1. Go to class. Go to class. Go to class. It may seem obvious, or boring, but simply showing up can make a big difference in your grade, especially in smaller classes where the professor notices every face.
2. Actually show up now and then at your prof’s office hours. Most of the time, they’re bored out of their minds, and will appreciate your enthusiasm for their course. If you don’t have much to begin with, you may develop some with this kind of one-on-one time.
3. Take care of yourself. The dreaded “freshman 15” is very real, and can start you on a path that’s detrimental to your health. Plus, this may be one of the few times, if not the only time, you’ll find yourself with access to world-class workout facilities—for free. Take advantage of them and develop good habits you’ll use later.
4. Put your school’s health services to good use. Same deal as the gym—this is your temporary chance for free or very low-cost health care, so you might as well make the most of it. School counseling services can be especially invaluable, even if you’ve never used them, since you never know when you’ll suddenly find yourself struggling and in need of an impartial person to talk to.
5. Explore all kinds of class subjects—even ones you don’t think you care about. So you’ve wanted to be a doctor since you were 5, or your heart is set on joining Teach for America. That’s great, but as long as you’re surrounded by experts in so many diverse fields, why not seize the opportunity to learn about totally new and unexpected things? Even if you don’t discover a whole new career path, you’ll broaden your mind and expand your skill set.
6. Start thinking about internships early. They can be way more than just a line or two to pad out your résumé. You’ll learn a lot about what you like and don’t like in a job, and may even re-think your choice of major. Which is fine—now’s the time to do that. Plus, a good internship—even an unpaid one—can provide you with invaluable real-world experience and networking possibilities that will help you land another internship the next summer and the job you want upon graduation.
7. Live in the dorms for at least your freshman year. Your school may force you to anyway, but it’s way more social than holing up in your own apartment. It’s hard not to make friends with people you live with and go to class with.
8. Make the best of your roommate situation. You don’t have to end up lifelong friends with the person you’re assigned to share a room with freshman year. In fact, managing your expectations around how chummy the two of you will end up is a smart move to avoid disappointment later. But even if you don’t exactly win the roommate lottery, do try to keep things cordial.
9. Look for a “warm body” job. That’s one where you can do homework while you work, like manning the front desk at the library or fitness center. A job that’s actually in your field is great, too, but can be harder to find at first.
10. Take out a credit card. It may sound like a recipe for disaster. But as long as you just use up to 20 percent of the credit limit at a time, and are able to pay off the balance in full each month, it’s a great way to start establishing credit in your own name. The first time you get a bill you can’t quite swing, though, it’s time to cut up the card.
11. Be a joiner. Trying out a few clubs and organizations can help you find an instant home on campus, even one where you don’t know a soul on your first day. Doesn’t matter whether you’re an athlete or more of a “Barden Bella” type—you’ll get to do something you enjoy, and meet like-minded people along the way. Studies show college freshmen are socializing less than ever these days, and their emotional health is also at the lowest point on record. Don’t fall into the trap of bingeing Netflix every night alone in your dorm room.
12. Put your alarm clock where you can’t reach it. The “snooze” button is usually a bad idea. Force yourself out of bed, and unless your roommate is still sleeping, turn all the lights on, too.
13. Try to study abroad. Even if you have to take out a loan. It’s worth it. When else in your life will you have a spare six months or year to just take off, leave family and friends behind, and spend time in another country? The answer for most of us is never.
14. Stand back and watch the Greek system on your campus. It may be for you, it may not. Take your time before you, well, rush.
15. Get to know your professors. Arrive on time or early, answer questions in class, smile, make eye contact—basically, be polite. You don’t have to bring apples for their desks, but being a little friendly won’t hurt if you have an ask later—a make-up exam, extra help on an assignment, one more day to turn in a paper.
16. Bribe yourself. When hitting a roadblock with that French Literature essay you owe, give yourself permission to take breaks. “When I’ve written 500 words, I get to watch an episode of Euphoria,” or whatever does it for you. Then get back to work for another stretch.
17. Flip-flops in the bathroom. Always.
18. Find out when you can register for classes and do it right then. You’ll be so glad later when your friends have to stick around for an extra semester just because they couldn’t get into a required class in time.
19. Take a public-speaking course. Even if your major doesn’t require it. Job recruiters will be looking for candidates with good communications skills, and being forced to give speeches throughout the semester can only help with this.