Five pieces of advice for first-year students

Welcome my fellow classmates! I hope you’re excited for a fun, fall term. You may be feeling nervous, or full of excitement, or maybe both! Starting college is such a shift as a first-year student: the class sizes are larger, expectations are higher and campus expands further than your high school grounds ever did. Well fear not, because I’m here to help ease your worries, and to further help transition you into this new environment. I’m starting my second year here at Portland State, and my goal is to prevent as many of you from slipping through the cracks as possible.

I want to start off by talking about my own experiences. Although I sometimes feel like I’ve been a college student forever, I’m only starting my second year. While I was lucky to have smaller classes as a first-year student, I still felt out of my element. I was especially overwhelmed by the amount of work expected from me. Even if none of my professors were particularly strict, I learned that not keeping up on my work spelled disaster for my mental state. I’d soon find that all of this assigned work was piling up. I was stressed and didn’t know how to handle it. I struggled with this in high school, but it was worse at PSU. Knowing the cost at stake I felt bad for struggling, and I hardly reached out to others. This led to me eventually failing some of my classes. I was really angry at myself by the time my first year was over.

Now I know that must sound scary. Despite the challenges of last year, I don’t regret my decision to pursue higher education. I am very happy to have ended up at PSU, even if my journey isn’t always perfect. They say you learn from your mistakes, and I think that’s true. I want to share the lessons I learned as a first-year student, and I hope my experiences can help anyone feel seen or make the challenges seem less big. Here’s a few pointers and general advice that I hope helps you navigate through the school year.

  • Don’t overload your plate — This is one of the reasons I failed two of my classes in the winter term. It’s very important to pay attention to how many credits you’re taking. This is especially important as incoming first years, since the amount of work expected from you will likely increase from what you’re used to. Start slow and gradually build up on classes when you’re ready. 
  • Keep in touch with your advisor — It’s required for first-year students to meet with their assigned advisor at least twice in fall term — and for good reason. If you’re stressed with classes or don’t even know which ones to pick for your major, your advisor will be able to guide you in the right direction. When I met with my advisor, he’d tell me what classes might be good to take, and what might not be necessary in a given term or year. It’s also a good way to see if you’re on the right track when it comes to your specific degree. He also provided resources for me around campus that’d help me with aspects I was currently struggling with, like building up study habits and getting my work in on time. All of this is really important in paving the way for a successful year at PSU. I’d recommend talking to your advisor as soon as you possibly can. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help — If you find yourself struggling with your workload, don’t wait to talk with your professor. Though I struggled to communicate properly with my own professors last year, that doesn’t mean I never did so. And for the most part, it went well. In one of my classes I was able to talk to the professor more. Because she was more familiar with me and my situation, she was able to better understand why I turned work in late. We were able to make a plan and work together to make sure I could pass the class with flying colors. But they can’t help if they don’t know what’s going on, and in my experience, it’s better to ask for help early-on when it can make a difference.
  • Keep on top of your work (aka don’t procrastinate) —  I know it may be tempting to play video games instead of working on your reading assignments. Sometimes homework is boring, sometimes it feels too tedious to tackle. But homework can quickly pile up, especially in higher credit courses. When they say you should expect to spend an hour each week on classwork per credit — they mean it. If you do fall behind, it doesn’t hurt to check in with your professor about late assignments, but don’t focus too much on what you can’t change. It’ll only stress you out more. 
  • Become familiar with your syllabi’s —  Although your professor may present the syllabus to the class on the first day, some don’t. I’ve found in online courses, the expectation is that you look over the syllabus on your own time. The syllabus lets you know what to expect in the coming term, how to succeed and what the professor will expect of you. It’ll also give you a chance to decide whether or not this class is really for you. Doing this early in the term is extremely important, as there is only a limited amount of time you get to drop the class without penalty. 

Anddd that’s it! I wish you all the best of luck! I really hope you enjoy your time here as I have. If you need other resources, or want to learn more about the university, make sure to check out PSU Connect which shares events and other activities, or the Student page which lists all the resources available to us. Or ask your professor! Whatever works for you. Most importantly: have fun!

Audria Oakes is a second-year at PSU. She loves to draw, write, cook and spend time with her newly adopted kitten. 



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