4 Contrarian Tips for Conquering Freshman Year

Beside a stack of books, an overwhelmed student hides his head...and maybe catches 40 winks.

If you’re just entering college, you’ve probably already gotten plenty of advice about what to do and what not to do during your freshman year. You might have even seen our list of essential tips that we call “The New Freshman 15.” If so, you’re probably in great shape to start off college right.

That said, there are some smart people out there (read: us) who sometimes disagree with some of the more popular advice. We acknowledge that some things are generally good pieces of wisdom, although we still find ourselves saying, “Yeah, but … .”

Here are four examples of tips that run against conventional wisdom but still offer great ideas for conquering your freshman year.

1. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, but...

Also try to get really good grades.

Why? Because it won’t get any easier.

Think about it. Your classes will never be easier than they are during your freshman year. In some cases, you’re taking almost the same math, English or language class you took in high school. Trust us, your classes will only get harder.

What you don’t want is to have to dig yourself out of a hole the next three or four years because you had an awful first two semesters. It’s much better to have a solid GPA heading into your latter years so you can relax, look for jobs and/or really enjoy your final months on campus.

2. Don’t rush into choosing a major, but…

There are definitely advantages to choosing one early.

It makes sense to want to explore a variety of different subjects first before deciding on what you want to do. But it should be acknowledged that people who decide on their major earlier may get opportunities over other students who declare later.

For instance, business students might be able to get a leg up on their peers by starting to meet professors, joining clubs and planning out their classes better if they do those things in their first two semesters. Not to mention declared majors usually get first dibs at class registration.

So, take your time, but also don’t waste time thinking you have forever to make a decision. Sophomore year will be here before you know it.

3. Never skip class, but...

It’s okay to miss certain classes.

Huh? What’s the difference?

The distinction is between being generally lazy and being smart about time management. It’s the reality that not all courses require attendance at every class.

This can be a slippery slope, and to be safe, in the past we have recommended that you attend every class for a long list of reasons, including getting random test hints and extra credit opportunities from professors. That said, the reality is that some classes are mainly reviews of reading material, don’t count toward final grades and already feature extensive class notes online.

The smartest advice is to really read through your courses’ syllabi (the rules your professor gives you for the course on Day One) and miss class only for good reasons — spending an extra hour to really nail a paper or meeting with a professor or job contact, not sunbathing or playing video games. That requires you to be honest and learn a little self-control.

4. The “Freshman 15” isn’t necessarily real, but...

It certainly can be for you.

We debunked the infamous “Freshman 15” myth in our aforementioned piece called “The New Freshman 15,” but it’s still true that you can get into some pretty bad health habits your freshman year that can plague you later in college and beyond.

As you get older, it’s easier to gain weight. Combine that with the fact that you no longer have strict schedules and healthy home-cooked dinners, and you can start getting heavier and less healthy.

Fortunately, whether it’s walking to class, joining intramural sports or choosing some leaner options at the dining hall, there are easy ways to be active and eat nutritious food. Having extra energy from those choices can only help you through your first year and beyond.