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15 Fun Tips for College Freshmen (that I learned the hard way)

Starting college is a big step into your future. You’ll be working towards a goal that may feel light-years away, and I’m betting you don’t want to screw up. I didn’t either, but I did. You will too, I promise. However, looking back at my college years about to graduate with my bachelor’s degree, I can also promise you that important lessons come from screwing up. 

There are probably 15,000 lessons I learned about college outside of class, but here’s a list of 15 things I learned the hard way so that you’ll be ready to face these particular struggles. This way, at least you won’t screw up on the same things I did, and you’ll screw up in your own way. Every time you make a mistake, you’re one mistake closer to reaching that goal that really isn’t light-years away.

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Illustration of a light bulbTip #1:

Talk to people in your classes. Not only will you feel more comfortable in class, and maybe make some new friends, but if you’re ever absent, you have a lifeline to catch you up on what you missed or share notes. Plus, study buddies are awesome.

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Tip #2:

Read. The. Syllabus. It’s basically a big study guide and has all of your spoiler-alerts for the whole semester.


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Tip #3:

Your advisor has the answer to a lot of your questions. Talk with them. You can look up your academic advisor in iConnect or through the academic advising office. They are a valuable resource, and they can help you get where you want to go.


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Tip #4:

No one learns to drive in the back seat. Step up and take charge of your education, whether it’s raising your hand more in class or taking on more responsibility in a group project. Stepping out of your comfort zone will teach you a lot more than sitting in a back seat watching others succeed:

The Story behind it:

In my fourth year of college, I was in a group project working for a client from the Fitchburg Art Museum to create a catalog for one of their seasonal exhibits. I had spent the majority of the project in the back seat, watching my group struggle. I went to meetings and contributed a little, but I certainly was not putting in 100%. They were all incredible graphic designers and writers, with far more advanced skills than me, so I thought nothing I had to say was worthwhile.

After one meeting with our client, less than a month from the deadline, we showed her our work to date and she left with tears in her eyes. We had not met expectations and time was running out. I decided to step up and take the lead for the sake of the group and my own grade. That same day, we stayed on campus and worked on the catalog for more than 12 hours, and we held more productive meetings after that. I became the go-to leader for the organization and visual design of the catalog for the remainder of the project after that day. The exhibit catalog is one of my favorite projects I’ve ever worked on. Plus, I aced the course and received great reviews from my teammates.

I wish I had stepped up sooner in my college career. I was always a little bit timid in class, but this experience changed my mind entirely and I got a lot more out of my education in this course and many after. My experience becoming a leader changed my perspective on what I could accomplish and allowed me to take charge of my own education and my own success.

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Tip #5:

If you have a question about anything, email someone. Either they’ll have an answer or they will direct you to someone who does. It’s a lot easier than stressing out about not knowing.

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Tip #6:

Sign up for classes early to make sure you get a seat. They fill up faster than you realize. Check your DegreeWorks page on iConnect to make sure you take the classes needed for your program.

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Tip #7:

Public speaking gets easier the more you do it, so don’t choke up taking a speech class. Your 5-minute speech will feel like it was 30 seconds long and you’ll be able to breathe again before you know it.

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Tip #8:

Changing your path, even last minute, will still lead you to success.

The Story behind it:

I had plans to attend Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) in North Adams, MA after I finished my associate’s degree. Then, my fiancé and I got engaged the summer after I graduated from MWCC in 2015. Of course I said yes, but the problem became that he and I wanted to get married in 2017, and there was no way we could plan a wedding in that time, especially with me away from home. Extremely last minute (and I mean the week before classes started), I visited Fitchburg State University (FSU) to talk with admissions about a last-minute transfer. Through MassTransfer and some very patient faculty members at both MWCC and FSU, my credits transferred and I began classes that same week. And less than two years later, our wedding day went flawlessly.

Plans change, people change, majors change, and in my case, transfer schools change. Look at your transfer options and talk with your advisor about MassTransfer or another transfer plan. When life gets in the way and plans change, don’t stress. Remember that success doesn’t happen overnight, and everything will work out just fine.

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Tip #9:

If you commute, get there early in the first month of the semester (and I mean EARLY). You’ll never find a parking space otherwise. I personally noticed that after a few weeks of the semester have passed, usually, everyone has settled into a routine and the panic to show up early for class has worn off, so parking spaces become more available as people show up later or at different times. However, those first few weeks are brutal for parking, so be prepared.

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Tip #10:

Every class you skip is wasted money and a wasted opportunity, especially since many classes only meet once or twice a week. However, please don’t kill yourself driving in a bad snowstorm. Also, please don’t overdo your mental capacity and wake up every morning crying before going to class. A few skipped classes aren’t the end of the world, but try not to miss too many. 1-2 per semester is acceptable, and if you let your professors know, many of them are willing to help you out when you need it.

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Tip #11:

Spend some time studying at school rather than at home. There is lots of useful material, free tutoring services, and quiet places for you to concentrate. It’s worth the extra time on campus, and you won’t want to do anything when you get home, trust me.

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Tip #12:

Feeling totally unsure of your career path and future… is okay. The key is to work one day at a time and you’ll get there before you know it.

The Story behind it:

During one conversation I had with my mother as we were talking about school, she said to me, “I still don’t know who I want to be when I grow up.” She had just turned 50. My mom earned her bachelor’s degree in Special Education back in her 20’s. For as long as I can remember, she worked as a teacher’s aide in a public school system. She jumped between part-time jobs, from cleaning an herb greenhouse to elder care, while she worked towards her master’s degree in reading specialist education. Today, she works as a Reading Specialist in a private school and is quite successful, but still wonders who she wants to be when she grows up. And that’s okay.

I’ve been on this college journey for the last 5 ½ years, working towards earning a bachelor’s degree in Communications Media. I transferred schools, I transitioned from a full-time student to part-time and then back to full-time, in addition to working at my job 30 hours a week. Through all of this, I cannot count on both hands and all ten toes how many times I doubted my career path and wondered if I was in the right program. Looking at my graduation date less than a month away, I still don’t know who I want to be when I grow up. And that’s okay.

Everyone has a different path. You may wake up tomorrow morning knowing exactly what you want to do for a living. You may figure it out when you’re 40. Or 50. You may change your mind a dozen times. You may go back to school, or switch majors, or jump between careers. And that’s okay. Your path is yours and while it’s good to have a plan, some things don’t go according to plan. Take it one class at a time, one day at a time, and soon enough you’ll find yourself staring at graduation day with real career goals and a future on the horizon. Just like I and my mom did.

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Tip #13:

Don’t wait to start researching and writing that entire 10-page paper until 22 hours before it’s due. Just don’t.

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Tip #14:

Fill out your FAFSA as early as you can before the school year starts. I know it seems scary but you’ll likely receive more financial aid the earlier you do it. Ask a parent or guardian, or ask the financial aid office, for help. Or sign up for a FAFSA Day event (usually held from November-February) to get FREE assistance filing your student loan application!

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Tip #15:

Celebrate your success! The big achievements (Graduation! End of finals!), as well as the little wins (You passed that paper in at 11:57 for the 11:59 deadline! You didn’t fall asleep in class!). You have worked hard to get here and accomplished so much by deciding to go to college; you have a lot to be proud of.

Good luck!

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About the Author:

Photo of Melissa BonenfantMelissa Bonenfant is an MWCC ’15 alumna and will be graduating from Fitchburg State University in December ’18. She will be earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Communications Media with a concentration in Professional Communications. She is an intern at MWCC in the Marketing & Communications office.



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