You've gotten through the application, essay, interview, acceptance and registration processes, and now it is time to get down to business and immerse yourself in the responsibilities that come along with college life. There will be classes, study, socialization and a new living situation - just to name a few of the big changes happening in your life.

College campus
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Transitioning to college life comes with lots of changes

Beginning your first semester at college can feel pretty overwhelming at first. As a result, you may find yourself experiencing a myriad of emotions as you adjust to all of these changes in your life. If you find yourself fitting into this description, you are not alone. If you have recently graduated high school and have gone off to college, it is common to feel both excited and overwhelmed with the new found independence you'll discover in college. (Although, if you are an adult returning to school after many years, you might find it to be as equally thrilling).

There are a few common experiences most people share when beginning their first college term. Here are a few of the things you should expect during your first semester at college:


When you leave home to go live in the dorms you can expect to feel a yearning for home. It may help to keep your family and friends on speed dial and, if you don't already have one, get a mobile device, so you'll have easy access to email, social media and texting.

Even if you are commuting to school, expect to face a bit of longing for your family and friends because your schedule will be jam packed with coursework and due dates; time will no longer the  luxury it used to be, at least for now. Of course, you will make new friends as the academic year goes on, but that first semester can be tough.

Pillow fight in dorm room
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As time goes on, you'll likely have less homesickness, but that first semester can be a struggle when moving into a completely new environment.

Demanding Assignments

You should expect to work, and anticipate a lot of it. You'll have to prepare yourself to read chapters and study additional hours on top of attending class. With all of this work, expect to receive new challenges too. The good news is after it is over you'll reap the rewards of your success.

[Related reading: How to Deal with Unhelpful College Professors ]

College lecturer
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The experience in the college classroom is a lot different from what it was in high school. Professors typically will not "hand hold" and will expect their students to be far more independent in managing their assignments and attending lectures. Also, no one is going to "monitor" students to make sure they attend class - this becomes their own responsibility. Students who do miss classes will need to find the time to make up the work.

Learn Time Management

Anticipate having to frequently do a balancing act, especially if you are taking a full load of courses. It will help to keep a calendar of your assignments because you'll have to remember a lot of dates to timely complete your assignments.

With the heavy workload which accompanies going to college, until you adjust to expectations and develop methods to manage time, it might get a bit overwhelming. Keeping a written log of what needs to be done will help ease the pressure of trying to recall everything; it will simplify your tasks.

[ Related Reading: Time Management Skills for College Students ]

Make New Friends

Going to college affords a great opportunity to make new acquaintances. You can look forward to meeting lots of interesting people in your classes, both students and professors. If you are going away for the first time, this is especially important because you'll want to connect with people. Even if you are a commuter student, meeting new people is an invaluable experience. College is a place where life-long friendships are often made. 

College students
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Making new friends on campus is important. Some people make their closest lifelong friends during their college years.

Adapt to Change

By far, the largest thing to expect during your first semester will be the need to adapt to change. As you take this next step in your life, your days will be full of new experiences. While it is usually good to embrace new experiences, it is important not to fall into the pitfalls. Did you know research suggests approximately 1/3 of teens experiment with “risky behavior” during their first semester? This can start students off on the wrong path if they aren’t careful, possibly leading to life-long effects (i.e. a serious drinking habit, sexual disease, etc). 2

If you are living at the dorms, you'll be faced with all kinds of decisions, not excluding peer pressure. You may be put in positions where you have to make judgment calls and you’ll need to know how to figure out ways to make smart choices. Students living at home will also, albeit different, challenges and have to adapt to change and be able to maintain equilibrium between campus and home life.

Beginning your first semester at college will likely have its struggles. The main thing is keep your focus on why you there in the first place, keep an eye on your future goals are and choose to make smart choices along the way.

The initial time period during the first semester is often the hardest of your college career. For the next few years life will not be as you have known it in the past and this idea takes a bit of getting used to. This time will undoubtedly be a period of adjustment and, at first, it may be a little difficult to balance these new responsibilities, but once you fall into the swing of things, you'll find this gets a little easier. In time you'll settle and before you know it, you'll find yourself looking forward to your second semester and beyond.

Radford University
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College is a big place, it takes some getting used to. Knowing what to expect and how to handle it can help make things go more smoothly your first semester.