5 Mistakes to Avoid During Your Freshman Year of College

With fall getting colder as you settle into cruise control through the rest of your first semester of college, you may think you’ve already figured it all out. Perhaps you have, but chances are you are making one of these terribly risky mistakes – if not all five. Avoid these five blunders for the best possible college experience.

FindSpark University of Wisconsin-Madison

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1. Thinking it’s uncool to sit in the front row

We can all admit that most of the cool kids certainly did not sit in the front row of class in elementary, middle, or high school unless a seating chart-wielding math teacher forced them to do so. Some people looked at most of those students sitting in those spots on their own accord as teachers’ pets or suck-ups. It makes sense that you would still think this way your first year of college.

Thinking this way in college, however, is a mistake. In college, the coolest kids sit in the front row. Studies have found that, even when randomly assigned at the start of the semester, the students in the front rows of class get better grades, on average, than the students in the back rows. Think about it: the less distracted you are, the more you register the first time, the less studying you have to do, and the more time you have for your cool college life. So, cool kid, what are you waiting for? Next lecture, stride down the 80 rows of sleepy students and plop your smart self front and center.

2. Assuming you’re still the smartest kid in class

To go to college, you had to be smart, gifted, or lucky enough to get acceptable grades in high school (hey, good job on that). Perhaps you were even one of the smartest kids in your class, proudly finishing your exams first and letting your friends copy your perfect notes when they missed class. Your teachers wrote nice messages on your papers and left smiley faces on your tests. Because of your efforts and intelligence, you got into a great college.

Having lived your whole life being rewarded for your above average achievements, it only makes sense for you to begin college expecting the same treatment. By this point in semester, you should have come to the realization that all the people in your college classes are the smart people from their high schools. You are no longer the smartest person in the room.

Keep this in mind as you continue through the semester. If you coasted in high school, you have to learn how not to coast in college. If you crammed or didn’t even bother to study for tests before, try approaching your first semester’s finals by actually studying.  I remember laughing in the face of my University of Wisconsin—Madison tour guide when she told me we would all be studying at least 12 hours a week, because I didn’t have to study. I was smart. After my freshman year, I wanted to find her, apologize, and tell her how right she was.

3. Believing there’s no time or reason to veer off your path

Thinking there’s no time to experiment is perhaps the saddest mistake you can make your freshman year. In college, you have nothing but time. You don’t have to have anything figured out about your life when you’re 18 years old. It’s okay if you don’t get into the business school; take a journalism class instead and try again next fall – or not. It’s fine if you get a C—there’s always next semester to bump up your GPA. Your parents will still love you if you want to take a break and try something different for a semester. After college, you’ll have to worry about real life. So, while you can, relax a little and look at all your options. Your options are truly infinite—you will learn about this infinity in that intro-level astronomy class you should definitely take.

4. Not taking a personal finance class

We have all heard about the horrors of credit card debt for college students, and you may have even seen it firsthand. I certainly watched some of my friends fall into the rabbit hole of making minimum payments for cards they shouldn’t have gotten in the first place. Those are great things to be aware of, but there is so much more that every American should know about handling money.

In a consumer finance class, you will learn things like how to do your taxes, how not to get into debt, and what “compound interest” means. These are things you have to know to be a real person, which you will be approximately three-and-a-half years from now. No matter your major, take a personal finance class. Even if you take it pass/fail your senior year, it is vital information you must have, and you can’t brush it off just because it might be boring (it is).

If next semester’s consumer finance class already has a wait-list, check out this FindSpark post about building credit without risking debt.

5. Not making time for your personal life

FindSpark Studying

Photo courtesy of the author

The phrase “happy medium” is trite for a reason: balance is good. Of course you can’t go wild your freshman year, and you’re going to have to study and be a lot more focused than you’ve ever had to be in your life. Don’t go out every single thirsty Thursday, but also don’t never go out on a Thursday. It’s okay to spend the night in the library if that’s what you need to do, but make sure you take an hour break to grab a midnight snack with a friend. School comes first, but your college years are about more than school, too: be sure you have a life.

Are you a college freshman with more questions? Or a college grad with things you wish you’d known? Leave them in the comments below.

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