top of page
  • Writer's pictureDr. Jennifer McGinness

Tips for Surviving the 1st Semester of College

Starting college is a time of freedom and adventure, but navigating newfound independence can be both challenging and overwhelming for young adults. Below are a few methods to help effectively balance studying, socializing, and completing the everyday tasks that are part of life away from home, especially during freshman year.

Establish a Routine

The transition from a rigid, consistent high school schedule to a flexible college course load can be challenging for even the most organized students. Some students may even find themselves overwhelmed by the amount of free time they have. It can be easy to use this time as downtime, especially when coping with the stress of being immersed in a new environment. However, it is important not to forget about the new things that come along with living a more independent lifestyle! These things can be exciting activities like social events and spending time with friends. Other parts of independent life are more mundane like grocery shopping, doing laundry, exercising and studying. While these seem like simple tasks, new college students may not be familiar with the process of completing these tasks in a new setting and may experience difficulty allocating enough time to fit everything in freshman year.

One way to start building an efficient routine is to break down large tasks into tiny tasks. For example, back home, doing laundry may have been as simple as putting dirty clothes in a hamper and waiting a few days for them to appear back in the closet. In college, laundry is likely a multi-step process like the one outlined below. It may be helpful to outline other new experiences in this way in order to use downtime effectively and avoid becoming overwhelmed! It is also important to remember that these smaller tasks don’t have to be completed all at once. It may be most efficient to do the first 2 smaller tasks in the morning and finish the rest in the evening.

task management college
Example Task Management List

Staying Motivated During Freshman Year

The technique of setting small, manageable goals is also extremely helpful for studying efficiently and staying motivated over the course of a long semester. Oftentimes, college students have a preconceived idea of what studying is like. Take a second to imagine what kind of images and feelings come to mind when you think about studying. For many of us, images of crowded libraries, bright computer screens, and uncomfortable chairs come to mind. Feelings accompanying these images may include dread, nervousness, and sweaty palms. Of course, no one is rushing out to study with these kinds of thoughts and emotions in mind! Luckily, the image of efficient studying looks much different than the image of cramming for a test.

In college, students are often given weeks to complete larger assignments and end-of-semester exams rather than having nightly homework. While the thought of sitting down to start working on a huge project or studying for a cumulative exam is daunting, the thought of a small task like reading an assignment description is much more manageable. Try setting small goals equivalent to about 15 minutes of work instead of pushing large assignments to the end of the semester. Almost anything can be bearable for 15 minutes and oftentimes, students find their assignments aren’t as scary as they imagined them to be. Also, those who start with small, manageable goals are much more likely to accomplish more than expected compared to those who wait to tackle an assignment. Another tip to stay motivated is pairing these 15-minute study-sessions with something pleasurable. Specifically, something that appeals to one (or more) of the 5 senses. See the ideas below or come up with your own!

Roommate Conflict

Conflict is inevitable in any human relationship and even roommates who are great friends will experience disagreements at times. To avoid ending up in an unbearable living situation, it is important to have a healthy understanding of how to manage conflict. One of the first steps in doing this is differentiating between non-negotiable issues and minor annoyances. For example, a non-negotiable for a light sleeper may be establishing a policy for no visitors after 11:00 pm on weeknights. In contrast, a minor annoyance may be your roommate’s loud gum-chewing.

To address the former, it can be helpful to use a technique called “I statements.” To create an “I-statement,” simply state how you feel and ask for what you need. For example, “I feel exhausted in the morning when we have guests past 11. Can we figure out a way to have them leave earlier on weekdays?” These types of statements prevent the other person from feeling attacked and responding defensively. For example, you may be thinking, “my roommate is so inconsiderate, why can’t he give me 5 minutes of peace?!” but stating this to your roommate would likely cause hurt feelings and escalate the conflict. In more benign situations, the best way to guard against roommate annoyance is to find ways to comfort yourself when you are feeling frustrated. Engaging in some of the pleasurable activities listed above can also help you cool down when dealing with roommate annoyances.

Making Good Choices in College

College is an exciting period of self-exploration and identity development. However, as young adults are creating their own identities, they are also experiencing external influence from peers and campus culture. Sometimes messages from peers and the tone of the college atmosphere can conflict with college students’ own values and identities. When faced with the choice between “going along with the crowd” and running the risk of seeming “different,” college students may experience confusion and distress.

One way to encourage new college students to consider consequences when making choices is to suggest making a list of their personal values and brainstorm ways they can act in accordance with these values. Young adults are not always keen on listening to parental advice, so encouraging college students to make choices that align with their personal values is one way to promote independent problem-solving and confident decision-making during freshman year and beyond.

personal values
Example Values List


If you are a college student or the parent of a college student and are noticing the transition from home to university is not going as smoothly as planned, therapy can be a great way to manage new stressors, gain confidence, and plan for living independently!

At Balanced Minds Psychology & Wellness we specialize in assisting young adults, teens, and children with navigating life’s challenges. To learn more about myself and the services I provide, checkout my profile. If you are ready to start the therapy process, contact us today to start a free consultation, either over telehealth or in person!


bottom of page