How to Survive First-Year University With your Head (and grades) Intact

Books or beer? A guide to first-year university.

Credit: iStock

Managing your first year at university can be challenging. Don’t waste your time and money—follow these tips for a successful freshman year


“Christ. Seven years of college down the drain. Might as well join the f**king Peace Corps.” – John ‘Bluto’ Blutarsky, Animal House

It’s the moment you’ve been waiting for: you’re about to begin your first year of university, which means you can now break free from the reins of mom and dad, move out on your own and attend a wild Animal House-style frat party or two (or three or four, let’s not limit ourselves here).


However, all too often students get swept up in the socializing aspect of first-year university. Instead of hitting the books, you’re studying the art of beer pong and foosball while seeing just how many kegs stands you can do before your arms give out. And while having fun is certainly a obligatory part of the college experience, it can be easy to lose sight of the reason you are actually at school in the first place—your education.


Don’t be like Bluto and waste your time. We’ve assembled a list of survival tips to ensure you make it through your first year of university alive and thriving, while still having a ton of fun.


Embrace coffee and glorious caffeine

Welcome to university. Now let me introduce you to coffee, your new best friend. (Image: Flickr / dichohecho)


If you’ve never been one to enjoy a cup of joe, now is the time to start.


University has a funny way of robbing you of a normal sleeping schedule and forcing you to become a night owl. Come midterm season, you’ll be wishing someone had already come up with a way to inject coffee intravenously.


Invest in instant noodles and other fine delicacies

There’s nothing like a hearty cup of noodles after a long day at the library. (Image: Flickr / Mdid)


While the most nutritious meal, instant noodles are the food of choice for broke university students worldwide.


Nothing beats a meal that can be bought for less than a dollar and prepared in under five minutes. If your palette is used to fancier fares, it’s time to adjust your tastes—at least for the next four years.


Keep mom (and her chequebook) close

Become a mama’s boy (or girl) again and don’t be too proud to ask for a handout. (Image: Flickr / Suehixon)


Of course, when the mere sight of ramen noodles or Kraft Dinner makes you break out into a cold sweat, it’s always refreshing to be able to turn to mom and dad for a little extra spending money.


Sure, asserting your independence is great and all, but independence won’t keep your fridge full. Trust us, there will come a time when the only things in your fridge are packets of ketchup you stole from MacDonald’s. Let your parents help.



Get your priorities straight. Don’t become an expert at beer pong at the expense of your biology paper. (Image: Flickr / Wolfsavard)


You have a 12-page paper due tomorrow morning, but all of your friends are begging you to come to the “party of the year” just down the hall. You could just hand the paper in a day late and accept the penalty, right?


Don’t do it! There will be other parties (probably next weekend), but ‘beer pong champ’ doesn’t exactly light up the resume. If you know there is an event you absolutely cannot miss, schedule your work ahead of time so you can enjoy the fun without the guilt.


You’re not going to like everyone (and that’s okay)

There’s a pretty good chance that this could be your future roommate. (Image: Flickr / Karmalize)


The laws of the universe pretty much dictate that out of all the possible people you could be assigned to live with, you will end up with a crazy, passive-aggressive slob of a roommate.


The non-stop party girl; the socially awkward recluse; that guy who doesn’t believe in showers—these possibilities are all on the table. Try your best (difficult as it may be) to laugh it off and remember that somewhere down the road, this lunatic will supply you with plenty of great story material. And if all else fails, remember you can request a room change.


Keep in touch

Make the most of technology and stay in touch with your buddies back home. (Image: Flickr / liquene)


Only a few months ago, you signed countless yearbooks with heartfelt promises to always keep in touch. Now, between the jam-packed schedule of studying and socializing, it can sometimes be easy to forget about your old gang.


Even if you are still living at home, it’s likely that your friends have scattered. Try setting up regular Skype or phone dates so you’ll be able to keep in contact with friends and family.


Go to class

Going to class is good for you and you never know, you might actually learn something. (Image: Flickr / English106)


This one seems like a bit of a no-brainer: after all, who would pay thousands of dollars in tuition and then not attend class? Answer: almost everyone.


After a few weeks, attendance will start to dwindle and the lecture theatres will become increasingly emptier. After all, why bother physically attending class when you have the textbook and most of the notes online?


Trust us, we’ve all been there and as fun as it might be to spend your days watching Dexter in bed instead of learning about macroeconomics, you will retain more information from actually going to class.


Get involved

Join a team or a club and make instant friends. (Image: Flickr / Larry Ziffle)


It’s possible to spend your first year of college focusing solely on getting good grades. But where else but a college campus gives you the chance to join various clubs and organizations, each with easy access to new potential friends and awesome experiences?


Make it your goal to attend orientation week activities and join several clubs that tickle your fancy. That being said don’t feel like you have to sign up for every club with a booth and a clipboard. Sure it seems like a laugh to join the Ukrainian Ultimate Frisbee League now, but we’ll see who’s laughing after the fifth email blast of day from ‘Insane in the Ukraine FC’.


Make the most of campus resources

You don’t have to go it alone: get help. That’s what your profs are for, believe it or not. (Image: Flickr / Tulane Public Relations)


You’re paying thousands of dollars to attend college or university, so why not use all the resources available to you? Most campuses are filled with people willing to help you with paper writing, job placement and career advice. But without a doubt the biggest resource is your professor.


Although your profs may seem intimidating from behind the podium, they are usually more than willing to help you out. Make note of their weekly office hours. They will be able to offer extra support and by asking them intelligent questions, they might even remember the effort the next time they’re grading your paper.


Work hard, play hard

Know when to party and when to hit the books and you’ll be on the fast track to success. (Image: Flickr / ralph and jenny)


Above all, remember that stress and anxiety for first-year university students are completely normal. It can be difficult to adjust to a new environment, a new workload and a new schedule. Try to make the most of your first year—if you are able to strike the delicate balance between work and play, you’ll have a great time, and you might even find yourself enjoying school. Go figure.