The New Freshman 15: Tips for Winning Freshman Year
The infamous freshman 15. If you haven’t heard of it yet, you will. It’s usually preceded by “beware.”
Popular opinion holds that most freshmen, free to make their own dietary choices for the first time, gain 15 pounds during their first year. That sounds pretty scary, not to mention unhealthy.
Fortunately, it’s just a myth. The truth is that we can trace the popularity of this infamous phrase back to 1989, when the cover of Seventeen magazine featured the headline “Fighting the Freshman 15.” However, Seventeen didn’t invent the concept—The New York Times noted several years earlier that students at Yale often used the phrase “the freshman 10,” but the alliterative freshman 15 stuck.
The legend of this phenomenon grew so much that some very serious researchers actually studied how much weight the average freshman gains. Their conclusion? The average freshman puts on between two and four pounds. (Incidentally, they found that 15 percent of college students actually lose weight during their first year. Maybe the dining hall just isn’t as good as mom’s home cooking.)
Anyway, now that we know that the freshman 15 is nothing but fiction, we’d like to replace it with something that’s not only real but helpful. Let’s make the freshman 15 a good thing, something all freshmen can look forward to.
With that in mind, we decided to go through the best advice we could find — literally hundreds of tips from all kinds of people — on how freshmen can make the most of their first year in college.
We boiled down everything we found and created these 15 bits of wisdom for winning freshman year. Consider them the new freshman 15.
Ultimately, these aren’t just tips for succeeding during your first year. Each one of these tips holds a lesson that will help you navigate successfully from your first internship through your entire career path.
1. Preparation pays off
We don’t want to kick this off on a disappointing note, but there’s something you need to know first and foremost: in college, homework starts before you even enroll in class.
You see, selecting classes in college is a lot more complicated than in high school. It’s a delicate balance picking between classes that count toward your degree, that interest you, that are held during the time you prefer, and that are taught by great professors. You should spend hours researching your degree requirements, reading through course catalogs, finding the most interesting classes that match your requirements, and seeking out the best professors through tools like RateMyProfessors.com.
If that sounds like a lot of work, consider two things. One, you’ll spend about 50 hours in that class over the course of semester, and up to three times that reading, writing and studying outside the classroom. You really don’t want to spend 250 hours working on a class you hate.
Second, think about this: Let’s say that you take the same class as someone else, but yours is at 7 a.m. with a miserable professor who mumbles, and theirs is at 1 p.m. with an awesome professor who teaches class outside on nice days. If you both pass, you both still get the same number of credits. Why make life harder on yourself?
The larger lesson is that a little extra preparation can pay off big in the long run. Look ahead to two years from now, when you’re applying for an internship, or four years, when you’re applying for a job. Taking the time to research ideal employers, craft applications and resumes, and do your due diligence before an interview will not only give you a huge leg up on the competition but also help you ensure that you take a position you’ll actually enjoy.
2. Plan for risk
Figuring out what to pack for college is a daunting task for some people. One way to make sure that you load up everything you need is to think about what could go wrong. It’s a risk management approach to packing, so to speak, something those of us who work in insurance and risk management know a lot about!
Are you doing your own laundry for the first time and likely to be lazy about it? Bring extra essentials like socks and underwear — you don’t want to be the stinky freshman walking around in two-day-old socks.
Will you have a community shower or bathroom? Flip-flops are essential.
Will you walk to class? Pack two umbrellas. You’ll probably lose one. Or your roommate will steal it.
Other things to consider: Your mattress will probably be rock solid, so pack a mattress pad. You don’t know where electrical outlets will be, so bring an extra-long phone charger. And you don’t know whether your roommate snores or your neighbors will be crazy, so just in case, pack earplugs to wear at night.
Good risk management isn’t worrying about the bad things that can happen. It’s hoping for the best but being ready for the worst. That’s a mindset that can apply to pretty much anything, especially when you’re in the workplace. Trust us, you’ll be glad you remembered that when your laptop is dying during an important presentation. (Hint — always bring your charger!)
3. Get a head start
In business, the first-mover advantage refers to companies that first occupy a market segment. In college, getting on campus as early as possible presents all kinds of advantages as well.
Get your room set up before the homework starts pouring in, familiarize yourself with the campus so that you don’t get lost on the first day of class, start meeting new people, find some good places to eat, and buy those earplugs you forgot to pack.
And be sure to keep this in mind when you’re prepping for your first day at an internship or work. Map out your route to work before the first day — actually time it out and take traffic into account. And always show up early, especially on your first day. Down the road, if you’re meeting with a new boss, customer or client, also show up early. If you make it a habit of getting that head start, odds are that you’ll make a great first impression. Start now and it will be ingrained in you down the road.
4. Start with respect
Even if you get to chat with your roommates before moving in, it’s best to sit down with them when you first arrive and talk through all the things that could result in conflict.
Do you each have particular pet peeves, like loud chewing or certain TV shows? How will you resolve conflicts, like when one of you needs to wake up early for a test but the other is going to a party and won’t be back until late that night? What are the cleaning roles going to be?
