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Succeeding In and Surviving the First Year of College

*To counselors, the work described here is frequently overlooked, but we find that it's increasingly valuable for the first-generation student.  We use this material to initiate the process of preparing a student for college life.

The thrill of being accepted.

If you have done well in choosing schools that fit your ambitions and are affordable, this might seem to be an easy decision to accept one of your offers.  It's not.  

This page is about why it's not.

Now is the hard part.

You have to make a crucial choice given the college acceptances you have.  In making this decision,  you will affect the success of your first college year.

Don't think for a second that it's fair for you to have to consider these issues.  It isn't. 

The really good news.

As soon as you open the building door on the first day, walk down the hall to your classroom,  and take a seat for your first class, you have moved up a category in the wages you can expect to earn in your life without moving a pencil.

You will be considered as Having Some College.  Congratulations.  Let's get there and beyond.

The Issues

Worrying about food is the last thing a student should be doing when trying to get good grades and balance a job, but sadly it’s the reality.


Stable housing is critical for students, but housing options on college campuses vary widely among schools.


Of course the primary goal of a successful college career is maintaining good grades.


Before you head off to college,  learn and practice personal money management.


Students need to be able to contact campus counseling services if they have questions or concerns about their mental health and wellbeing.


Both on-campus and

off-campus transportation and its

cost will affect the success of dividing time between classes and a job.

Sustaining yourself while succeeding in college

At this point, your decision regarding the college you will attend should be between the two or three schools that have accepted you and are affordable with the financial aid that you have been awarded.  The research that you should do focuses on the anticipated issues that you will confront and the solutions that are offered by the schools themselves. The information that you need about individual schools is found on their websites or by calling/emailing resources that are listed.  Run at least one Google search using the name of the college community with the subject, homeless college students.


College meal plans are expensive and dining halls can be closed on weekends or over holidays.  If your housing includes a kitchen, then food pantries and SNAP programs can greatly reduce this expense. Recently over 700 colleges reported having a food pantry on campus that provides free food to college students in need. 


Some schools may have live-in requirements, while other schools, typically community colleges, provide no housing at all.  On-campus student housing can offer opportunities for many students; however, it is not necessarily less expensive than off-campus options. Even when student housing is less expensive, the supply of student housing often does not meet demand so apply as early as possible.  Federal community housing programs provide minimal support due to restrictions for college students and shortages in subsidized housing.

If you are living in on-campus housing, you may have a serious issue with housing during academic breaks.  Several colleges have innovated to solve this issue and you need to research your school, especially if you are in a four-year program.  Here are some solutions that you should look for when you search your school's website.  1)Some schools will provide outreach to students in advance, connect them to resources, and also find programs for which they may be eligible. 2) Some schools will keep residence halls open during breaks.  3) Some schools will partner with hotels and consider buying out a few rooms for students during vacation breaks.


These are excellent examples.  Georgetown University has a hotel on campus and provides housing for students in need over winter break.   The Guardian Scholars Program at San Diego State University allows students to stay in their rooms all year if they are part of a specific program. 


 You will need to use Teaching Assistants in most of your classes.  These are older students who work for the college, probably in a work-study program, to assist students with assignments.  Teaching Assistants have office hours and you need to coordinate your job schedule with these.  Do not wait until you feel that you are in trouble in a course to lean on a Teaching Assistant.

Knowing how to write well is essential. Being able to write clearly and concisely about a given topic will serve you well, both in college and after you've graduated. Whatever your ultimate career goal, it will likely involve some level of writing.  Being able to express yourself well will be a valuable asset in the workplace. If you are unsure of your writing skills seek out assistance on campus.  You should find you have access to many writing tutors and academic help centers that are free for students. Use these resources to your advantage. There is no shame in needing help to improve with any subject, only in refusing to take advantage of that help when it is available.

Fear exams.  Exams are a fact of college life. They are the score-card for your college career. Many good students find taking exams difficult, not because they are unsure of the material but, because they find test-taking to be stressful. Relax and look over these helpful tips to improve your test-taking performance: Get plenty of sleep the night before and avoid alcohol.  Get help from your TAs before the exam, not after.

Living with a roommate in a dorm or an apartment is a new, and strange, experience. This may your first time away from home, and it may be your first experience of having a roommate. While it may seem a brave new world, it is really not too difficult a world to navigate. Some cooperation between you and your new roommates can make dorm living a lot less stressful, and a lot more rewarding.


Money will become more complicated for you.  You will need a checking account at a bank or credit union.  You will have a job that doesn't pay you cash, but with a check or direct deposit.  You will need to compare what monies you expect to earn with what you expect to pay out.  You will need a plan for emergencies.  And all of this needs to be private and secure; trust no one.

Emergencies can prevent students from staying in school. These might include family problems, medical issues, conduct concerns, and roommate conflicts. Most colleges have Emergency Grants or Loans for their students who experience unexpected problems but these may be difficult to apply for.  Du Pont Youth recommends that you have an advisor or mentor to help with this and that you participate in the Future College Student Challenge to earn monies for emergencies.


Most campus websites offer an overview of services.  Be proactive by calling or visiting the campus to make sure they offer counseling or mental health services. Ask if they have mental health professionals on staff or do they contract with a hospital or agency. Ask whether the services are free to students or if they are available for a fee. Make sure the school keeps your records confidential from other entities, both within the college and outside of it.


Research hospitals and private doctors in the community.   Most college health or counseling centers only offer short-term care; then the student must find a practice in the community.  Find practices compatible with your insurance, whether private or through the school. Counseling centers on campus typically offer excellent services when dealing with typical 'college' problems such as relationship conflicts, adjusting to college, and academic problems. They also deal with anxious and depressed moods, substance abuse, and trauma recovery. 

Health insurance is the elephant in the room.  You will need an advisor or mentor to help with this.


There are many transportation considerations if you do not have a car.  Often there is a free extensive shuttle service provided for students and the local area public transportation service also may be free.  Please consider job opportunities that may be dependent on the quality of bus transportation as you research your school.

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