How to Survive Your First Semester of College

What I learned about life and adulthood.

Jan 2 · 7 min read

I’ll admit I entered my college career a bit cocky. Proud of finishing off my high school career with a 4.0 GPA and graduating with highest honors, I waltzed into university ignorant to the realities of college life. I, like many others, believed college to be identical to high school or if not identical, very similar.

Was I in for a rude awakening.

As I stand on the other side with a 3.0 GPA I now realize that I could never be more wrong. But despite the blunders that I made during my first semester, there were a lot of lessons learned about myself. Here are a few of them.

Put Away Your Phone

Let’s be honest here, we all think that we’re stronger than the little colorful computer we carry around everyday but we’re not. In the beginning of the semester I thought that I could resist the musical sounds and flashing lights that radiated from my device. But as I found myself reaching for it again and again, I realized that I was not as strong as I thought I was. Spare yourself from the late nighters you have to pull because you spent the last four hours scrolling through Tik Tok, turn off your phone, and lock it away somewhere you won’t reach it. What ever it is can wait.

Time Blocking is Essential

One thing you discover quickly is that the main difference between college and high school is that college is assignment heavy whereas high school is test heavy. Because of that structure, a high school student spends most of their time preparing for the next test that comes around every two to three weeks, whereas the average college student spends most of their time meeting deadlines and turning in assignments only to have a test around once a month or so depending on the class. In order to manage the boat load of assignments, time blocking is a time management strategy that proved to be a grade saver. For those of you who don’t know, time blocking is where you ‘block’ out each hour of your day with a certain task. Doing this allows you to keep track of the time that you spend doing a certain task and physically see your day as it goes on. This strategy not only gives you the ability to study hard, but also study smart since you’re able to plan your study sessions and breaks in between.

There are many ways to time block. You can do it on a spreadsheet, in an hourly planner, in a notebook, on a digital calendar, and you can also use the various apps that are available on the market. The app that I currently use is called Timebloc which works well without you having to upgrade to the premium service. It allows you to create tags and use icons to associate for your ‘event.’ You can also manipulate the time intervals and your bedtimes and wake times for each day.

Less is More

We live in a world where people are applauded for carrying the heaviest loads and working the longest hours. This hustle culture is probably one of the reasons why our mental health in this society is deteriorating. At some point, we need to sit down with ourselves and understand ourselves and our limits and sometimes that is taking on less, so that we have more energy for more. Coming from a person who entered college undertaking about 18 credits and seven classes and dropping two of them within the first few weeks, it doesn’t take long for someone to realize that the assignment-heavy format of college made it nearly impossible to take on too many classes at a time, making strategically planning your courses paramount. This is where talking to your advisor and looking at grad school course requirements is incredibly helpful, as it allows you to check your progress academically while making sure you’re not taking too many classes. If you’re willing to take on the course load then by all means take as many classes as you can, but if you value your sanity, trust me, less is more.

Hit the Ground Running

I’ve heard a lot of students slack off for the first few weeks of the semester and wait for the final exam grade to turn their grade around and as someone who spent their entire semester playing catch up, I don’t understand how they do it. Although it may be hard to find the motivation, it really is in your best interest to front load your semester and hit the ground running. Those first few assignments and midterms you turn in and take have the ability to determine your academic trajectory for the semester. Making sure you score as high as possible on your first few tests and assignments will not only give you the padding you need just in case something goes wrong, but will help set you up for success for the rest of the semester.

Learn to Study…Again

One thing you learn as you grow is that different phases of your life require different versions of yourself. In high school, one of the most effective study methods I used was taking notes. Doing this allowed me to retain information better and tackle even the toughest concepts. But in college, I quickly learned that this method wasn’t going to fly, because I no longer had the time that I used to have to draw up elaborate notes. So in search of better and more efficient study methods I took to Youtube. Although there are many effective study strategies that are out there, the best way to determine which one to use should be dependent on the type of class you’re taking. If you’re taking a memorization based class you

  • Want to rely on the slides
  • Make a condensed study guide/notes
  • Use active recall (flashcards, practice tests, etc)

If you’re taking a conceptual class (math, physics, etc,) you want to

  • Review basic/key concepts (draw up a formula sheet, flashcards, etc)
  • Review practice problems
  • Do as many practice problems as you can

If you find yourself looking to recalibrate your study methods as you enter college, high school, grad school what have you, that’s ok. Evolution is necessary for success in every aspect of your life. Including your education.

Learn to Advocate For Yourself

This is especially true if you’re a person of color because we live in a world where if we don’t demand what we’re owed we won’t get it, but despite this people of color are still taught to fear their own voices because we’re taught early on that the answer will be no. But what we often fail to realize is that no is not the worst outcome, not getting what you need to thrive is. If you’re a POC who goes to a predominately white institution it is incredibly important for you to advocate for yourself and voice what resources you need to thrive, because if I’ve learned anything from attending PWIs my entire life is that those resources will not come to you.

Take Care of Yourself

Another thing that our capitalistic society encourages us to forget and another thing that black women are socialized to not prioritize. The strong black woman is a trope that many black women wear with a badge of honor. So many of us take so much pride in our ability to do it all, that we forget that we can’t. I understand that college is hectic. You have classes to attend and homework to do, but when you’re falling asleep in the middle of class and putting on the freshman 15 because you never set aside time for exercise, you are forced to consider the fact that you can’t pour from an empty cup. Even if it’s just a 30 minute walk out of your apartment or 10 minute nap, you have to set aside time to take care of yourself. Even a car can’t run on empty.

Learn to Fail

Failure is a word black women everywhere are taught to fear. Because we live in a world where black women are subjected to the struggles that come with being both black and a woman, failure is associated with slipping through the cracks and becoming a statistic. But the thing is that a fear of failure isn’t sustainable for success because failure in and of itself is inevitable. At some point in your life, you will lose that job or get a bad grade in that class and when that happens it is in your best interest to learn how to brush yourself off and keep it moving. Failure only has the ability to ruin you if you let it. Failing gives you the opportunity to become greater than you were before. It gives you the opportunity to learn lessons you didn’t know and discover parts of yourself you never knew existed. So learn to fail, learn how to take rejection and you will be better off for it.

This past semester of college did a lot of things for me. I learned how to cook and started developing a budget to track my spending. I learned new lessons and I also relearned some old ones. But if there’s one lesson I walked away with is that each new phase of your life requires a new you. Adulthood comes with it’s challenges but just becoming one is hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible. On that note, I hope all of you have a happy new year.

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“Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.” I come with truth because I care more about the world than I should.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn


Written by


“Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.” I come with truth because I care more about the world than I should.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the ways we learn

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