College is one of the most exciting and life-expanding periods of a person’s life. You meet lots of new people, study a variety of subjects, explore new places, and start thinking seriously about your future. At the same time, college can also be overwhelming and confusing. Not everyone fits right in. You may be struggling with classes, social life, or homesickness. These 10 tips are especially geared to people just starting out in college, but they really apply to all students who want to have a smoother and less stressful experience on the road to earning their degree.

1. To Rush or Not?

One decision you have to make early in your college career is whether to join a fraternity or sorority. There’s no one right decision for everyone but it’s something you should carefully consider. There are pros and cons to rushing and not rushing. It gives you a fast track to a busier social life and helps you connect with people with similar interests and goals. On the other hand, you have to be careful that it’s not a distraction. If you are thinking of joining a fraternity or sorority, do your research. You might want to think twice about joining an organization with a reputation for partying and drinking. Movies about fraternity shenanigans are often funny but in real life, too much partying interferes with the real reason you’re at college in the first place.

2. Explore New Interests

As long as you’re at a college or university, you may as well use this opportunity to learn as much as possible. This includes extracurricular activities as well as classes. Don’t get stuck in a box. For example, if you’re a business major, don’t confine yourself to business and technology related classes and only join clubs that are relevant to your future career. Take some electives in poetry, philosophy, or medieval history. Taking diverse classes isn’t only interesting, it may help you identify a new career path. Join a theater group or take up fencing. When you’re open to new experiences, you expand your possibilities. 

3. Take Advantage of Discounts and Perks

As a college student, you get all kinds of perks and benefits.  If you’re smart, you’ll milk your status for all its worth. Many stores and companies give student discounts, so make sure you carry around your college ID when you go shopping. Many companies also give you generous discounts you can use online, such as 6 months of Amazon Prime for free. Best Buy, Apple, Lenovo, and many other tech companies provide discounts to anyone with a college email address.

4. Get Organized

When you get to college people, including professors and school administrators, start treating you like an adult. This means you’re expected to remember your assignments, exam dates, and other responsibilities. Between classes, exams, papers, and extracurricular activities it can be hard to keep up with everything. Unlike students of past eras, you have the advantage of technology to help you keep up. Use Google Calendar and other apps that help you stay organized and keep track of your activities. There are apps made especially for students such as iStudiez Pro. However you do it, keep up with your assignments and other obligations.

5. Stay Healthy

College is often a time when young people burn the candle at both ends, live on junk food and binge drink on weekends. You don’t have to fulfill this stereotype. In fact, you’ll find that college life is a lot more fun when you’re feeling rested and healthy. For one thing, take advantage of your college’s gym and other fitness facilities (such as a swimming pool). This helps you stay in shape and provides you with healthy activities to do in your spare time. Watch your diet and avoid putting on the infamous Freshman 15, which is more than just an urban legend. Cut back on pizza and other carbs and make healthy choices whether you’re eating at the cafeteria, in town or cooking for yourself. Getting enough rest is also essential for staying alert in your classes. 

6. Get to Know Your Professors

It’s always a good idea to introduce yourself to your professors, either after class or during their office hours. Do this even for classes you don’t like and that you feel are irrelevant to your goals. Connecting with the professor can help you improve your grades and clarify any questions you have about an assignment. Of course, emailing is also possible and this is better than nothing. However, it’s also good to meet your instructors in person so you’re a real person to them and not just another name on the roster.

7. Make Friends

College provides you with many opportunities to socialize, make friends, and meet potential romantic partners. However, you have to make an effort. Be open to meeting people in your classes, in your dorm, at social events, and everywhere you go. Aside from helping you feel connected and less lonely, a friendly approach is useful for cultivating professional relationships, finding study partners and people with whom you can exchange useful information about classes and on and off campus activities. There’s really no downside to being social. 

8.  Manage Your Finances

Though it doesn’t always seem like it, college is really your first introduction to living like an adult. This includes managing your own money. Unless you’re lucky enough to come from a wealthy family (that’s also generous about sending you cash whenever you ask for it), you’ll need to set a budget. It’s a good idea to have a checking account with a bank that has a branch near your college. This is also the time when people often get their first credit card. Use credit wisely. Using a credit card and paying it off promptly helps you build solid credit. On the other hand, treating credit like free money is a good way to ruin your credit while still in your early 20s. Getting a part-time job always helps your financial situation. However, remember that your classes are a priority. 

9. Balance Your Old Life and Your New One

It’s not uncommon for college students, especially freshmen, to feel homesick. While this is natural, don’t give in to the temptation to return home every weekend or to spend all your time talking on the phone or online to your family and friends back home. You have unprecedented opportunities to meet people at college and you’ll find that if you explore your environment, you’ll feel less homesick. 

On the other hand, don’t go to the other extreme and cut all ties with home. Remember that your parents miss you at least as much as you miss them. It’s also nice to stay in touch with your friends on social media and by phone. It’s all about balance.

10. Start Building Your Resume

It’s never too early to start building your resume and making professional connections. The best way to do this, of course, is to get good grades. Joining clubs, volunteering, and being active in areas such as your college newspaper or government also help. You might also consider applying for internships for the summer. Have fun and socialize while you’re in college, but don’t forget that you’re also laying the groundwork for your future. 

For many people, college is the first time when they really start to make big choices and control their own destiny. You can, at least up to a point, choose your classes, friends, and activities. This is the perfect time to explore new interests, meet a variety of people, and find out what you want to do with the rest of your life. These tips will help you master the challenges and help you get the most out of your college years.