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Navigating the First Year of College: A Guide for Both Beneficiaries and Their Parents

Before Arriving on Campus

  • Read all communications from your university or college.

  • Review your admissions and financial aid status. Are all outstanding documents submitted?

  • Watch for instructions about logistics like deposits, housing deadlines, fee payment, and class registration.

  • If you have a documented disability, review the services available to you at your university, which may include testing support, assistive technology, sign language interpretation, classroom support, notetaking, etc. Keeping your documentation up-to-date is critical.

  • Request your 529 distribution at least ten business days before the fee payment deadline.

  • Complete any required paperwork (hopefully, most of it is online). There will be many things to sign, agree to, and pay for.

  • Review the academic calendar. Add important dates to your electronic or paper calendar (mid-terms, finals, breaks).

  • Parents should plan to attend parent weekends or visit about mid-way through the term.

  • Assess transportation needs. Do you need a car? Does the campus have a shuttle, or is there public transportation? Purchase flights (if needed). Parents: take note of breaks and long weekends when your beneficiary may be home for visits.

  • Shop for dorm supplies. Seek guidance from current students. Make sure you have the technology and required tools you’ll need for your classes.

  • Watch for the syllabus to be posted and order your books online, then add essential dates to your calendar.


Orientation


  • Attend academic orientation, usually held in the summer. You’ll complete placement tests and meet with your advisor for the first time.

  • Attend new student orientation, usually held the week before opening day. Orientation is generally a peer-led set of events and activities intended to introduce students to campus resources and start making social connections.

  • Parents should consider attending parent/family orientation.

  • Consider attending a pre-orientation program. It is a great way to get to know other new students in a small group setting.


Academics


  • Go to class. Professors will be flexible and work with you when you are sick or have exceptional circumstances, but keep those occasions rare.

  • Meet with your academic advisor. “An academic advisor is a student’s lifeline to navigating the university and should be “your person” when you have questions or need help academically.” - Ginny Kinne, UAF Director of Academic Advising.

  • Explore the library. Find your special nook and ask for help using the library’s resources. Some schools have Library 101 courses that can make writing research papers exponentially easier.

  • Get to know your professors, “especially those in your chosen major. They will be great references and also good sources of internships and experiential learning.” (Katie Straub, UAF Alumni Relations) Make use of your professors' office hours. A great way to go over concepts you did not understand in class, review missed questions on tests or receive feedback on assignments before the due date. Professors are also happy to provide testing and study techniques to help you succeed in class.

  • Ask for help. “Many young, first-time postsecondary learners are still learning to communicate and navigate the world. A big tip and reminder is to believe and know that everyone is there to support you and your success.” Kacey Miller, Director of Student Services, College of Rural and Community Development, UAF.”

  • Ask for tutoring services, accommodations, or other resources that will assist you with your success.

  • Go to the writing center. Having an extra set of eyes on a paper can mean the difference between an A and a C. Many AI tools are worth your investment for proofreading, but peers can offer high-quality critical feedback and help in ways AI can never do.

  • Manage your time. Time management is more critical than you think. I still remember working with a career advisor in my first year who helped me map out my class time, study time, and fun time. I had a lot of unscheduled time and quickly realized how important it was to balance school, recreation, and social activities. The most successful students I know have a good grasp of their calendars.

  • Meet with a career counselor during your first year and discuss internships, summer employment, and networking opportunities.



Student Life


  • Live on campus if you can. “Keep your dorm room door open for the first couple weeks of school. This is how my son quickly met his entire hallway. Explore the campus until you find a study spot that you like. Stay on top of your studies from the start so you don’t have the added stress of getting/feeling behind. Look around in the dining hall and sit with someone who isn’t buried in their phone. Join an intramural team. If your college is close to your home, commit to staying on campus for the first month- this is when all the first-year students are meeting new people, and you don’t want to miss this because you’re at home. Try to connect with a classmate in each class so you have someone to check due dates, notes, etc.” - Parent of a first-year student at a large university in Michigan.

  • Balance academics with a student job and extra-curricular. If you need a job, try to limit your work hours to not interfere with your academics (including homework, papers, research, labs, etc.). Many student jobs on campus pay and help you build your skills (resume builder). Some jobs even let you use the time to study. Speaking of which, ask your financial aid office about work-study jobs!

  • Join clubs, participate in student government, attend sporting events, go to the gym, get outside, and make healthy choices.

  • Sleep. Staying up all night will catch up to you. As a residence hall director, I would find students up all night playing video games or playing pool in the common room. Let’s just say these students learned the hard way that sleep is critically important.

  • Learn basic hygiene skills. Change your sheets. Keep your living area tidy. Do your laundry. Shower regularly. Not only is this a great way to make friends, but it’s good for your mental health.

  • Avoid eating like a college student. All-you-can-eat pizza and soft-serve ice cream sounds great initially, but junk food catches up with you. Try adding powerful brain foods like veggies, fruits, and proteins.

  • Explore the community. Check for student discounts for local events, outdoor recreation, museums, and more.

  • Call home. Connecting with your parents, friends, and family is a healthy way to decompress and take a break from the intensity of being a full-time student.

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