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First-Year College Students: Find Your Guide

The new independence you experience in college can be daunting, but there are plenty of people and resources to help you along the way. Below is a list of some of the most common things you’ll navigate during college according to college students we interviewed, along with the best people and resources to help guide you.


1. Professors’ Office Hours

When you had questions in high school, you may have had to ask them in front of the whole class or in the few short minutes in between classes. However, most college professors list times in the syllabus during which they are in their offices and free to meet with students who walk in with questions.

“The thing I take advantage of the most is professors’ office hours. If there is content that I don’t understand, I will just go to the professor’s office and they are able to explain to me everything I didn’t get.”
Ethan, junior at the University of Buffalo

These hours can also be a great time to learn information that goes beyond the scope of the course or discuss an idea for an assignment and get guidance before you start working on it.

2. Writing/Learning Center

The Writing and/or Learning Center, which offer peer tutoring, can also be good resources for completing coursework. These centers are helpful especially when your professor isn’t available or when you’d like to have someone look over a paper in detail. Many students may also find that there’s less pressure in talking something over with a peer than a professor.

3. Classmates

In college, you’ll be taking classes with people who have taken different courses than you and have different majors than you do. This means your peers will see classes from a unique perspective and finding classmates to study with can help you learn from each other.

4. Apps

Coursework—there’s an app for that! With so much to memorize for college tests, apps like Brainscape or Quizlet help by allowing you to use flashcards that other students have created or make your own. Other useful apps are Simplenote and Evernote, which allow you to take virtual notes and keep them organized.

Time Management

With ample coursework, clubs, on-campus events, a job, and your friend groups, you’ll likely have a lot going on. While an old-fashioned planner works for some, you can also take your time management to the 21st Century with apps like Outliner that help you keep organized and efficient.

Money Management

With your new financial independence paired with more expenses, money management becomes crucial in college.

1. Financial Aid Office

The financial aid office is a resource for helping you navigate college-related expenses such as bills, scholarships, loans, and tax forms.

2. has key information you’re looking for as a college student. Read this article to learn money management tips for college or learn how you can manage your money with online banking. Rather talk to a person? Besides calling or visiting one of our branches, ESL also has Live Chat Banking which allows you to get banking help with extended hours that work with your schedule.

3. ESL Mobile App

With the ESL app, you can check your account balances, transfer money to your friends, and make deposits on-the-go.

Acquiring Textbooks

If you don’t have your textbooks yet, think twice before paying full price for a new book. Many sites like Amazon, Chegg, or ValoreBooks often let you rent or buy used textbooks for much less. You might also be able to save even more by buying an older or online version of the textbook. However, be sure to ask your professors to make sure they approve of the textbook versions you plan to use for class.

If a class doesn’t require heavy use of a textbook, some school libraries have textbooks on reserve that you can check out for a few hours and use to make copies of certain pages or chapters.

Scheduling Classes

As a first-year student, you’re probably already registered for courses for the upcoming semester. However, if you’re looking to change your schedule by dropping or adding a class, or when you’re planning next semester’s courses, take advantage of these resources.

1. Course Catalog

The course catalog is a good first step in course scheduling as it lists what courses you need to complete your college’s requirements. Some catalogs even suggest a potential timeline for taking the required courses.

“Through the course catalog, I know all the classes I need to take by the end of my four years so I can schedule them each semester in a way that works best for me. I also use the catalog to be aware of courses that count towards two different things (such as both my major and minor). This is a real time-saver, so it’s best to know these things yourself and not leave it up to others to tell you.”
Nicolette, senior at St. John Fisher College

2. Academic Advisor

Some colleges assign you an academic advisor that you can meet with before making any course scheduling decisions. Your advisor should know the requirements for completing majors and minors and might even have helpful insights regarding things like doubling up on credits to save you time and money. Be open with your advisor about your plans, especially if those include changing a major or adding a minor so he/she can provide advice in view of your goals.

3. Registrar’s Office

The registrar’s office has the authority when it comes to college credits, and knows the ins and outs of adding a class, dropping a class, or making class substitutions.

4. Peers/Upperclassmen

When considering what classes to take, don’t overlook the help of your fellow students. Most of them are happy to talk about their favorite (or least favorite) classes and professors and you can learn from their experiences.

Career Planning

It’s never too early to start exploring career options and preparing for the future. When you’re ready, there are plenty of resources to help you along.

1. Career Center

The Career Center can help you take some of the first steps of career exploration.

“The Career Center is great for seeing what’s out there and all the directions you can go with your degree.”
Emma, sophomore at Syracuse University

More than that, the Career Center can help you create a resume, search for internships, or search for jobs after graduation.

2. Professors

Professors’ knowledge extends beyond the classroom and many are happy to discuss your interests and career path goals. They may even be able to connect you to others in the field who’d also be willing to talk with you.

3. Professional Sites

A number of sites exist to help you network and find internships. Among them are LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor, and Handshake.

4. Social Media Presence

As you’ve probably heard a million times, be aware of what you post on your personal social media accounts and who has the potential to see it, including a future employer.

Anything and Everything

Who’s had experience managing money, managing their time, finding a career, and has known you your whole life—your parents and guardians! While you’re off at college, it’s not immature to ask for their advice, in fact, it’s wise to listen to their insights. Chances are, your folks would appreciate hearing from you once in a while, too.

To feel even more prepared for the upcoming school year, read how to take charge of your college experience.

For more information on starting college, check out this article about preparing for college from a parent’s perspective.