This is a lesson that applies to almost any professional relationship you’ll form in the future. You don’t have to be best friends, but you do have to establish respect.
5. Open your door
Freshman year is undoubtedly when you’ll meet the most people during your entire time at college, and college is when you really start building the network of professional contacts you’ll have for the rest of your life. And from a practical standpoint, establishing a lot of contacts your freshman year could make finding your first job after college a lot easier.
Freshman year is so unique in this regard because everyone is out to meet new people, whereas in later years, people tend to stick to their established group of friends. In fact, many graduates find that their best friends from college are those people who lived down the hall during their freshman year.
So your immediate goal should be to meet as many people as possible, which should be easy because dorms are filled with like-minded freshmen. Take advantage of every opportunity to mingle. If an event sounds corny, go anyway and see what it’s like. If it does turn out to be a waste of time, just don’t go to the next one.
All these habits will help you learn how to network with new people. This is crucial when you’re looking for a job, you’ve just started a new a job or you find yourself attending an event alone. It isn’t easy to master, though, so starting now will give you a leg up on many of your peers.
6. Always show up
College may be the first time you’re completely reliant on your own motivation to get up and go to class. No more parents turning the lights on in your bedroom and telling you to get ready. And, man, is it going to be tempting to just not go to class, especially on days when your friends are doing something fun instead.
Do not give in to this temptation!
Seriously, always go to class. Always.
For one, if participation counts toward your grade, you’re missing out on the easiest points you can get.
Second, it’s usually easier to learn in a lecture than it is by yourself, whether you’re reading the book or someone else’s half-coherent notes.
Third, professors often give out tips and hints for exams or even extra-credit projects they don’t announce elsewhere.
Finally, professors are much more likely to lend a hand outside of class to students they recognize.
And of course, you or your parents are likely paying a lot of money for those classes.
The most successful students — and professionals — take this one step further: they make it a habit to visit professors during office hours. Never forget that while professors are older and speak from behind podiums, they are just regular people. Don’t be afraid to stop by their office and ask how you’re doing in class and what you could be doing better. I can bet that you’ll surprise them by asking, and you’ll get better insight than you ever could otherwise. By doing this in college, you’ll have a much easier time asking your boss the same thing down the road.
Woody Allen once said that “80 percent of success is showing up.” You’ll learn in your professional life, too, that reliability is invaluable. Of course, in the real world, that reliability won’t translate to good grades — it’ll translate to promotions and raises.
7. Learn from experience
Many graduates say that joining student organizations in college taught them more about being a professional than class ever did. This may seem to conflict with the last point about always going to class, but hear us out.
Class can give you the technical knowledge you need for a certain field, but working with peers in an organization helps you develop your planning and teamwork skills, which are just as important.
Take a leadership role in a fraternity or sorority. Work for the campus newspaper. Join a club or volunteer for a local not-for-profit. Your school probably has hundreds of different options. Try a few, and pick the one or two you’re most interested in.
These experiences are much more than just resume builders — they’re critical to learning how to work as part of a team, manage others and succeed in an organization. That’s real-world skill you can’t fully learn without practice.
8. Learn to study
One of the funniest things about school is that you’re never really taught how to study.
Did you ever notice that? Aside from flash cards in algebra, did your teachers ever really coach you on the best ways to memorize the lessons taught in class?
Fortunately, plenty of research into memory has been done. Look into it and figure out what works best for you.
Want a few quick study tips?
Study in multiple half-hour sessions rather than for hours at a time right before a test. Your brain can better absorb and retain information taken in over shorter intervals.
Set up a dedicated study area where you do nothing else. It’ll minimize distractions and temptations.
After you review material, quiz yourself on it. It’ll highlight what you need to study more.
Finally, try to teach the material. If you can effectively explain something to another person, then you know that you actually have a grasp on it and won’t completely forget it when the test is in front of you.
If you master these skills in school, you’ll have no problem getting things done in the workplace. In fact, they’ll even come in handy when you’re interviewing for jobs. At that point, you won’t be studying philosophy, though, you’ll be memorizing some talking points about yourself, your experience and the company you’re interviewing with. Your test-taking years will end, but those study skills will always be useful.
9. Save your files
There’s no cute way to say this: save and back up your files.
We’ll say it again: save and back up your files.
Seriously. Save and back up your files.
Save your work at least every 10 minutes and store your important files in multiple places. Nothing’s worse than finishing a 20-page paper the night before the deadline and losing it because your computer crashed.
Losing your work can actually be such a traumatic experience that people literally have nightmares about it years after they’ve graduated.
And trust me — this absolutely applies to professional life. You don’t want to lose that big presentation you’re putting together for that important meeting. In college, professors sometimes give extensions. In the real world, bosses and prospective customers don’t. Don’t let technology glitches cause a catastrophe.
So say it with me everyone! Save. And. Back. Up. Your. Files.
