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How to Survive Your First Semester of College

Four years ago, I was in your shoes, getting ready to begin my college career. While every semester of college had its own challenges, the habits I developed during the first semester of college not only helped me thrive throughout my remaining academic career but also gave me the confidence to persevere for the seven semesters that followed. Here are my five tips to help make your first semester in college a success.

Group of Seaver students attending a club fair

1. Try Everything

Throughout Pepperdine you'll find many opportunities to lead and learn outside the classroom, so start as early as you can with the things that capture your interest. At the club fairs you'll attend, take all the brochures that you find vaguely interesting and attend the events that pique your interest.

Consider study abroad programs, even if you've never thought about venturing that far from home. One of the best parts about your first semester is that no one really expects you to commit to much––they know that you'll have a lot of things to get used to.

2. Get to Know People

In my first couple of weeks at Pepperdine, I was overwhelmed by the number of people I met. Over time, though, I learned how to foster relationships with the different people I was introduced to, and so will you.

Pepperdine professors are really a special group of people. They care as much about how their students are doing outside the classroom as they do about their success in class. Don't be afraid to visit them during their office hours to pick their brains on something. If you really connect with a professor, ask him or her to mentor you; they'll be happy to do so.

Like Pepperdine professors, administrators and staff are also eager to serve you––many of them were students at Pepperdine too. Ask them about their stories and share yours with them. They want to get to know you, and they want to assist you in your transition to college. Don't hesitate to reach out to them.

You'll undoubtedly spend a good deal of time with your roommates and suite-mates, so be kind and be respectful. It may be new for you to share a living space with people who are not your relatives. Treat it as an opportunity to discover your own habits and to learn how to best accommodate others in a shared space.

Student lying in a hammock on Alumni Park

3. Keep an Inventory of Your Wellness

Starting college can offer a lot of new challenges at once, so find ways to take care of yourself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Explore what drives you and what lights a fire in you. That knowledge is what will guide you to the right major, the right clubs, and the right mentors for you.

Stress can hover over Pepperdine students like ocean fog in the morning. If you get overloaded and become stressed, don't be afraid to take a step back and process things. All too often students at Pepperdine feel compelled to commit to everything they try, and that can cause crazy amounts of stress. One of the most important things you'll start to learn in your first semester is when you need to say no.

If you've never lived away from your parents and won't have the luxury of seeing them on the weekends, you will likely feel some degree of homesickness. Don't push it away. Let yourself feel it, and if you need to talk to your parents or friends at home, do it. Sometimes a little catch-up conversation can get you back on track.

And no matter what struggles you may face, just remember you are not alone. If you don't feel comfortable talking to your friends, mentors, RAs, or SLAs, the Counseling Center has psychologists and therapists willing to help you.

4. Ask for Help When You Need It

During your first few weeks in college, you'll encounter all the information and resources available to you through Pepperdine. Staff members and mentors will share all sorts of important information about how to manage challenging situations, and you might not know what to do with it all. The best thing to do is to organize the info so you can access it readily. You never know when you'll need specific help for emergencies and sticky situations.

I mentioned taking advantage of professors' office hours earlier; doing so can be a very helpful tool. Unlike high school, visiting teachers outside of class doesn't always mean you've fallen behind. Often, it means you either want to get clarification about something or want to learn more about a topic discussed in class.

If you do find that you're having a difficulty with a subject (perhaps a professor's teaching style is not compatible with your learning style), seek help and take charge of your own education. If you need help related to a course, head to the Seaver Student Success Center to find tutors, or get a really good study group together.

Three female students smiling during Waves Weekend

5. Have Fun

Some of my favorite and most vivid memories of my first semester have nothing to do with school. My friends and I had a weekly tradition of Tuesday night bowling near Calabasas. I looked forward to it every week because it gave me time to hang out with friends I didn't see every day, and to meet new friends too.

I was very intent on capturing it all, so I always took pictures and videos of us having fun. Weirdly enough, making these video compilations helped prepare me for my video journalism classes.

College is ultimately what you make of it. College studies can be demanding, but if you focus only on doing schoolwork, you'll be missing out on opportunities to grow in other ways. Seek to find a balance in everything you do, and don't be afraid to let loose every once in a while. The first semester doesn't always set the tone for the rest of your experience, but it's when your habits often start.