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What Is the First Day of College Like? (With Survival Tips!)

Your first day of college is an experience of a lifetime, the start of your tertiary education, and the pathway to your future career. There is no doubt that your first day will be an eclectic blend of excitement and nerves, but what exactly should you expect?

The first day of college is both exciting and overwhelming. It’s a chance to start fresh and meet new friends and your college professors but you might feel nervous or even get lost. Get a good night’s rest, and prepare for your classes.

Many students have left home for the first time when they arrive at college, and it takes time to adjust to their new college life. However, you are not alone feeling nervous before your first day. Here’s what your first day of college will be like and how to make sure you are prepared for the start of your college career. 

What is the first day of college like?

Be Prepared for Your Classes

Don’t presume every lecture is just going to be a syllabus run-through. Some lecturers like their students to hit the ground running and may launch straight into your course material. Be prepared with your laptop or notebook and pen and the other material necessary for the course. 

Some courses require students to cover reading materials before their first lecture. So, make sure you have adequately covered your course requirements before heading to your class. Understand that some courses are sink or swim, and it’s up to you to keep afloat. 

Get to your class early in a sober state (more about that later!) and start taking notes. It’s common for college professors to expect an assignment in the first days of your class, so be prepared to work from the get-go. 

Get Some Rest the Night Before Your First Class

Many first-year students are experiencing their first freedom from the tyranny of parental vigilance. It’s a giddy time, and there will be parties and places to be every night for the rest of your college career, so don’t go out before your first day of classes. Set the tone for your studies and a balance between work and play. 

Don’t limp around the campus with bleary eyes and a hangover. There is a lot of information you might miss while nursing your morning-after headache.

There will be nothing but endless opportunities to let your hair down but save that for weekends or when you have a free day. Don’t sabotage the first day when you meet your professors and potential study mates.

Get plenty of rest the night before so that you have all your faculties intact to start your year of studies on the right foot. It also helps to organize your dorm room properly and set up your study space. Cluttered living spaces can lead to increased anxiety levels, poor sleep, and difficulty in concentrating (source). 

Start Taking Notes From the First Day

Professors tend to cram The first day of college with valuable information. So, don’t rely on your memory when you have so much new information to take in. Professors often give students a rundown on their teaching methods and student expectations, as well as contact information. 

They may also offer information about what opportunities exist for extra credit, so you don’t want to miss out.

Understand that college is nothing like the passive stream of teaching in many American high schools. College requires active participation in your courses, including extra reading and extra effort on your part. 

Professors will often slip valuable information around the subject into their lectures that will help clarify and explain your course material. Keep your laptop handy and start taking notes; you don’t want to miss out on useful information. 

It's easy to get lost on campus your first day. Walk the campus the day before if possible to learn the location of your classes.

You Might Get Lost

Your college campus is a foreign city until you learn the layout, so don’t be stressed if you get lost. 

I think I spent my first week of college like a dumb tourist fumbling my way from lecture hall to lecture hall. It is a good idea to walk the campus and learn where your classes will be the day before your college starts so that you have no surprises.

Plan to reach your lecture hall about ten minutes before the class starts. That way, you can find a good seat and prepare your notes for the lecture. It is also an excellent opportunity to introduce yourself to some fellow students before the lecturer arrives. 

Don’t be afraid to ask for directions if you are lost. Most seniors and sophomores also went through the same uncertainties as you and will help you along. You will soon find yourself giving directions to a fresh-faced newbie just like yourself. 

Expect To Be Small Fry Again

Some first-time college students find it hard to adjust from being top of the high school food chain to being right back down at the bottom again. It’s like the first day of high school again but much more intense and bewildering. I remember feeling almost invisible in my lecture halls after the cozy classes I enjoyed at my high school.

When your lecturer explains the syllabus, you may begin to feel some panic. The terminology is different, and the scope of your year’s study may make you feel a bit dizzy on your first day. 

Don’t panic as you take each module step by step, and keep up with your assignments; it should fall into place. 

You won’t feel so spare and lost once you get your feet and find your way around your college classes. Just remember you are not alone, and there is a sea of freshmen feeling just the same way you are feeling.

Everyone has to start somewhere after all. Those above you will soon be merging from college into the job market, and guess what, they will be small fry all over again!

You Get To Start Fresh

High school tends to herd students into their specific groups where you become set in stone as the theatre geek or the football jock. 

College is a new opportunity to remake yourself and discover new ways of thinking and living your life. If you are starting college with high school friends, you should explore friendships outside your familiar circle.