10. Build yourself structure
Another nightmare people have well after graduation? Completely forgetting about a test or project until right before it’s due.
This isn’t high school anymore — don’t expect your professor to give you constant reminders about upcoming due dates.
The smartest thing you can do when you get to school is start a calendar system to keep track of all your classes, big assignments, tests and other deadlines. After your first day of classes, put your syllabuses in the calendar as soon as you get home.
Whether your calendar is on your phone, on your computer or even in an actual notebook, find a system that works for you. This is another organizational habit that will pay dividends throughout your life.
11. Rest is required
Remember how awesome nap time was in preschool? Well, it’s back!
Most people need from seven to nine hours of sleep every night to function best, which means feeling fully charged for a whole day. If you frequently get less than that, you may feel fine, but only because you’ve forgotten what it’s like to really feel fresh.
Fortunately, you don’t necessarily need to get all your sleep at the same time. Midday naps are often the best weapon college students have against sleep deprivation.
In the real world, far too many professionals operate under the myth that they don’t need those seven to nine hours of sleep, and they don’t even realize how lack of sleep undermines their performance. Proper rest might be the most underrated way to be effective in the workplace.
12. Learn to balance
OK, you know that the freshman 15 is nonsense. But you’ve still got to stay active, whether it’s to keep your weight down or just to stay healthy.
Unless you become a professional athlete, you probably won’t ever have the same access to fitness equipment again. In fact, some schools’ gyms are nicer than the facilities professionals use. In the real world, you’d probably have to pay $100 to $200 a month for such facilities. And in reality, your tuition includes fees for access to your school’s facilities whether you use them or not, so take full advantage.
You don’t have to be a fitness model or a gym rat, but don’t be a couch potato either. You’ll feel better and be healthier. And you’ll thank us when spring break rolls around.
In all seriousness, though, balancing your work and personal lives is tough, especially when you enter the fast-paced business world. Make sure to always remember that it should be just that: a balance.
13. Build your network
When you apply for that first job after graduation, you’ll need references. As soon as that very first semester begins, make it your goal to build three to five really solid professional connections during your time in college.
One good place to start is with your professors. Professors are people, believe it or not, and most of them actually got into teaching in order to help budding professionals like you. Stop and chat with them after class, or stop by during office hours. Ask them for advice about class. Ask them for advice about planning a career. Ask them about how they got where they are. You’ll be surprised by how much wisdom they’re willing to share outside the classroom.
The willingness to reach out and ask for advice, whether in college or after, is also an important part of charting your career path. Don’t feel as if you have to go it alone — there are plenty of people out there who have been through it all and are happy to help.
14. Navigate through negativity
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention something very serious: college can be dangerous.
You’ve probably heard horror stories and seen frightening headlines. We don’t want to be alarmists, but the truth is that none of this advice really matters if you aren’t safe. College is liberating, but that freedom comes with risks.
You’ll be exposed to new experiences all the time. Some will be fun, some will be beneficial, and some will be stupid. Our best advice is simply to pace yourself. Watch what other people are doing before diving right in. Slow and steady doesn’t just win the race — it also means that you’re a lot less likely to crash.
Negative influences obviously aren’t exclusive to college. There are just as many headlines about corrupt companies whose employees were just following the crowd, even when they knew that what they were doing was wrong. In college, you have the opportunity to prove that you’re the type of person who does the right thing when presented with a tough situation.
15. Maintain your focus
Lastly, a lot of people tell you not to worry about your major right away and to delay that decision as long as possible. There is some merit to that advice; you don’t want to feel overly pressured so early on in college when you’re still figuring everything else out.
However, don’t use that as an excuse. We don’t want to put too much pressure on you, but choosing your major is arguably more important than choosing your college.
The best thing you can do your freshman year is to gather as much information as possible. If you think you want to work in business, for instance, take business classes, talk to your professors and consider doing an internship after your freshman year. You’ll get to experience the field early on and establish valuable connections.
And you know what? You might find that it’s not for you. If you do, you’ll have plenty of time to switch. On the other hand, you might find that you love it and learn that you want to focus on something more specific.
Consider, for example, risk management and insurance (RMI), a subject near and dear to our hearts. It’s essentially a business degree, but it’s focused on managing risks for people and businesses so that they can better seize opportunities. Many of the careers that value this sort of education are ranked among the best in the world.
It’s also a pretty exclusive major. Business is the most popular bachelor’s degree in the country right now, but only 1 percent of four-year universities offer a risk management degree. Having an RMI degree clearly gives you a unique skill set, which provides a crucial advantage over the 360,000 other business majors graduating every year. That’s something you can fall in love with.
You’ll have time to decide all that. For now, just make sure to keep in mind that while college is awesome, it’s not the be-all, end-all. This might be hard for you to imagine now, but while college is going to be an amazing, life-changing experience, you’ve got many adventures in store for you after you graduate. You don’t have to figure it all out during your freshman year, but you can put yourself on the right path to get there.