Tips for Surviving & Thriving at College

Here’s the bottom line: it doesn’t matter whether you were head prefect, soccer / netball captain or an honours student in matric. Success in high school does not automatically translate to success at college.


Everyone starts college with a clean academic slate – disappointing for some…an exciting opportunity for others. The decisions you make and the actions you take as a First Year over the coming months will largely  influence the remainder of your college experience.

According to a recent Council on Higher Education (CHE) study, “only about one in four students in contact institutions graduate in regulation time“, and close on half of every first year intake group will never graduate (CHE, 2013).

Now before you decide to close this page and go check out what is happening on your Twitter feed, read a little further to find out how you can survive your first year of college and go on to thrive right to the end.

Some of the following tips and strategies you will find critical to surviving your first few weeks at college, while others are more long-term in nature. Either way, remember to enjoy yourself and all that college has to offer!

1. Attend Orientation

Yes, you would rather spend the last two days of the holidays fixing up your digs or meeting friends for one final get together before the hard slog begins. BUT the sooner you find your way around campus and get to grips with the new rules, regulations and timetable system, the more relaxed and better prepared you will be should any issues arise.

2. Get organized

This is not high school! There are no teachers to hand-hold you through homework or remind you of your due dates. College lecturers often post assignments (sometimes for the entire semester) and expect you to take responsibility for noting what needs to be done and by when. Buy a diary, download an app, do whatever you need to remind yourself of your assignment , submission and assessment dates.


I repeat…this is NOT high school! The temptation to skip your Monday 8 am lecture or stay home on a particularly cold and rainy day will be great. There is no registration class at the beginning of each day to ensure that you are attending lectures. There will be no phone calls home to find out why Thato wasn’t at college today. It is up to you to be disciplined and to attend lectures. Besides learning whilst attending lectures, you will also receive important information from the lecturer like what to cover for an upcoming assessment, how to go about tackling a particularly challenging assignment, changes in due dates etc.

4. Become an expert in course requirements & due dates

Trust me on this one, no lecturer is going to give you the benefit of the doubt when you come to him or her with the “But I didn’t know it was due today” excuse. You will be issued with course outlines and calendars, make sure you read them and make notes of all the due dates.

5. Take advantage of resources on campus

Every lecturer has scheduled office hours for the sole purpose of meeting with their students – introduce yourself and take advantage of this resource if you are struggling with a course or concept. Find out about additional classes, study sessions, mentoring programmes that may be available at your campus. Start a study group with a few like-minded, reliable students.

6. Find a balance

College life is as much about the social side as it is about the academics. What is important is to find a healthy balance. This can be challenging for some people and can lead to burn-out on the one hand or dropping out on the other.

7. Get involved

Homesickness and loneliness can be a problem for some. Consider joining campus organisations, clubs or sports teams. It will help with making new friends, learning new skills and feeling more connected with your campus.

8. Strive to do well

Few students breeze through their college years – the increased work volume and degree of difficulty is often an equalizer on the academic playing fields. You need to work hard in order to earn good marks at college level and this may mean having to set yourself realistic goals and putting in the extra time and effort required to achieve them.

9.  Take responsibility for yourself & your actions

Now that you have entered your college years, you are considered an adult. Being an adult comes with responsibilities and expectations. It means taking ownership of your life…including when things go wrong.

10. Make connections with students in your class

This isn’t always easy for everyone but during the first few weeks of lectures try make at least one new connection or friend in each of your classes. This will not only increase your network of friends but is also a valuable resource should you ever not be able to make it to class (for legitimate reasons, of course).

11. Do not procrastinate

Say it with me people: This is not high school! You may have gotten away with leaving your homework to the last minute and still manage to get good marks, but that kind of lack of discipline is not going to work at college. Note your due dates, calculate your deadlines and stick to them.

12. Keep healthy & eat right

A lot of problems, many first years face, can be traced back to illness, causing them to miss lectures for extended periods of time, and resulting in a knock-on effect of missed assessments, courses having to be deferred etc. Make sure you get enough rest, take your vitamins and eat healthy.

The “Freshman 15“, or more South African appropriate “Fresher 5”, is no myth. Many of you will be living away from home for the first time, having to cook for yourselves…it’s very tempting to live on 2 minute noodles and packets of chips rather than sticking to a healthy and balanced diet.

13. Learn to cope with homesickness

For those of you who are leaving home to attend college in a different city or province, it’s only natural that you will miss home and your family. Find healthy ways of coping with these feelings: set a regular time for phoning home; look into getting Skype or FaceTime; e-mail your loved ones or even try writing a letter and sending it snail mail! With all of the technology available today, there are many ways of keeping in touch with loved ones and fighting the Sunday night, homesick blues.

14. Get help when you need it

Whether you’re feeling sick, depressed, isolated or don’t understand what is happening in a course, please ask for help! Speak to a lecturer, your Academic Manager or the Branch Manager – they will be able to point you in the right direction.

15. Learn to budget

If you’ve never had to budget, now is the time for you to learn. Find ways to make your money stretch further. If at all possible do not make use of a credit card, the interest alone will ensure that you are always in debt.

16. Be prepared to feel overwhelmed

You are entering a new phase in your life. There are going to be times when you feel overwhelmed, the trick is to remember that a) it will pass and b) you’re not the only one going through this.


Hansen, R.S. (n.d.). Your First Year of College: 25 Strategies and Tips to Help you Survive and Thrive your Freshman Year and Beyond. Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 22 January 2016].