The Definitive Guide to Freshmen Year

Lydia Kulina
6 min readJul 1, 2020


Freshmen year is one of the most exhilarating times of your life and sets the tone for the rest of your college experience. While the jury is still out on university life during COVID-19, here are recommendations to help you navigate your first year.

Above all else: Immediately buy “They Say: We Say: Moves that Work in Academic Writing” by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein. This book is full of sentence stems and academic writing templates that help you construct an exceptional paper. Many university writing programs now include it as required reading! Peep this sentence stem from the book for introducing an argument: “As I asserted earlier, defenders of __________ can’t have it both ways. Their assertion that __________ is contradicted by their claim that __________.”

  1. Find an internship- Don’t start looking for the “dream job” senior year. Start building the skills that you need for the position now. Many internships are paid and oftentimes the university work study office will subsidize those that are not.
  2. Don’t sneak a whole ham out of the cafeteria in your backpack- Just don’t be that person.
  3. Don’t believe the lies- Many universities offer free professional psychologists and therapists to help with the transition and even unpack your past. I have been really helped by these professionals and wouldn’t have been able to afford their services on the teacher’s salary that I make now. These appointments are included in your university services fee so use it.
  4. Find creative options for making cash- If you need to find a job to supplement your income, look for creative options that won’t be a distraction to your studies. I started buying items at a thrift shop and selling on Poshmark and made over $1,000 with minimal effort. A friend worked at a cafe a few hours a week but was allowed to take home enough leftovers so that she didn’t ever have to purchase groceries… ever. Even still, another friend sold tie dye underwear for $8 a pair — that’s close to minimum wage in some states.
  5. Consider getting rid of your meal plan- The created purpose of meal plans is to help families apply the price of food into university loans. However, sometimes, purchasing meal plan is more expensive than paying for the same amount of meals individually. Do the calculations first.
  6. Buy a waterproof backpack- I know countless folks who lost expensive electronic devices in a sudden downpour. Invest in a waterproof backpack that safeguards your valuables. My North Face Hot Shot got me through four years without a drop.
  7. Work out- Get into the habit of working out. The movement will help your concentration and increase your energy levels. Take a friend to Zumba or your crush to yoga.
  8. Use technology hacks to edit your work- There is no excuse for turning in a paper with grammatical mistakes, you’re in college now. Grammarly is a great tool for catching all the mistakes that your word processor has overlooked. I also recommend using accessibility functions on your computer or an online text reader to read your writing as you edit it. This can help with flow and word choice.
  9. Listen to your books- Depending on your major, you might be confronted with insurmountable of reading, doomed to the dark corner of the library. If you are assigned non-textbook reading, consider downloading an audiobook and taking a walk while listening. Most books are available on Audible while many of the older, public-domain titles are available for free listening from Project Gutenberg’s app.
  10. Make small moments productive- In college, you will spend a lot of time waiting — waiting for the bus, waiting for a lecture to start, waiting for the web application to load. Over the course of a semester, these moments really start to add up. Instead of idly scrolling through Instagram, consider a new productive use for the time. Is there a skill that you would like to learn? Is there a book that you want to read?
  11. Immediately create a schedule- There is a lot of transition happening this year. Adhering to a schedule will ensure that you are able to meet goals and have peace of mind. Find the times and places that you are most productive and guard them.
  12. Be a party pooper- Many party hosts target inexperienced freshmen at welcoming parties. Avoid parties until you get the lay of the land.
  13. Consider buying a house- Okay, you might be rolling your eyes at this one, but… I have known some people that bought real estate in college and with the rent collected from roommates, were able to net a huge profit. Many cities offer special deals for first-time home-buyers which could make your down payment a lot lower than you think. At the time that I went to undergraduate in Philadelphia, you could purchase a move-in ready home for as low as 20k close to the university. Obviously this option depends on where you are attending college and may not be an option for you folks attending NYU or UCLA.
  14. No all nighters- All nighters wreck havoc on the body and can lead to serious problems. Instead of staying up all night, go to bed and wake up early to finish your paper. Your body (and roommate) will thank you!
  15. Watch what you eat- University cafeterias are notorious for greasy, carb-laden food — it is cheap and easy to prepare. However, this isn’t the best brain food to get through that Classical Philosophy course. Many university cafeterias now have special stations set up for health and religious restrictions that have options created on a smaller scale — so they are usually fresher and tastier. I always enjoyed options at the student Jewish center.
  16. Get public-domain texts for free- Don’t waste your money on buying texts that are already in the public domain. Find classic texts such “Confessions” by St. Augustine or “The Iliad” by Homer at Project Gutenberg (
  17. Buy a planner- Perhaps I am old school, but writing down deadlines helps solidify them in your brain. Opt for a planner that is visually appealing and makes you happy when you whip it out. Personally, I love Shinola’s planners and have been using them for a few years.
  18. Go to class- Attendance may not be required for some general education courses but it certainly will be factored in when professors determine your final grade. I will never forget my roommate’s at the end of the semester after only attending each class twice.
  19. Start your resume now- Don’t wait until senior year to start your resume. Start detailing your experience now while it is still fresh in your mind.
  20. Above all else, wear flip flops in the shower- You could be purchasing that much-needed textbook (your roommate is sick of sharing with you) with all that money you’ll be spending on antifungal foot cream if you shower barefoot.
  21. Reconsider your hair- You have heard of “No Shave November”but have you heard of November Roots? — it’s the time of the semester when all the platinum blondes have run out of money for their expensive two-process lightening. Invest in a hairstyle that you can financially maintain in college.
  22. Don’t buy everything at once- Don’t make the mistake of completely revamping your closet until you settle down in university. You might find that you have different tastes and needs in your new environment. However, do come prepared with a good rain jacket and umbrella.
  23. Sign up for emails- I missed out on many university opportunities because I was simply not signed up for university department emails. Make sure you’re signed up!
  24. Go to your professor’s office hours- Many of the professors have excellent connections that help you secure an amazing internship.
  25. Invest in cute, comfortable outfits- Whether you like it or not, there will be days when you will not want to dress up. Invest in some casual loungewear from Lululemon that you can throw on in a pinch.
  26. Buy low profile rain boots- I get the appeal of Burberry knee-height rain boots but sitting through a 3-hour lecture with poor ventilation and rubber boots is no fun.



Lydia Kulina

Educator and writer. Witty, gritty, and wise. Learner and doer.