How to Cruise through First Year College | Skills | Caveats | Tips

Colleges and universities have started opening and it’s time for first year students to get into that significant phase of their lives ‘College!!’ the prime charm of which is the newfound freedom. However, college life also involves an increase in personal responsibility. During these years there are no fixed study-times, meal times, and most importantly for most of you there will not be anyone to tell when to sleep or get up. Added to that there will be academic workload, multitasking and a host of new opportunities and challenges. As you can see being in college is like doing a full-time job! Add to this, hours of self-study and preparation for each semester.

To make the most of your first year in college it would be great idea to learn skills that will be of great help in developing your personality and be successful in college and in future career.

Adapting to college life is particularly challenging for those living away from home/country for the first time. In order to prepare yourself for a successful transition to campus life, the following skills are extremely crucial.

Top skills to learn during first year of college –

Time management

Start by creating a timetable with class timing, study time, other activities of personal interest, meals and hanging out with friends. Learning how to prioritize your responsibilities and balance various commitments can help you adapt to life at school without feeling overwhelmed.

Stress management

A fitness regime including yoga or meditation, sufficient rest and a good nutritious diet are best ways of self-care that go a long way in addressing stress. Finding ways to keep yourself calm and focused will help decrease stress that life is going to fling your way.

Enough, that is 6-8 hours sleep is extremely important to keep you fit. Equally crucial, is a balanced diet which while taking care of your nutrition will also keep you in good mood, good body shape and enhance your academic performance. Maintaining cleanliness and good hygiene are also important aspects of self-care. Taking music lessons helps with better results in college as it expands parts of the brain not normally used in schooling.

Study skills

Good study skill is a very critical phenomenon and will play a pivotal role in college days. Reading text books effectively, taking call notes, making proper use of college and other libraries and taking mock MCQ tests are cogs that will help you excel in semesters.

During school students can excel exams by memorizing facts. However, once in college learning how to take effective lecture notes, study for tests, do outside research, and seek assistance from professors and teaching assistants – will ensure good grades in semesters. Take separate notes in class for the things that you didn’t understand. Ask for clarification in class so that you stay abreast on the topic. Find people to compare notes with and also the ones whose notes to borrow if and when you miss a lecture.  

Also learn how to take notes in a fast paced lecture, make use of a Ted talk, and try an array of tools until you find one that works. Learn how to convert material from short term to long term memory for major exams. The goal is to attain disciplined reading and note taking, summarization and indexing skills. As important as reading is, it’s also equally important to remember where what you read is.

Follow this regime for semester preparation – study for some time, wait 10 minutes and go back to it. Then 30 minutes. Then 1 hour. Then 3 hours. Then the next morning, then 3 days later! That’s how you do it. Try to repeat what you’ve learned without seeing. So read what you’re trying to memorize, then see if you can repeat it and write it down. Reading something 100 times will NOT help you because your brain isn’t actively trying to “recall” that info. You need to be able to say it or write it without looking.

Money management

College life is a time when young minds tend to be reckless as emotions and adrenalin both run high during this period. This is why college students often tend to make mistakes when it comes to handling finances. Unnecessary spending tops the list when it comes to financial mistakes among college goers. Instances include – buying upmarket outfits or luxury shoes and watches.

Learn how to sew a button, hem your pants, iron and wash clothes. If you do not know how to fend for yourself, you would spend money you may not have for someone else to do it. This is where “basic” survival tenets of Food, Shelter, and Clothing apply to life. This small list will grow eventually, it is important to figure out where you are weak and strengthen yourself accordingly.

Most college goers do not save any part of the allowance or pocket money they get from parents. It will do them a great good if they understand the importance of saving a little amount of money as emergency fund which will act as a safety net at times of need. This habit will also help them spend within a limited scope. Start living on a strict budget, right from the word go!

Develop skills to speak up for yourself

Be assertive and whenever needed do not hesitate to speak up for yourself! Doing that is that is not being aggressive at all. Allowing others to take you for rides or take advantage of you is not the right thing. Your assertive skills will also help you in communicating with your roommate/s, in the study groups, teams and also in resolution of conflicts if any. That said, you must also learn and practice a healthy boundary so that you do not end up being rude and unfeeling.

Learn to be safe and stay away from unsafe acts

Prioritise your well being, that is be careful to make smart and low-risk choices and always keep the phrase “what ifs” handy. It is extremely important to know how conduct yourself safely in a college party (don’t set down a drink and walk away-someone could put something in it/don’t leave a party alone/put the phone number for security on the cell phone and keep the phone with you and charged at all times. How to set boundaries with friends who want to text you all day allowing this will disrupt concentration.

