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Finding Your Way During Your First Week of College

A full survival guide for your first week of college with all the tips to set any new student up for success during this transition.

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Finding your way during the first week of college can be overwhelming, but we’ve pulled together all the survival tips you (or your child) need to make the most of the first week of freshman year. Colleges have years of experience welcoming nervous or timid new students, so it’s important to remember that you’re not alone in this experience. Regardless of how you’re feeling about starting college, read these tips and make sure you’ve got a plan to find your way during your first week of college!

Have Fun Connecting With New Friends During the First Week of College

College is where many people make friends that stay with them for a lifetime. One great way to connect with new friends during your first week of college is the collection of fun and creative ideas in the Adventures From Scratch: Friends Edition. It’s a great way to break the ice! Each activity remains a secret, with a few clues on what you’ll need to participate. Once you decide, scratch it off and head out on your adventure. Make some memories right out of the gate with your dormmates and fellow students, and kick off your college friendships!

A Complete Survival Guide for the First Week of College

College can be a huge transition, especially for those who are moving away from home for the first time. Use this survival guide and tips to help you make the most of your first week of college. 

Gather your homesick supplies.

Build yourself a kit before you leave home of a few small things that remind you of home. You’ll likely become homesick if you move away from your hometown. Prepare for that moment by putting together a box of some things that will comfort you. Choose your favorite photos to put up in your dorm room or apartment of your family, friends, pets, and favorite places. Pack some snacks from your favorite shops. Bring along a stuffed animal or blanket you can hang on to when you’re having a tough moment. If you are worried about missing your parents (or vice versa), swap some sealed cards or letters and save them for the days you need a little pick-me-up. 

Double-check your supply list.

Elementary school students receive school supply lists before the first day of school, but colleges don’t typically give you that. So make a list of the school supplies and items you need when you’re packing and shopping. Many students utilize technology for much of their coursework now, but it’s always a good idea to have a collection of notebooks and pens or pencils for classes that might not allow computers or tablets. 

When you get to campus, visit the college bookstore right away to pick up all the required reading for your courses. Most stores have the right amounts but can’t always predict when students will change classes or need extra copies. Used books are a better deal but might sell out quicker. It’s also a good idea to verify that you have the correct editions of the textbooks when you’re shopping. 

There will probably still be something that you forget on your packing list. Figure out the closest convenient store, or set up your dorm room as a shipping address on your Amazon account if you forget anything. This way, you can easily get your hands on anything that you might have forgotten or any surprises that came up that you weren’t ready for. 

Know the adulting basics.

Moving away for college might mean the first time you’re responsible for your own laundry, cooking, or managing finances. Before you head to school, you should review the basics of adult living to ensure you feel comfortable. Once you arrive at school, practice each task immediately while it’s still fresh in your brain.

Do a load of laundry in the dorm room laundromat and have your phone and the internet at hand if you run into questions. Verify the login information for your bank and make sure you get in the habit of checking regularly. Determine where the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are and have an exit strategy if something happens. Set reminders to water your plants (if you have any.) Check the expiration dates on your food. Determine the best place to wash any dishes you have in your room. 

These simple tasks might seem overwhelming if you let them pile up and wait until you have a need. Be proactive and practice the chores until you have them down. 

Talk to your roommate and set guidelines.

Most schools provide the contact information for your college roommate in advance, especially if it’s a random match. Hopefully, you’ve gone through your list of questions to ask your college roommate, made a plan for moving in, and already exchanged some of the basic information. Now, you’re both there and in the space, so it’s a good time to sit down together and review schedules. 

Addressing concerns honestly and openly will set a healthy precedent for communication throughout the year. Guidelines can help you all be on the same page on quiet hours, morning wake-ups, overnight guests, and any other rules or things to set up. You don’t want to be surprised by someone hitting the snooze button ten times each morning or watching television loudly until 2:00 a.m. Address expectations ahead of time and be respectful of each other’s space.

Settle into your dorm room.

Move-in day can be a little hectic. Once your items are moved in, it’s best to get unpacked immediately. Putting your things away in a way that works for you will help reduce stress once classes start. The last thing you want is to have your first day of school, and you can’t find the right shoes or backpack. Prep everything you need beforehand, and set out your clothes and items the night before, and it will help you feel ready for action.

