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Home > First Year Advising

Tips for Freshmen Tips for Freshman Students
  • Become familiar with University Requirements for graduation.

  • Pay attention to important dates on the Academic Calendar:

    • Last Day to Pay for Classes (end of Drop/Add week)

    • Last Day to Withdraw from a class without academic penalty

    • Scholarship Application Deadline for new academic year

    • Last Day to apply for Grade Forgiveness

    • First Day to Register for New Semester

  • Follow this link for the Academic Calendar:

  • Make a weekly schedule of all class related deadlines.

  • Contact the Freshman Advising Office each semester when scheduling new classes.

  • Familiarize yourself with all college majors

  • Do not overload your schedule with too many credit hours

  • Get involved with school related activities


Preparing for class.
2. In the classroom.
3. Using a professor's office hours.
4. Important materials.
5. Questions you should never ask.
6. Using a computer to your advantage.
7. Organization tips.
8. Know your advisor
9. Homework tips.
10. Expand your horizons  
11. The power of the internet 
12. Things to remember 

1. Preparing for class. Go back

1.  Know where and when your classes meet.  Know how long it takes you to get there from here.  If you can’t get there from here, figure out an alternative route.  

2. Know the course name and number.  Know the professor’s name. 

3. Your name is optional, but your university identification number (UIN) is not. 

2. In the classroom. Go back

1.  Get to class early.  If it’s a large classroom, sit front and center – the teacher is likely to learn your face and, if s/he is in the habit of chatting with students before class, may actually learn your name.  

2. If you must arrive late, come in quietly and sit in the back of the room.  

3. Do not use cell phones.

4. Be organized.  Know what you need (notebooks, writing instruments, recorders, textbooks, etc.) and have it ready to go before the lecture starts.  

5. Be quiet.  Snapping gum, unwrapping candy, slurping drinks, clicking your pen, wiggling in your seat to make it squeak, etc.

6. Maintain frequent eye contact with the professor.  Attentiveness projects a favorable impression.  And you may find that paying attention to facial expressions and gestures help you absorb the material.  

7. Ask questions.  A good professor will stop periodically to let students catch up and ask questions.  Take advantage of that time.  Don’t try to show off by asking a question designed to demonstrate how much you know.  Do seek clarification if you’re confused (your fellow students who are too shy to ask will thank you later) and do ask about connections between what the professor is talking about and other things you may be learning.  If the professor doesn’t leave time for questions during class, take advantage of office hours.  One caveat: if it’s a question about course structure and/or procedures, check the syllabus first.

8. Answer questions.  A good professor will let you ask questions.  A better professor will ask you questions to see if you’re absorbing the material and/or to help you make connections among concepts.  Take advantage of that opportunity and try to answer the questions.  Be sure to follow the appropriate protocol – don’t shout out answers if a show of hands is asked for or if the teacher has called on someone else (but do try to answer the question in your head if that’s the case).

9. Unless the teacher is late and your next class is across campus, don’t pack up your stuff and leave before you’re dismissed.  It’s rude and disruptive.  If you have a teacher who is always late ending class, let her know that you’ll need to leave right at the end of class and sit in the back where you won’t disturb people on your way out.

10. Introduce yourself to the students who sit next to you.  Get the name, phone number and/or e-mail address of at least one other person in the class – someone you’d feel comfortable contacting for information from missed classes or for studying. 

3. Using a professor's office hours. Go back

1.  Office hours are arguably the most underused tool available to students.  This is your chance to get to know the professor a bit better (and to let the professor get to know you – very important if you’re later going to ask for letters of recommendation), to ask questions you’re too shy to ask in class, and to get help with assignments and exam preparation.  It’s a good idea to round up some initial questions and queries (about the syllabus, about recommended ways to study, about “tips” for success in the course) and make a visit to cover those during the first week or so of classes.  This will help the professor get to know you early, and can also help you feel more comfortable with her in case you wind up needing more serious help later in the semester.

2. Although professors are always supposed to be available during office hours, other important events (faculty meetings, laboratory crises, or lunch with the Dean) may sometimes come up.  It’s not required, but it’s seldom a bad idea to double check that the professor is going to be available (and that way she’ll be expecting you).

3. Before you go, be sure you know what you want to cover.  A written agenda isn’t required, but if you have a number of things to discuss, a list will help.

