The Most Common College Freshman Mistakes: Expert Tips for a Successful First Year of College

By Kayla Soyer-Stein

Published on July 9, 2021

The Most Common College Freshman Mistakes: Expert Tips for a Successful First Year of College

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It is not uncommon for new college students to struggle with adjusting to college life. In fact, academic, financial, and personal difficulties cause 30% of college freshmen in the United States to drop out before sophomore year.

The high cost of tuition makes college inaccessible to most students without financial aid or student loans, and many students must balance their course load with a job. In addition, the rigor of college coursework can often overwhelm students. Physical and mental health issues can also lead to first-year college students dropping out.

Fortunately, however, students can take steps to set themselves up for success in their first year of college. This guide covers the 12 most common college freshman mistakes and provides tips on how to avoid making them so students can make the most of their first year of college. We also list resources for first-year college students.

The 12 Most Common Freshman Mistakes


Many high school students believe that they can transition seamlessly into college without making any major changes to their habits or behavior. As a result, they do not adequately prepare for college life, and may find themselves making some of the following common academic, financial, and personal mistakes in college.

Academic Mistakes

1. Skipping Class

While skipping class to sleep, study, or socialize may tempt students, attendance often comprises a key part of course grades. Any missed classes can lead to students falling behind in coursework. This often causes learners to scramble to catch up on material, which can encourage them to skip class again, and create a cycle of avoidance and anxiety.

2. Bad Study Habits

Students may get away with not studying in high school, but college courses require hard work to pass. First-year college students should check their school's learning center for resources on developing good note-taking and critical reading skills. Review notes regularly instead of cramming at the last minute, and consider forming a study group with classmates.

3. Poor Time Management Skills

Procrastination and disorganization can make life in college much more stressful. Use a planner or calendar app to keep exams and due dates. Break major assignments up into smaller, manageable tasks to avoid feeling overwhelmed or needing to pull an all-nighter.

4. A Lack of Connection with Faculty

In addition to helping enrollees understand course material, college professors can provide students with recommendation letters and serve as mentors. Make a positive impression on professors and go to their office hours. Students should also participate in class, be on time, and keep emails to them courteous and professional.

Financial Mistakes

5. Not Creating and Keeping a Budget

College students face other expenses besides tuition. Housing, food, books, and transportation costs also add up. Without a clear budget, first-year college students might end up living beyond their means and then find themselves unable to pay their bills. Schools may offer a financial literacy program to help degree-seekers learn how to budget.

6. Misuse of Credit Cards

Students should start building a positive credit history early. However, overspending and failing to pay credit card balances on time can hurt credit scores and cause debt to pile up. To avoid this mistake in college, consider setting up autopay, and never spend more than you actually have in the bank.

7. No Emergency Fund

Emergencies and accidents can take a major financial toll on first-year college students. Include room in a budget for emergencies, such as unexpected car repairs or flights home. If possible, start saving up an emergency fund before college.

8. Missing Financial Aid Deadlines

Financial aid paperwork is crucial to complete. Students must finish and submit it on time to ensure that they receive money for their tuition and other expenses. Use a calendar to keep track of all deadlines, and meet with a college financial aid counselor to stay on top of tasks.

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Personal Mistakes

9. Too Many Distractions

Constantly checking texts, social media, and email prevents students from focusing in class and makes writing a paper take exponentially longer than needed. Keep phones on airplane mode and out of sight during class and study hours. Internet-blocking apps like Self Control and Freedom can help learners stay on task on their computers.

10. No Support Systems

Students should not feel like they are facing the challenges of college alone, especially if attending a college away from home. Building a support system of friends, family, and even professors can help students overcome challenges. Remember that many classmates and coworkers can relate to the same things as first-year college students.

11. Not Getting Enough Sleep

Balancing work, school, and a social life can make maintaining a healthy sleep schedule difficult. But lack of sleep can inflict serious negative effects on both academic performance and health. Aim for 7-8 hours of sleep every night, and practice good sleep hygiene to improve the quality of your rest.

12. Not Asking for Help

College students pay for a variety of support services, whether they realize it or not. Advisors, guidance counselors, peer tutors, and librarians are there to help learners. Failing to take advantage of them can mean not getting the information or support that students need to succeed in their first year of college.

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College is a place for learning, and that includes not only academic learning, but also learning from mistakes. If students encounter setbacks during their first year of college, they can still get back on track. Reaching out for help marks a key step in this process.

Forming or joining a study group can help degree-seekers recover from several of the aforementioned college freshman mistakes. Studying with peers can provide learners with a support system and improve study habits and time management skills while minimizing distractions.

If students find themselves struggling with a specific class, they should reach out to their professor about it — and the sooner the better. For example, many professors may grant extensions on due dates, but they may not be flexible if a student simply misses the deadline without communicating with them first.

First-year college students should also remember that they can meet with or email academic advisors whenever they need help or advice. For instance, advisors can provide solutions for students struggling to handle their course load. In addition to helping enrollees with academic decisions, academic advisors can highlight other sources of information and support.

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Additional Resources for First-Year College Students


This app allows students to create and share electronic flashcards. Using spaced repetition, students can increase comprehension of difficult subjects while reducing overall studying time. The Evernote app makes it easy for students to organize all of their notes, coursework, calendars, reminders, and other important information in one place. As a reputable source for information about student financial aid, FinAid offers advice and tools for students looking for ways to finance their college education. This list of study tips explains concrete actions students can take to improve their study habits, organization, and time management skills. This blog offers advice to college students on how to build an emergency fund, thereby avoiding potential financial hardship. OmniFocus is a task-managing app that allows students to set priorities and stay on top of deadlines by organizing thoughts and ideas into to-do lists. The website of the Federal Student Aid Office of the United States Department of Education can help students understand how financial aid works. The resource also helps learners navigate the student loan repayment process.

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