Reflect on notes from college orientation and tours.

For many students, the first time they are on the campus is for an initial tour and the college orientation. These are some of the best tools to help you acclimate to this life transition. If it’s been a few months since you could partake in these activities, you can stop in the student union and see if they offer any tours so you can walk the campus with someone who knows where things are. See what notes and paperwork you hung on to after the orientation and review the information so it’s fresh in your brain. Most universities and colleges also have incredible information on their websites for students.

Say yes to new people and new things.

Making new friends is such a huge part of your freshman year of college. It’s a little easier than other phases of life because everyone is going through the same transition and is seeking new connections. One of the best ways to do this is to be open to new activities and people. If you receive any invitations in that first week of college, try to say yes and step outside of your comfort zone just a bit. 

Join student organizations or sign up to learn more about them. These are easy places to find people with similar interests and hobbies to you. Chat with your neighbors in the dorm and get to know the people who you’ll be living next to. You’ll settle into your group and find people you connect with, and it will all feel more natural and easier with time. Invite people to sit with you while you eat and start conversations with people in your classes. Remember that most people you chat with are also in a new place. 

Do a practice walk-through of classes.

The last thing you want on your very first day of class is to get lost and show up after the professor has started class. College is different from high school because, in most spots, you will move between different buildings for classes. Grab your class schedule and find the classrooms before the first day of school. Figure out the routes you’ll take and time it so you know if you have enough time to grab a snack or chat with friends in between classes. By walking through your whole schedule a few times, you’ll feel more relaxed when classes begin, and you know where you’re going.

Take advantage of the school resources.

Each college campus provides its own unique welcome week activities and events for new students. Utilize the tools the school provides. Check the schedule and dive right into college student life. Some common resources will include upperclassmen who can help answer questions from experience and fairs, highlighting student organizations, sports, clubs, and other activities you can sign up for. Don’t skip the free information sessions—sometimes, they even serve free food! 

Also, make sure to set up your college email account if you haven’t already. This is where your communication from school will come, and it’s important that you check it daily.

Check-in with your high school friends.

College life can be challenging at first while you’re adjusting to the changes. If you’re separated from your high school or childhood best friends for the first time, work to keep in touch with them. Check in and see how their first few days are going. Swap stories and continue to wish them good luck on their adventures. Having a few minutes to chat with people you have a comfortable bond with can also help reduce any feelings of being homesick. Technology has made it so easy to keep in touch. Send voice memos, schedule FaceTime chats or Zoom calls, text each other pictures and emojis, or send old-school pen pal letters back and forth. It’s just nice to know that people are thinking of you and wishing you well, so send the messages out, and they will return.

Eat well and hydrate.

College students have a reputation for surviving on frozen pizzas and fast food deliveries. While the dining hall might have healthy food options, dorm room fridges are likely filled with soda, junk food, and other not-so-great options. Stock up on some healthy options to keep on hand for late-night study sessions so you can find some balance. 

Pay attention to how you feel and ensure you drink plenty of water. You’ll take a bit of time to develop new habits but just strive to make some of those habits healthy. Add vegetables to your plate each meal, snack on fruits, keep a water bottle with you, and refill throughout the day. Putting a little energy into your food and hydration will make you more likely to stay focused and healthy throughout your freshman year.

Start good study habits.

Similarly to creating good eating habits, it’s important to set strong study habits for college and start off on the right foot. Usually, you’ll receive the syllabus for each class during the first week. Put together a calendar and mark down all the important tests and assignments. If you start seeing some places with heavier workloads, make a plan to get ahead in those classes. 

Depending on your living situation, you should also seek out a quiet study spot that you can utilize. The library is a popular destination, but there are also likely study rooms in the dorms where you can bring your books or laptop to work. Talk to your roommate about study hours and how you want to set up a schedule that works for both of you. 

Meet your classmates and exchange contact information so you can study together before big tests and quizzes. It’s helpful to know the other people in your class in case you miss a class due to illness or want to clarify some of the content covered. 

Meet the helpers.