4. When you arrive, knock or otherwise politely announce your presence.  Greet the professor, stating your name and the course (and section, if appropriate) you’re in.  Then tell the professor why you’re there.  “Hi, I’m Joanie from your Tuesday morning Women’s Lit class; I have a question about next week’s exam” is good.  The following script, one I run into virtually every semester, is bad: professor – “Hi, can I help you?”  student – “Yeah, I’m in your class and want to know what’s on the test.”  professor  – “Which class?”  student – “Your Biology class.” professor – “Which Biology class?”  student – “The one that’s on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.”  professor – “Which one that’s on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday?”  See a pattern emerging here..

5. You do not need to apologize for being there (assuming you’re visiting during regularly-scheduled office hours).  You should, however, be sure to thank the professor for her time when you’re done.

6. If you are using office hours to discuss a poor exam grade, do not begin the conversation by explaining that you always perform well on other teachers’ tests and never perform well on this teacher’s tests.  By doing so you are implicitly blaming the professor for your performance.  This is not the way to encourage the professor to help you.  

4. Important materials. Go back

1.  The college catalog is your contract with the university.  It has all the rules and information according to which you will succeed or fail, live or die.  Like any contract, it is virtually impossible for the uninitiated to understand.  Try anyway.  Get several catalogs from the year you enter (they do tend to wear out with use) and be sure to get new ones as they come out.  The one from the year you enter should be the one that really matters, but you may want to take advantage of later changes.  Read the catalog through once just to get familiar with the organization.  Review the relevant parts before each advising appointment and ask your advisor for clarification on the parts you don’t understand. 

2. The course syllabus is your contract with your instructor for the semester.  It should contain such useful information as the name of the textbook, a schedule of assignments, some notion of when and how you will be tested, and the location and time of office hours.  (Note: if this information is not in the syllabus, check with your professor during office hours . . .) You should review the syllabus by the second class meeting. You should understand the policies, write down the test dates, and post a schedule of assignments somewhere you can ignore it regularly).  Do not hesitate to get clarification from the professor on confusing or complex points.  Keep the syllabus with your course materials and consult it regularly.

5. Questions you should never ask. Go back

1.Do I need the textbook?

2. Do I need to read the textbook?

3. Do I need to know this for the test?

4. Any question that is answered in clear, plain English on the course syllabus (especially if the question is “Can I do extra credit” when the syllabus says no).

5. Are the grades done yet? (Never to be asked less than a week after the exam or assignment date; especially never to be asked the day of the final)

6. Using a computer to your advantage. Go back

1.  Save, make backups, and print hard copy frequently.

2. Be sure to have whatever “office” software is supported by your campus computer service department.  Be sure you know how to use it.  If you don’t, you should take advantage of whatever opportunities your campus provides (courses, workshops, tutorials, etc.) to get yourself up to speed right away. 

3. Before you spend too much time creating fancy cover sheets and elegant formatting, check the guidelines for the assignment.  Some professors actually believe that following their instructions count.  Others prefer not to waste paper.  Others just don’t want to store any more pages than are absolutely necessary.  None of them really want to see cute fonts or smiley-face bullets on your term paper.

4. If you’re going to submit assignments on disk or electronically, be sure you understand all the technical requirements – your professor will not take the time to hunt down a copy of Ancient Word Processor version 3.2 so she can read your paper.  

5. Save, make backups, and print hard copy frequently.

6. Plan your work schedule to allow for glitches.  Although it will turn you into a cause of morbid fascination, print papers out 24 hours before they’re due rather than 5 minutes before class (of course, this requires that you actually have them written even further ahead of deadline – hence the morbid fascination).   That way you’ll have time to deal with dead printers, frozen screens, broken scanners, etc. and still get your work in on time. 

7. Save your work frequently and keep an external backup on disk or CD.  Better yet, keep two external backups – one where you can spill coffee on it and one where it’s safe (possibly under the pile of dirty laundry where it will be undisturbed until you graduate. . .).  It’s also a good idea to print hard copy of paper drafts each time you finish working on them.  You can recycle old papers for this purpose – just be sure you can tell the old work from the new stuff if you ever actually need to use it.

8. Save, make backups, and print hard copy frequently.

9. Did I mention that you should save and backup frequently?

7. Organization tips. Go back

1.Carry some kind of calendar to all classes and meetings.  Write down assignments and test dates as soon as they’re announced.  If you really want to scare your roommate, keep a larger master calendar near your desk so you can see everything at a glance.  If you want to practice exreme organization, “backtrack” from due dates and assign (and write down) dates for things like studying for exams, completing drafts of papers, etc. 

