Blog Academics

Be the CEO of Your Freshman Year

By Kelly Larson on Friday, October 6, 2023

Students in a classroom

Starting college, whether as a dual enrollment or traditional undergraduate student, is an exciting time. There are so many opportunities for learning, personal growth, and fun. Besides the obvious “tips” of going to class, completing your assignments, and fulfilling other commitments – here are some tips to help you win in your first year.

1. Pay attention to what you enjoy

If you are like 20% of freshmen, your major is listed as “Undeclared” or “Undecided”. That means that 1 out of 5 students doesn’t have a clear direction for their career path. More than that, statistics show that one-third of college students in the United States switch majors at least once, and about 1 in 10 students change majors more than once.[1]

Students choose their major for many different reasons. Maybe you actually love what you’re learning – good for you! However, if you declared a major because your family encouraged you to, because of much money you’ll make, or have someone you admire that you want to model your life after – you’re not alone. Some universities are even testing making students delay declaring a major until their second year because of the impact it can have on their lives.[2]

For those who aren’t sure, think about how you feel outside of your required classes. How do you spend your free time? What are your hobbies? What classes do you like the most? You might consider selecting a major or minor based on your answers to these questions.

2. Use this time to develop soft skills

Now is the time to learn more than just information. Whether you’re taking classes online, a commuter, or living on campus, you need to learn “soft skills” like communication, critical thinking, and self-awareness. Living with roommates will require you to confront conflict, practice communication skills, and learn to compromise. Being in a classroom will involve working with a group, problem solving, and building confidence in your presentation skills. Being on your own for the first time will help you improve on time management and finances – even how to dress appropriately for the weather.

According to Forbes, hard skills are “quantifiable abilities that are relevant to a particular industry or job.” They include technical skills, analytical skills, and project management skills.[3] The primary reason students attend college is to gain knowledge, but employers look for more.

3. Make yourself aware of the school’s support services

All higher education institutions have special departments focused on helping students succeed, but one new study shows that 60% of students aren’t aware of what’s offered at their college.[4] For help with a specific course, you can check your professor’s office hours. At University of Northwestern – St. Paul, our department of Academic Success provides writing help and test facilitation, individual subject tutoring, academic coaching, weekly study sessions, and interactive workshops.

Counseling Services has Christian counselors who are committed to providing the highest quality services while being Biblically consistent. Students can know that that their faith and Christian values will be understood and supported by their counselor.

Career & Leadership Development guides and inspires students and alumni to thrive in career and professional development. A supportive staff with relevant resources coach, advise, and connect students with opportunities to help them build a meaningful career.

Disability Services offers students with unique challenges the support needed to experience full access to Northwestern’s community. They work collaboratively with departments across campus and outside organizations to provide reasonable accommodations for students with medical, learning, or psychological limitations.

4. Stay connected to home

So many people are extremely proud of you. You have made it through long days of high school, late nights of homework, weekends full of practices, family gatherings, and time with friends. Throughout your life you’ve been encouraged by people like parents, grandparents, guardians, mentors, pastors, or solid high school friendships.

There are a lot of ways that you can show gratitude for their support. You might want to go the extra mile for some people from your past. Often grandparents or older adults appreciate traditional ways of showing appreciation, like time spent together, a phone call, or a written note. One set of grandparents explained that they don’t even care that their grandson comes to visit just for the free meal! Parents and guardians love to hear from their students in any form – even if it’s a “I’m thinking about you” text or a photo memory on an Instagram Story. You can also fight loneliness by regularly connecting with old friends!

5. Form healthy habits

Maybe for the first time in your life, you don’t have someone prompting you to make responsible choices. You have the freedom to make your own decisions, and those decisions have a big impact on all areas of life. Starting habits early in the day helps you feel a sense of accomplishment and inspires you to do the next wise thing. In his New York Times best-selling book Make Your Bed, former Navy SEAL, Admiral William H. McRaven says, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”[5]

Consider being very detailed in your habits by doing a task at a specific time and location. You can also add a habit to something you already to on a regular basis, like starting to pray for your day while brushing your teeth.

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear encourages readers to follow the “Laws of Habits” which are to make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying. He gives advice on everything from changing your internal motivation to changing your external environment. It takes time to see results from new habits, but don’t give up.

The most important thing to remember during your freshman year – and for the rest of your life – is that it’s okay to ask for help! This is a brand-new part of your journey, so let these tips help you get through freshman year with confidence. You’ve got this.