No internet surfing for fun or chat while studying; that’s hard in its own right because so many notifications pop up even in the course of valid surfing. And yes! No alcohol no drugs please! Do not take amphetamines (these are central nervous system (CNS) stimulants, used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy)— yes, you can cram with them, but they are very addictive and horrible for your long term health. Don’t do it. Last but not the least no intense relationships; now is NOT the time.

Learn to ask for help

Knowing when to ask for help is an extremely valuable skill and most students lack it. The first year of college is a time for countless new things, it is a time for adopting new life skills and leaning to live in a new way and relating with the world is a unique manner. There will be hiccups in the process, quite often that too! Learn to ask for help whenever you need it. Asking for assistance or support is not an admission of failure but a sign of strength and veracity.

Learn to respect rules

Each college campus will have its unique rules and policies, directed towards the safety of students and nurturing a constructive community where everyone in the campus respects themselves, others and also the environment. Also important is to learn how to speak respectfully to authority figures

Learn to exhibit your honesty, integrity and perseverance

Accentuate your path of personal growth during the first year of college by learning to integrate values and ethics into every aspect of your life. As a part of honesty, learn how to be there while staying committed to your career goals even when situations are challenging.

Learn to network effectively

Career building nowadays revolves round proper networking. At the first year of college most do not think of life after graduation, but remember that it’s never too early to start networking by learning how to introduce yourself and ask for guidance. Get acquainted with professional social media sites like Linkedin which can be a big step to connect with others in your field.

In addition to these skills there are some other life skills which will ensure smooth sailing for you during the first year of college. Here goes –

Prioritise Health

With the pandemic still raging, it is very important to be watchful about your health and hygiene. Eat well, include food that boosts immunity, stay safe by practicing cleanliness by means of washing hands, cleaning clothes after coming back from college or outside, washing masks everyday etc. Maintain safety by avoiding crowded places, wearing masks whenever venturing out and using sanitisers as and when necessary.

Goal Setting

Chalk out the goals you want to achieve as that will make them appear more real. Set goals in the SMART format.

Plans can be of three basic types-

  • Long Range: 2 years
  • Medium Range: 1 year
  • Short Range: 6 months

To set our goals, we need to get SMART!

  • S – Specific – Know exactly what you want to accomplish
  • M – Measurable – How will you know you have met your goal?
  • A – Attainable – Make sure your goal is not too far to reach but far enough to be challenging
  • R – Realistic – Link the goal to something important to you, so the goal ties in with your life’s plans
  • T – Timely – When do you want your goals to be met?

Think about the three most important things you want to achieve by the end of this year keeping in mind the theory of Smart Goals. Examples: Getting a job, earning a certain salary, appearing and clearing competitive exams, career planning, getting rid of bad habits, inculcating new hobbies etc.

Roommate Etiquette

Living with roommates for the first time is not easy and calls for serious adjustments. The rule of thumb in this game is to clean up after you. Come to a mutual agreement regarding a schedule for cleaning rooms, bathrooms and kitchen (if you have one). Also, put in place some basic rules and always respect each other’s personal space and belongings.

Interpersonal Skills

College is a time for multifaceted interaction which includes communicating with students, class mates and seniors, instructors and professors, landlords or RAs, and many more. Effective communication skills are extremely important to get the most out of relationships and also in career. Interpersonal skills are best learned through social interactions.


Academic books are not enough; start reading literature and non-fiction books that helps in personality development. They will also help you by giving a 360 degree vew of life, different life situations, challenges and solutions. If you have never read books other than those in syllabus, start! Buy a good book or real online or on Kindle or get one from the college library or borrow it from a bibliophile friend. Start with Biographies of big personalities, or one that teaches you management and organisation. For fictions opt for books by renowned authors like Jeffery Archer, Dan Brown, Amitav Ghosh, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Harper Lee, Milan Kundera, Orhan Pamuk, VS Naipaul, Arundhati Roy, Kazuo Ishiguro, Haruki Murakami etal.


Travel to destinations unknown to gather life experiences. They need not necessarily be lavish and luxurious vacations, but short local trips, weekend getaways. Travel to meet new people and new communities, learn about their history, cultural practices, traditions and beliefs and most importantly soak in the bounty of nature. Go for trekking, rock-climbing, beaches, art and folk villages, mountains anywhere your heart years for.

Skills for first year engineering students

First year engineering will involve a lot of courses not part of core departmental courses. This will expose you to the aspects of almost every branch, and if your interest grows in other departments you can change stream after first year. Hence, skill development for first year engineering students will depend on personal interest.

Also, learning additional skills help during campus recruitment. Today the tech giants like Apple and Google focus on the skills rather than on certifications and grades in semesters and do keep this in mind that you will be judged by your skills not by the certifications at all. To bag a plump job opportunity, you will need to showcase some great skills.