First-year students might get overwhelmed by all the different advisors, counselors, TAs, professors, RAs, and other university employees and volunteers, but each one is there to help students be more successful. Don’t be afraid to ask questions—people will help point you in the right direction.

Need help navigating your financial aid? There’s an office that helps students with all of that. Worried that you don’t understand the assignments in one of your classes? Look up the office hours of your teacher and meet with them. The goal is to help all students succeed in their collegiate studies, and there are tons of jobs that are specifically filled to help students get their questions answered. 

Utilize your free time wisely.

College schedules involve less class time than a high school schedule. There is more free time to take advantage of. If you plan to get a job while in school, verify that the schedule works with your class and study schedule. Managing your time wisely will allow you to take advantage of the fun parts of college. Prioritize your school work, but if you get it done, hang out with friends, attend sporting events, and participate in the clubs and organizations that interest you.

Time will fly by in your short time at college, so taking advantage of the fun opportunities is important. You don’t want to let your studying and schoolwork suffer because you’re always out socializing and playing. Find a balance that works to make the best of your time.

Make any necessary course changes.

You might have a situation where you need to change your course load. There might be a class you realize you don’t need for your degree, or you misunderstood the content and want to make a change. Making those schedule changes during the first week of classes is best. Many colleges have a cutoff to make changes to your course load and still get full credit for the tuition. If you wait too long, you may have to pay for the portion of the semester (or trimester) even if you don’t finish the class.

Talk to your advisor if you’re struggling with decisions because they can help you determine the best move for your studies. It’s best to keep a manageable amount of classes so you can study and soak in the information without being overwhelmed, but you also want to make sure you don’t have too much free time on your hands where you could be taking on more. Find the balance that works best for you.

Get off campus.

Getting sucked into college life and forgetting about the outside world can be really easy, but it’s good to get off campus every once in a while to explore. If you live in a new city now, take advantage of your weekends to get off campus and check out your new home. Public transportation is readily accessible in many large cities, or you can use bikes or scooters that are available for rent. 

Locate the nearest grocery store, clothing store, doctor’s office, and any other places you may need throughout college. Find outdoor spaces to escape, enjoy a hike, or lounge in the grass. It’s good to be able to change your scenery every once in a while. By familiarizing yourself with maps of the area around campus and options for transportation, it will be less stressful and easier when you need to get away from your dorm. 

Be confident.

You’ve had years to prepare for this transition. Each day of elementary school, junior high, and high school prepared you for the future. So, be confident in your skills and abilities. Introduce yourself and be open with new people. Share smiles and jokes. When things feel a little overwhelming, check your list and take a deep breath. College will be a fun adventure, and you’re just beginning, so enjoy the ride.

Closing Thoughts on the First Week of College

Freshman year of college can be a struggle. The first year is when you have to figure out what you want to study (and change once you try a few classes). You are figuring out how to care for yourself without a parent looking over your shoulder. Assignments and tests are your responsibility to prepare for, and no one will be there to give you reminders. 

The more you prepare ahead of time, like making a list of questions for your roommate or attending college orientation and tours, the more prepared you’ll be on the day you arrive. Use this survival guide to help you find your way during the first week of college. Know that you aren’t alone in feeling many emotions and may be intimidated. Reach out to your neighbors and classmates, and make some friends with whom to go on this college adventure. It will all feel like second nature in no time.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most important things to do during the first week of college?

During the first week of college, get acquainted with the campus and learn your way around. Make sure you have all the correct supplies and meet as many new people as possible.

How can I make new friends at college?

During the first week of college, introduce yourself to lots of people. Sign up for clubs, use an Adventures from Scratch book to invite others to do fun activities, and meet your classmates.

What are the best ways to cope with homesickness at college?

The first week of college can be a challenging transition. Prep a collection of things that make you think of your home that you can look through for comfort when you’re missing home.

How can I help my child prepare for college?

Set your child up for success at college by helping them make a to-do list of things to complete during the first week of college. Review info from college orientation and check in with them often.

What are fun gifts to give a new college student?

College students will meet so many new people when they arrive. Give the gift of fun with the Adventures from Scratch: Friends Edition, which comes with dozens of fun activities they can do.

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