10 Things You Can Do Freshman Year to Ensure Career Success

By Patricia Roy
July 11, 2022

As a freshman, you want to do it all: learn new things, meet new people, and expand your horizons. Until now, your daily habits have been largely shaped by your parents and your school. Now, you have the opportunity to try something new.

The following time-tested and professor-approved tips should keep you productive, healthy, and on the road to success.

Attend All your Classes

Attend each and every session unless you are actually unwell. This is not an argument for toxic "hustle" culture—far from it. It can be tempting to sleep in without parental supervision and skip class. Instead, behonest with yourself, and go to every session possible, in-person or virtually. Professors agree: students who are most successful are ones who consistently attend every class.

Some students skip class if they have not finished an assignment due that day. It is better to go to class, tell the instructor about your struggles, and let them help you learn. If you skip, you delay your ability to acquire the skills necessary to do the assignments. If you want an A, you have to attend.

Avoid Getting Sick in the First Place; Drink More Water

Dehydration causes irritability and headaches. It makes you prone to illness. It can also reduce your physical and cognitive energy, both of which you need to do well in college and beyond. We all know that college students sometimes drink . . .other beverages that have a dehydrating effect on the body. Remember to balance that out.

The average adult should drink between a half to one ounce of water per pound they weigh per day. So, if a person weighs 150 pounds, that’s between 75 and 150 ounces or 9 and 19 cups. Keep in mind that in warmer temperatures or when exercising, you may need more. Lots of apps and even some water bottles give reminders to drink more water. The CDC recommends replacing sugary sodas or fancy coffee drinks with plain water to help you get into a healthy habit that will keep you feeling refreshed.

Use a Planner or Calendar App

In fact, it is a good idea to use a planner or calendar app before you go to college to get used to managing your energy and productivity. Using such tools helps you do much more than just get to class on time. With a planner, you can make to-do lists, schedule alarms or appointments, and, most importantly, track your habits. Habit tracking will develop the self-awareness you need to make sound decisions about how you spend your waking hours.

Many of the new planners or productivity apps on the market now take a balanced approach to scheduling, with prompts for goals setting, vision boards, budgeting, and much more. Most apps have a free version or can be upgraded for only a few dollars. Check if your school has it’s own branded planners or apps for seamless integration with your academic calendar, course websites, and other campus-related functions.

Learn About your Professors, Especially Those in your Major

Students who take the time to get to know their teachers are more likely to report academic success and a positive general outlook. You probably already know this and can even think of a high school teacher who helped you get where you are today.

Which is why it is a good idea to Network with Professors as an Incoming Freshman. Some of you may not have very many classes with the professors in your major because you are taking core courses. That’s okay; you can still check out the school’s faculty directory to learn who is in your field, what is their are of speciality, where they went to school, what they’ve published, etc.

This information is valuable because it deepens your understanding of what professionals in your field do and think about, which might give you more ideas for your career development. You might think you know all your possibilities, but it’s more likely that many excellent career paths remain unknown to you simply because you’ve never heard of them before. Taking the time to research or to make acquaintances with your professors will help you see these paths.

Change your Major Now

If you sense early on that your major is not a good fit for you, it is much easier to adjust to a new path now than it will be one or two years down the road. Again, most freshmen are enrolled in core or general education courses, many of which are required regardless of major. If you are finding that the courses in your major just are not what you thought they would be, talk to your adviser as soon as possible. They may be able to allay your fears, help you choose courses for an exploratory semester, or help you change to something you are more excited about.

Many students change their majors, and with the cost of attendance ever-increasing, it will save you money, in the long run, to make course corrections now. Don’t be afraid to admit your first choice was not the right one—this is what college is for! Learn where the career center is and familiarize yourself with its offerings.

Learn Where the Career Center is and Familiarize yourself with its Services

Do not wait until you are about to graduate to learn about the career center. Most provide services you can use right away. They can help you find a part-time job, an internship, or help you with a resume. Most career centers provide personality and career suitability testing to help you determine the right path for you. These tests go way beyond Internet personality quizzes, and by taking them at the career center, a counselor can help you interpret the results.

Maintain a Resume

While at the career center, check out their resume writing assistance. Too many students wait until they are almost finished with college to learn the special art of resume creation. An effective resume is much more than a list of your prior jobs and educational experiences. Most students vastly underestimate the time it takes to write even one good resume. That’s right: you might need several resumes to address the different jobs you might want.

Any time you take a part-time job or internship, engage in extracurricular activities, complete service learning, or complete a successful project for a class, update your resume. It is much quicker to send a resume to prospective employers if it is already updated.

Be Friendly to Everyone

You do not have to be a natural extrovert. You do not need to be the life of the party. This tip is about developing the emotional intelligence, maturity, and collaborative spirit that marks not just a successful worker but a happy person. You may not like or agree with everyone you meet. Still, by developing a sincere appreciation for their value and treating them with patience and respect, you will find it easy to grow a network that rewards you with increased job prospects. Most jobs require you to interact with employees both within and across departments, rank, and seniority, so learn to be at ease with and to even welcome difference.

You never know which connections will result in opportunities. Sincere kindness or compassion are no longer regarded as weaknesses in the job world. Instead, they are valuable strengths.

Take a Foreign Language

A great way to increase your understanding of people different from you is to learn a foreign language. You may have taken a language in middle or high school, and maybe you are excited that your college allows you to "test out" of a language requirement. Consider continuing that learning instead. Not only is a second or third language an incredible job skill and asset, but learning foreign languages develops neuroplasticity and helps you learn. Plus, learning languages opens up study abroad and travel opportunities. As more companies explore remote and hybrid work environments, you may discover you can do your job from anywhere in the world! Learning languages helps you to explore everything the world has to offer.

Take your Core Courses Seriously

Most students cannot wait to get into their major courses. Unfortunately, many treat their core or general education courses as less important to their plans. Big mistake. Your core courses in English, math, history, science, and the arts give you foundational skills used across industries. Most management and upper-level positions require advanced critical thinking and communication skills. The evidence is clear: those with a broad skill set in these higher-order thinking skills earn more money over the duration of their careers.

College is an important step toward success and fulfillment. Get the most out of the experience by taking a proactive and balanced approach to your education now with these helpful tips.

Patricia Roy

Patricia Roy is a writer and professor who has helped students succeed for over 25 years. She started her career as a high school English teacher and then moved into higher education at Tuition Rewards member school, Lasell University in Newton, Massachusetts. Her practical guidance and enthusiasm motivate and inspire students to fearlessly explore their own passions. Professor Roy is also a freelance writer and published poet.
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