A Letter to the First-Time College Student

first-time college student advice tips

Dear First-Time College Student (words I wish I had heard at the dawn of my college experience),

I am so excited to hear that you are headed to college soon. I’m sure you’ve already chosen some classes and you may have even heard from your new roommate(s). Maybe you’ve selected a new planner, some extra-long sheets for your dorm room, and a stack of framed photos of the people whose faces you know you’re going to need to see as you transition to this new space. This might be the first time that you’ve lived so far from home, paid your own bills, or cooked for yourself.

The anticiption is palpable.

As you know, there are boundless opportunities and experiences waiting for you once you pick up that freshman orientation swag bag. In it, you’ll probably find important magnets with phone numbers to places like student activities, the on-campus security line, the clinic, the counseling office, the bursar’s office, etc. You’ll receive a map of local public transit stations, and locations of places like the library, gym, stadium, bookstore, Newman Center, alongside some local parks and attractions.

Things Will Change Now

Once classes begin, there is a good chance that you will read a book that rocks your world—and your perceptions of it. You might get involved with registering students to vote. Maybe you’ll attend a protest. You might meet your future spouse. You might turn 21 sooner/later than your peers and have to make some important choices. Perhaps you’ll sign up to study abroad. Maybe your world will look smaller when you choose to participate in a service trip in a place of great need. Maybe you’ll juggle classes and a job.

It is going to take some getting used to.

This whole college experience has evolved from what might have once been a surface-level academic endeavor to one that now (wisely) includes a four-year formation of person. This may include everything from building community to taking financial and health literacy classes. It might include living with someone you may not have chosen and working on your interpersonal communication skills to work through conflict.

This is a tremendously growing experience.

Statistically-speaking, attending college is an opportunity very few people enjoy world-wide. What you do with your time matters, both to you and to the one(s) making it possible for you: God, your family, your employer, the donors of your scholarships, etc.

Get the BIS Blog Posts weekly in your inbox!

What I Hope You Do as a First-Time College Student

Hindsight and the Holy Spirit have given me these three tenants by which to evaluate the choices that are inevitably coming for you in these next four years (and beyond):

1. Take care of you—body and soul.

This probably sounds self-explanatory, but it can be easier said than done. When school begins and the homework is assigned, invitations from friends or to clubs start rolling in, it is vital to remember a few important and grounding parameters to work within.

  • Get rest. Professors make more sense when you do. This is also key to staying healthy, especially during finals!
  • Eat well. Don’t write off the cafeteria when you need a good meal and don’t have time to cook. Or cook up something yummy for yourself or let someone else introduce you to a dish you’ve never tried before.
  • Say your prayers. Sit with the Word when you get up, before bed, or all throughout the day.
  • Exercise. Get to know your new space on foot.
  • Make friends. So much of your experience on campus is defined by those you surround yourself with. Choose wisely and evaluate often.
  • Trust your gut. If that nagging voice is telling you something about a situation isn’t right…listen!
  • Call your family. Keep them in the loop.
  • Commit to a faith community. Find a Newman Center or local parish where you can grow. Be invested there so they’ll know you enough to miss you when you’re not there and follow up. (This is also a great way to score a homemade meal or off-campus hospitality!)

2. Take advantage of the resources at your fingertips.

I probably didn’t appreciate this fully until I lived in a college town and used their library and attended cultural events that I then had to pay for. I now marvel at the opportunities available to all students when they watch for e-mails, flyers, or even the stall-street-journals. So often I have attended presentations by famous people or seen orchestras or plays all because I was near the campus where the performance was being held. I have hoped to one day live in a town near a campus for this very reason.

  • Read your e-mails.
  • Attend speakers/performances offered on campus, whether or not you’ve heard of them.
  • Access bright and passionate scholars to mentor you as you grow.
  • Utilize the top-notch library resources/academic support.
  • If you’ve ever considered counseling services, they are easily accessible on campus as you deal with the newness or complexities of a more adult lifestyle.

3. Get involved and remember why you’re there.

Ultimately, you are headed to college to become more educated in a particular field of study. This can begin to feel like a real drag when compared to ultimate Frisbee practice, volunteering at the humane society, or pledging for a sorority. This does not necessarily mean that you’re on the wrong track, it’s just simply more fun to play than it is to work. So there is a level of self-discipline required when choosing how to spend your days. Becoming involved is part of the whole experience that makes you a well-rounded dentist/biologist/meteorologist/theologian/non-profit manager/urban planner.

  • Balance your extra-curricular involvement with your actual classes and responsibilities. I found out early that you cannot major in extra-curriculars!
  • Service trips can be a great way to get to know new folks over breaks. It can even give you real-world experience in something you’re interested in.
  • Look up. Look people in the eye and reserve the use of your phone only for particular times of the day.
  • Operate with integrity. Show up and do what you say you’re going to do.
  • Your future employer will actually want to hear about the ways you were involved outside of the classroom,and how that shaped you into their ideal candidate. Think about how these two complement each other and be able to talk about it.


This next chapter of your life is going to shape you and mold you in beautiful ways. You have gifts to bring that only you can offer. Bring your whole self and take care of that self; doing so models for others what that looks like and gives them permission to do the same.

You are made in the image and likeness of God. Let your light shine!

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. -John 1:5


Are you a first-time college student this year? What are you most excited for? Nervous about? Let us know in the comments below!

A Letter to the First-Time College Student #BISblog // Click To Tweet

Katie Cassady is a regular contributor to the BIS blog. She is a wife and mom to two little girls in Denver, CO. Steeped in theological reflection, beekeeping and motherhood, she is appreciative of any and all wisdom she can glean from those living intentional lives of faith. Find out more about her here.

You Might Also Like...

No Comments

Leave a Reply