Here are some of the skills helpful for first year engineering students –

Learn coding

With everything going digital, the chief skill to develop in first year is coding as it is useful irrespective of branch. In the beginning you will be taught “c” or maybe some other programming language. If interested then even if your branch is not Computer Science, you can learn languages like c++ etc and start writing programmes. If you are interested in some other branch, but your Cumulative Performance Index (CPI) (CPI is calculated using credit of all subjects and Grade Achieved by Student in subject. If duration of course is of two years, the degree shall be given to students based upon CPI considering all the four semesters’ performance) is not sufficient for branch change then it is advisable to take a minor in that department if available. Try to be a veteran in C++ and Python with Data Structures and Algorithms. Master these languages and participate in Competitive Programming. It will greatly increase your aptitude and will help a lot in getting placed.

Aptitude and quantitative skills

You can think of doing some courses of your interest through Coursera, either paid or with financial aid.

Subjects to focus

All branches in first year will have the same subjects in semister1 and 2. Know the syllabus for mechanics and Basic Electronics Engineering (BEE) and read them. It will be tougher if your basics are weak. Maths is another subject that needs prioritising. Practice formula from integration and differentiation; revise differential calculus, partial fraction, basic formulae and complex number.

Play Counter-Strike, COD-MW and/or similar shooting games

These are a big source of addressing stress and refresh you after a bumpy day at college. The Steam server now offers an original license of Counter Strike Global Offence at just INR 300 to 500, well within budget for such a cool game. Be careful not to get addicted though!

Join activities  

Sports, intramural club, music club or bands -you can meet your friends for life this way since you will be sharing common interests. If you had left dancing, singing, drawing, swimming, or any other hobby due to your boards- join again! You can think of learning chess- it improves logical reasoning

Skills to learn for first year Electronics and Instrumentation students:

1. Learn Arduino micro-controller and Embedded programming

2. Learn The art of Programming and optimizing the Algorithms :

3. Learn Website and App-development:

4. Learn to use Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, Word and/or similar software.

Skills for first year Computer Science students

In the very first year, try to focus on learning and understanding the fundamental concepts of Computer Science. This will help you build a solid foundation on Computer Science principles. Many students are seen to be struggling later just because they don’t have a solid foundation on the basic principles of courses such as “Introduction to Computer Programming”, “Computer Architecture” and other first-year or second year Computer Science courses. This is why, when they get to study Data Structures, they have a hard time learning new concepts like queues, stacks and linked lists. Prioritise on comprehending the theory behind the fundamental concepts like variables, decision structures (if-else statements and so on) and loops (for, while and do while loops). Additionally, start practicing application of these concepts by solving problems from textbook and also from online sources.

Programming skills

Irrespective of which course you are in, be it three years or four years degree program, you have to develop programming skills in you to solve a problem. This is a very basic requirement if you are from the computer science branch. However, there are a lot of differences between learning programming languages and programming skills. A common misunderstanding is that learning 3 to 5 programming languages will make one perfect in programming. But the reality is much different. You have to be well versed in problem-solving programming skills and be able to develop programs to solve problems. Learn to develop programming skills so that you can develop a program which can be easily implemented in computers to solve problems of the people.

Develop Management Skills

Think of managing an event, be it a quiz contest, coding contest for a PPT contest. Be it a college level or Inter College level contest, it will home your management skills which will have long-lasting benefits and will of help for a lifetime. Hosting an event will get you showcased at your college and will help you network better with teachers and other people in the field of your study.

Quick tips to keep in mind while cruising thorough first year college

  • Be a serious student, it does not mean you have to be a serious, sombre guy.
  • Make it a point to meet new friends, both men and women, it is a skill for life.
  • Be careful what you post online
  • Listen to audio-books and watch good movies – helps in building communication skills
  • Follow an aptitude book – useful for placements or any competitive exam
  • Do attend class….at least 95% of the time
  • Make the habit of telling the truth
  • Clear-headedness, cleanliness, diligence
  • Bank account and basic knowledge of banking
  • Plan-shop, cook simple meals
  • Legal and biological consequences of sex and drugs
  • Be gentle, polite and straight forward
  • Don’t fall into arguments
  • Respect your colleagues, seniors and teachers
  • Study hard to land the dream job
  • Learn how to listen carefully, consider what he/she is conveying. As an appendage, learn how to mould a reply that admits what you have heard, and offers a productive and articulate response. Most conversations are lost as we are immersed in tech tools shooting one-sided messages.
  • Learn to cook as at some point you will have to feed yourself.
  • Pocket your cell phone during meals, if you are dining with others. Turn it off, don’t answer, if it rings.
  • Multi-tasking doesn’t always save you time
  • Never put anything on the Internet that you would not want to discuss
  • Know who your friends are
  • Know who your friends aren’t
  • Know the difference between collecting and hoarding
  • Honour your fear, it could be warning bell
  • Don’t be paranoid
  • Try to find humour everywhere

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