2. Everyone has her own way of organizing course materials.  Figure out what works best for you given the size of your backpack, the state of your dorm room (or kitchen table), time and distance between classes, distance from your dorm (or parked car) to your next class. Whether you use file folders or binders, loose-leaf paper or spiral notebooks, try to keep all the materials from each course together.  Color coding or some other visual cue to content can be helpful.  

3. Keep course materials as long as possible.  At a minimum, keep them around for a year (the usual statute of limitations for grade appeals).  Longer is better, especially for materials in your academic major.  

8. Know your advisor. Go back

1. Find out who your advisor is.  Know her name and where her office is.  Find out the best way to make appointments to see her.

2. Understand the two different kinds of advisors.  The first kind helps you wade through the rules and requirements of your institution and helps ensure that you’re taking the courses you need to complete your degree more or less on time.  This advisor is often also a good person to talk to about special programs and opportunities that may be available to you if you’re doing well and places to go for help if you’re having problems.  The second kind helps with career planning.  This advisor (who may be the same as the first one) should be an active member of the field you’re interested in and able to tell you about all the unwritten rules for getting into good graduate programs and being competitive for good jobs.  Both kinds are important!  

3. You should meet with your academic advisor every semester.  Even if you’re not required to do so, you should probably do it anyway.  Observe good Office Hour Etiquette.  Being on good terms with your academic advisor is a Very Good Thing.

4. Do your homework before you show up for your academic advising appointment.  Bring a catalog, a schedule of classes (if one is available), a current transcript that includes the courses you’re taking that semester, and a couple of plans for your coursework the following semester.  Also make a list of any questions you have about your requirements, academic progress, etc.  Your preparedness will make your advisor very happy. 

5. Follow your advisor’s advice. If you decide to follow your own advice (or your roommate’s, or your roommate’s cousin’s girlfriend’s classmate’s), it’s no use whining when you discover that after 3 years of coursework you’re still 3 years from graduating.

6. If you are doing all of the above things but feel that your advisor is not giving you appropriate, careful mentoring, it’s OK to at least think about changing advisors. If changing “official” advisors isn’t possible, you can probably find a faculty member whose interests match yours and who is willing to be a mentor even if she can’t sign official documents.

7. Other students – especially those who’ve been around a while – can be valuable sources of information on everything from who the really good professors are (note that definitions may vary . . .) to where to get the best pizza. Be careful who you trust, of course, and remember that tastes (in pizza as in professors) really do vary.

9. Homework tips. Go back

1. Do your homework.  Even when it’s not required, do it anyway.  

2. Know, understand, and follow the directions.  If your professor provided written instructions, keep them and refer to them frequently – and check the completed assignment one last time against the instructions before you turn it in.  If your professor provided oral instructions, write them down.  If you think you might have missed something, check it out during office hours (follow that etiquette!). 

3. Turn it in on time.  You should actually try to have it done the day before it’s due.  That way, you can still have a friend deliver the homework on time even if you have some kind of emergency the next day.  

4. If you have a legitimate emergency (oversleeping because you were up all night finishing the assignment doesn’t count), contact the instructor right away.  Follow the usual protocol for identifying yourself, then explain the situation and find out what, if anything, you should do.  Remember that dealing with late work is a major headache for instructors, especially if it’s a large class, so be polite and courteous.  

5. Identify yourself.  In some prominent location indicate your name, the date of the assignment, the course name and number, and the professor’s name.  It sounds crazy, but this comes in very useful when you’re trying to find your paper in the middle of the hurricane that is your room during finals week.  It also helps the professor find your paper in the middle of the hurricane that is her office during finals week.

6. Follow up.  Be sure to get the homework back from the instructor (yes, there are students who will regularly fail to do this – they also regularly fail other things . . .).  Study it to find out what you need to work on (believe it or not, that’s the whole point behind homework).  If you don’t understand something, hit those office hours!

7. Be sure you understand your score or grade.  If you don’t, it’s office hour time again.  You can generally get away with politely pointing out an instructor’s arithmetic mistakes.  You can also generally get away with politely asking for an explanation of why an answer you think is correct is incorrect (in fact, this is an important thing to do to avoid making the same mistake on the next assignment).  It’s a bad idea to quibble over semantics and argue over half-points (you’d be surprised at how many additional points can be found to take off at other places), and an even worse idea to tell the instructor that you’re right and she’s wrong.

