year

Learning Objectives

  • Identify specific strategies to achieve college success during your freshman year

Support Structures for First-Year Students

Why is the first year of college so important? So much happens that year! Shouldn’t there be a grace period for the newest students to get acclimated to college before the pressure sets in?

The fact is that the first year of college is the most crucial time in your college life. So much is happening, but it serves to establish your trajectory to success. Consider the following typical first-year experiences, all of which strategically support students during this critical make-or-break period.

A large group of people


Most first-year students attend an orientation program, which typically leads to the following results:

  • Students participate in more educationally enriching activities
  • Students perceive the campus environment to be more supportive
  • Students have greater developmental gains during their first year of college
  • Students are more satisfied with their overall college experience

First-Year Seminars

First-year seminars may be of the “orientation to college” variety; others may be based on your curriculum. Students who participate in these seminars tend to

  • Be more challenged academically
  • Be more active and collaborative in learning activities
  • Interact more frequently with faculty
  • Think of the campus environment as being more supportive
  • Gain more from their first year of college
  • Make greater use of campus services


The quality of academic advising is the single most powerful predictor of your satisfaction with the campus environment. First-year students who rate their advising as good or excellent

  • Are more likely to interact with faculty in various ways
  • Perceive the institution’s environment to be more supportive
  • Are more satisfied with their overall college experience
  • Gain more from college in most areas

Early Warning Systems

Early warning systems are especially important for students who start college with risk factors or who may be struggling academically. Midterm progress reports, course tests and other assessments, and early alert systems are most effective at helping students cope with difficulties in the first year.

Learning Communities

Learning communities are programs that enroll groups of students in a common set of courses. The effects of learning communities are greatest for first-year students. Students report gains in personal and social development, competence, and satisfaction with the undergraduate college experience.

Student Success Initiatives

Student success courses typically address issues like how to use campus support resources, manage time, study well, develop careers and skills, set goals, take tests, and take notes. The College Success course you are in right now is such an initiative.


About one-third of first-year students take developmental courses to bring their academic skills up to a level that will enable them to perform well in college. Developmental courses can make the difference in a student’s decision to stay in college or drop out.

Grades and Your First-Year Success

  • Your freshman year accounts for a significant portion of grades that can be used in getting an internship.
  • Your freshman year can account for a significant portion of grades that matter to starting your career.
  • Top companies can have early recruitment programs that begin identifying prospective students and looking at grades as early as your sophomore year.
  • Many top clubs and major-specific honoraries on campus look at your grades in the screening process.
  • When you get good grades as a freshman, you tend to keep getting good grades as a sophomore, junior, and senior.
  • Instructors tend to give the benefit of the doubt to students who get good grades.

The best advice is to commit to making your freshman year count. Make it the absolute best. The earlier you can establish good habits during this time, the easier your future years will be—not just in college, but in your work environment, at home, and beyond.

Tips for First-Year Students Embarking on Academic Success

The following is a list of tips from a college educator for college students embarking on their journey to academic success:

  • Two young women wearing backpacks Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable!
  • Get the book(s) and read the book(s).
  • Take notes in class and when reading for class.
  • Know your professors (email, office location, office hours, etc.) and be familiar with what is in the course syllabus.
  • Put away your phone during class.
  • Emails need a salutation, a body, and a close.
  • Don’t write the way you might text—using abbreviations and clipped sentences.
  • Never academically advise yourself!
  • Apply for scholarships—all of them!
  • Speak it into existence and keep your eyes on the prize.
  • Enjoy the ride! Cheers!


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