What Every First-Year College Student Should Know



Heading off to college for the first time? Along with your toothbrush and belongings, take this advice from a professor and a staff member at McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill.

“If your institution opens prior to Labor Day Weekend, stay at school instead of going home,” said Joni Mitchell, assistant vice president for student affairs and director of retention services. “If you are a bit homesick, it is difficult to return to campus after that holiday.”

Mitchell advises giving your new roommate at least a month before searching for a new one.

“Sometimes, first impressions are not always true,” she said. “Don’t room with your best friend. Many friendships have broken because of this.”

Mitchell said students must be “prepared to meet people who are different than yourself. Be open and respectful to others’ beliefs and philosophies. Understand that we can all learn from each other.”

“Students will be given much more freedom than they’ve ever had before but they must learn to deal it responsibly,” said Alan Alewine, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics. “That means going to class, meeting deadlines, and studying regularly. It also means attempting to solve their own problems. When a student is performing poorly in a class, it is up to him or her to discuss the situation with the professor.”

“Don’t miss two class sessions in a row because it makes it easier to miss the third, which could snowball into the rest of the semester,” Mitchell added.

Alewine recently attended the International Conference on the First-Year Experience at the University College in Dublin, Ireland. Presentations addressed diversity, resolving professor-student conflict, e-mail etiquette, and the importance of peer mentors and common reading programs.

At many colleges and universities, faculty members choose a book for all first-year students to read over the summer break or fall semester. This summer, McKendree first-years read Eboo Patel’s Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. They must be prepared to discuss it with other students, their University 101 instructors and peer mentors during new student orientation.

Peer mentors, upper level students who partner with instructors to help guide new students are invaluable, said Alewine. “First-year students often feel more comfortable talking with someone closer to their age. While the instructor provides structure and guidance in the course, the peer mentor can deal with the nitty gritty of college life.”

Students must also “try to learn to adapt to new teaching styles,” he continued. “Professors rarely teach exactly like high school teachers. Some will teach classes that are almost all lecture and some will teach ones that are almost entirely discussion based. Some will do a combination of both.

“Students must be flexible.”

Mitchell stressed the importance of getting involved outside the classroom. “Even if you are super shy, force yourself to get involved in campus activities and organizations,” she said. “It is a great way to meet new friends and also helps build a resume for after graduation.”