19 Suggestions for Incoming College Freshmen

The following suggestions apply to all entering freshmen, although a few may be more apropos to those living on campus. Needless to say, this is far from an exhaustive list, but one that students, parents, and colleagues might think of as a point of departure.
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After receiving an enthusiastic response to my 2012 HuffPost blog, "Ten Suggestions for Incoming College Freshmen," and listening to some readers, I did some revisions for a 2013 version. Now in response to comments I received, I am publishing a new version.

My primary credential is that I have been a Cornell English Professor for 45 years and have also held some visiting professorships at various public universities in three other states. I am now writing a short book under contract tentatively titled Entering and Succeeding in College, and would welcome suggestions and comments.

The following suggestions apply to all entering freshmen, although a few may be more apropos to those living on campus. Needless to say, this is far from an exhaustive list, but one that students, parents, and colleagues might think of as a point of departure.


1) Keep your career and life goals in mind and remember why you enrolled at the college and in the program you chose.

2) College is an opportunity, but you to need to be a savvy consumer and take advantage of what is offered in terms of personal and intellectual growth.

Savvy consumers do not waste their own money or that of their parents or run up loans beyond their and their parents' ability to repay.

3) After a reasonable amount of time--at least a semester--if you and your academic program are not a good match, think about transferring within the college or to another college.

Time Management

4) Manage your time because time-management is crucial to success. Keep a daily record of how you are using your time and each evening schedule the next day, even while knowing you won't be following that schedule exactly.

5) Come to every class on time, alert, prepared, and ready to take notes.
Work on your courses every day but not all day; do something that is fun and relaxing every day.

Participating in Campus Life

6) Experience complements what you learn in classes. Try to find summer jobs, campus jobs and campus or community activities that parallel your goals. If you need or want a part-time job, try to get one compatible with your goals as a way to test if you are on the right path. But also use jobs and activities to expand your horizons and interests.

7) Be sure to participate in one or more of the many campus activities, but during the first term chose a limited number until you are confident you can handle your course workload.

8) Given that this is a tech driven world, no matter what your major, develop tech skills, perhaps by taking basic courses in computer science if you have not already done so in high school. If you have done so, consider taking another one in college. As Ryan Larkin, Cornell '14 put it, "Learning how to code (even basic HTML and CSS) would have been an invaluable step for me to take in high school, and some of the first advice I'd give to students would be to acquire hard technical skills that can add value to almost any kind of resume."

Broadening Horizons

9) Take advantage of lectures outside courses as well as special exhibits, campus theater presentations, musical programs and other campus resources as well as the natural and/or urban treasures of the area in which your college is located.

10) The world has become a global village and for you to be part of the village you need to spend some time each day keeping informed of international and national news and that means reading a major newspaper in print or on the internet like the New York Times.

Choosing Classes and Studying

11) Think about your classes as communities of inquiry where you and your fellow students and the professor are sharing intellectual curiosity, love of learning, and the desire to understand important subjects.

Take classes that emphasize concepts and how to apply them. Learning by rote is much less important than learning how to think for yourself and to solve problems, a crucial quality for your future. Be aware in your thinking of what you know, what you need to know, and what is unknowable.

In small classes, participate in discussion; in large ones ask questions if you have them.

12) Get to know at least one professor reasonably well each term. The professors who ask you about your plan of study, your goals, your outside activities, and seem to care about you as a human being will not only be resources that you can go to for advice, but those who could be a future reference.

By knowing some of your professors, you will not only feel more a part of your college community, but you will also have necessary references for programs within college, work positions, and graduate school.

13) Find a few comfortable and quiet study places on campus, places where you work effectively and are not easily distracted. If you are commuting, you will still need to find places where you can focus on your academic work.

Maintaining Physical and Mental Health

14) Participate in campus activities--teams, musical and dance groups, community service to the underserved and aged communities--and seminars that call upon collaborative action. Such collective endeavors give you an opportunity to develop group responsibilities, including social ethics, and leadership skills necessary for later life. (I am skeptical about the need of fraternities and sororities in 2014, but they do work for many students.)

15) Remember the three R's: Resilience (Falling down and getting up are one motion.); Resourcefulness (Use your skills and intelligence.); and
Resolve (Pursue goals with determination and persistence.).

16) Look at setbacks and problems as challenges to be met and overcome; when you do so successfully, you will be gaining confidence to meet the next challenges. Learning to build on failures is an important quality for success. Becca Harrison, Cornell '14 wrote to me of "the value [for her] in failing, and not necessarily succeeding right out of the starting-gate that is freshman year." Recognize that all problems--personal and intellectual--are not neatly solved and learn how to deal with complex and ambiguous questions.

17) When you enter a new situation such as the first weeks at college, you might feel somewhat desperate to make friends quickly. But it is important to retain your core values and judgment and to avoid becoming part of a herd or doing things only because others are doing them. The period between entering school and Thanksgiving is sometimes known as the "Red Zone" because students are more prone to make bad choices.

18) Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Be sure to get enough exercise and sleep, and be sure to eat regular nutritious meals. Sleep deprivation can lead to poor performance and poor judgment.

Seek help when you need it, no matter what the issue. Know that substance abuse is a problem on campuses, with alcohol being the most abused, and that it can lead to compromising situations where judgment is skewed.

19) Laugh a lot and continue to develop your sense of humor. When things are not going well, remember you can't fix the past. But you can start where you are.

Author of the well-received 2012 book Endtimes? Crises and Turmoil at the New York Times (Excelsior Editions of SUNY Press), which recently appeared in an updated 2014 new paperback edition, Daniel R. Schwarz is Frederic J. Whiton Professor of English and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University where he has won Cornell's major teaching prizes. He also writes on higher education, including his book In Defense of Reading: Teaching Literature in the Twenty-First Century. He blogs on higher education and the media for the Huffington Post. Prior blogs on Higher Education can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-r-schwarz/

He can be reached at drs6@cornell.edu and followed on twitter at https://twitter.com/danRSchwarz and https://www.facebook.com/SchwarzEndtimes

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