10. Expand your horizons. Go back

1. You know all that stuff your parents have been harping about all these years about eating right, getting plenty of rest, and the value of outdoor exercise? Well, they were right. If you hope to survive long enough to get into graduate school or make a killing in the latest technology craze, you need to take at least a passing interest in your general health.

2. Just because your roommate seems to survive just fine on two hours of sleep in the middle of the day doesn’t mean you can. Know your body well enough to know how much sleep you need to feel good, how much you need to survive over the long haul without getting sick, and how much you can sacrifice in the short term in case of emergencies (and how you need to go about recovering from that). Pay attention also to your own natural activity patterns. No, you can’t use your biorhythms to avoid those 8:00 a.m. classes – but if you understand them, at least you can plan your time to be as effective as possible.

3. Just because your roommate seems to survive just fine on a diet of caffeine and junk food doesn’t mean you can. Of course you’re going to eat more pizza in your first week at school than you normally do in a month at home – but that’s no reason not to force down a few fresh fruits and vegetables every day, and to drink some plain water once in a while. Don’t forget to floss, and be sure to take your vitamins!

4. If you’re lucky enough to attend a residential campus with a “no cars for freshmen” rule and lots of beautiful open space between buildings, you’ll get at least some exercise by default. If you can force yourself to find something else to do every week that elevates your heart rate, you’ll thank yourself down the road.  Most universities offer a wide range of activities at a wide range of times, so try a bunch and find one that works for you. A regular exercise routine will relieve stress, improve your focus and concentration, keep you looking good, prevent you from spending quality time at the student health center, and help you avoid the unbelievable hassle of making up long periods of missed class time.

5. Try to remember that college is about expanding your horizons, not just a fancy type of job training program. Take some fun, even frivolous courses now and then.  You’ll meet new people, exercise new parts of your brain, and maybe even discover a lifelong passion!

11. The power of the internet. Go back

1. The internet is a wonderful thing. The resources that are available are vastly expansive, but information literacy and discernment is an important tool for any college web surfer.

2. The list of web sites you should be familiar with begins with your college’s own site.  Increasingly, students are expected to use their university’s web site to monitor their academic progress, register for classes, pay fines, search the library catalog, get e-mail from faculty members, and more. So spend some quality time surfing through it and bookmark essential sites (Student Services, the Registrar, Financial Aid, student organizations, etc.).

3. In case you hadn’t figured it out by now, anyone can create web pages and post anything they want on the web. Just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s true, relevant, or legitimate to use on your latest term paper. Learn to evaluate web sites with the same care you evaluate other information sources and avoid the pitfall of thinking that the web is a legitimate substitute for the campus library. And forget you’ve ever heard of sites that post student research papers “for information purposes.”

4. Your campus library probably uses at least some web-based research tools and probably offers a variety of ways for you to learn how to use them. Do it. Now. 

5. Remember that campus computer networks, like any other computer networks, sometimes crash. Just another reason not to wait until the last minute to complete that web assignment. 

12. Things to remember. Go back

1. As much as campus officials try, no environment is completely safe. Know what the risks are and how to minimize them – then do it!

2. Invest in a good basic self defense course, then be sure to practice the skills you’ve learned. 

3. Remember that most women are in more danger from people they know than from strangers – so take the precautions you already know about to avoid date rape and similar kinds of assaults. 

4. If something happens, know how to report it and to whom. Remember that victims are never to blame, and that no matter the outcome, you always did your very best.  Take advantage of all available resources to assist in the recovery process and try to give yourself the gift of patience with the process.

5. Sexual harassment is less of a problem than it once was, but certainly hasn’t been eliminated. The good news is that your college should have published policies on what constitutes sexual harassment and how to deal with it.  If you feel you’ve been harassed by anyone on campus, you may want to start by talking it over with a trusted, but “neutral” faculty member or counselor.

6. You’ve heard more than you want to about the problems of binge drinking, drug abuse, and eating disorders. Unfortunately, what you’ve heard is probably true, so try to pay at least a little attention and exercise more caution than you think necessary (it’ll still be less than your parents would like).

7. If you or someone you know is in trouble, get help. Believe it or not, there is a whole community of folks out there who want nothing more than to give it to you.

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This page was last modified on 6/8/2012.