Now that your freshman year has leveled out the playing field, you have the opportunity to mingle and befriend a new circle of friends with different cultures and belief systems. You will discover new ways of perceiving the world that will broaden your mind.

College is truly a melting pot, and you will never again experience the opportunity to explore your identity and forge new relationships. Use this time to move beyond the familiar perceptions of your family and friends and allow yourself to grow. You might be surprised at the new person who emerges!

Be Prepared To Make New Friends

Just because you share a dorm room with your high school BFF does not mean that you have filled your friend quota for college. When you arrive early at your lecture hall, the people you sit next to might become part of your study group or help you with notes and assignments. 

Introduce yourself to new people on your first day of college and find out more about them. 

If you are alone at college, you will find many other students feeling lost and a bit lonely just like you. A shared interest in college courses is a great place to start a friendship or find someone to share the challenges of your coursework.

Mostly, remember to be approachable. Don’t sit at the back of the hall with your headphones on and chewing your pencil. Sit near the front or next to someone who is already there and introduce yourself. As lame as it sounds, try and smile, and people are more likely to approach you or engage in conversation. 

See How To Make Friends in College: 15 Helpful Approaches

Don’t Be Afraid To Reassess Your Workload

We are so keen to start college and jumpstart our careers that we often bite off more than we can chew with our course load. Once you have understood your syllabuses and course requirements, you might need to reassess a more reasonable workload.

You may find the course you anticipated requires more study than you expected, or on closer examination, the subject fails to engage you as you thought it would. Don’t be afraid to drop or change a course or two. 

First-year burnout is very real. So much so that 40% of first-year students drop out of college in their first year in America (source). It’s best to leave enough time to socialize and unwind and get the rest you need to perform as a student. 

You Might Feel Overwhelmed

Starting college is a major life event, and often we start our college careers far from our homes and familiar surroundings. Although this is an exciting time, and you can taste the freedom in the air, it may sometimes come at a cost for your mental health. 

Starting from scratch without your usual support base can be overwhelming. New courses, new lecturers, new roommates, and a new campus. That’s a lot for a student to take in at once. 

Lisa Cohen, Ph.D. professor of psychiatry, noted a rise in the number of college students who are at the risk of suicide. She cites overprotective parenting as partially responsible for the lack of resilience of students encountering stresses in their college life. 

She also noted that financial crises such as heavy student loans, pressures of technology and social media, and an increasingly uncertain job market trigger depression (source). 

If You Feel Anxious, Find Support

In fact, the World Health Organization found that a staggering 35% of college students suffer from mental health disorders. College time coincides with what psychologists refer to as ’emerging adulthood’ between 18-29 (source). 

This period is marked by increased independence from parents, marked shifts in social roles, and instability in relationships. Although this instability and identity formulation is a normal part of starting college, it may lead to mental health implications if undiagnosed and untreated. 

In a comprehensive study of vast proportions, the WHO Mental World Health (WMH) and the International College Student (WMH-ICS) studied a cross-section of first-year students in 19 colleges from several countries, including:

  • America
  • South Africa
  • Spain 
  • Belgium 
  • Mexico
  • Germany 
  • Northern Ireland
  • Australia. 

They found that one in three students among the 13,984 respondents reported at least one lifetime mental disorder. The study showed links between college lifestyle of decreased sleep, increased stress, and experimental substance abuse to the emergence of:

  • Substance use disorders
  • Bipolar disorders
  • Thought disorders.

Another study showed that anxiety disorders and depression affect a significant number of college students. Experts suggest that these numbers are increasing, which may be problematic when colleges’ mental health care resources have not advanced to meet the demand. 

First-year students often find themselves adrift and have to cope with academic pressures and take on adult responsibilities that they may not be ready to face. Many first-year students have the added stress of navigating romantic relationships and coping with housemates with cultures and belief systems different from their own (source). 

Where To Find Support if You Are Anxious

Being anxious and feeling overwhelmed on your first day in college is a common event, so you should never feel ashamed to seek help. If you feel you aren’t coping and floundering in your first days on campus, you should seek help. Many colleges offer resources to help students navigate the new stresses of college life.

These resources typically include peer counseling and mental health services such as therapy. Have a look at the resources of your chosen college and find a suitable professional to deal with your feelings of anxiety.

There are also off-campus alternatives to help you, such as:


Regardless of your age or background, college is a major milestone in a person’s life. Be easy on yourself, and don’t expect to get it right from the start.

Be prepared and open to new experiences; after all, you will likely look back one day and remember college as the best years of your life. Most of all, reach out if you are feeling lost or alone, and speak to someone who can help you feel less adrift.

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