Credit: David Niblack,

If you are a high school senior, you are hopefully well on your way to planning the next step in your life. If you are considering or have been accepted to a college or university you are likely full of questions and concerns about the experience. As a recent college graduate and current graduate student, I would like to share a few tips for making the best of your first year in college. This is a valuable time in your life that you can never relive so it is important to get the most out of it to set yourself up for future success.

Get Involved

Every advisor, counselor or administrative professional involved in education will advise you to get involved early. In your first year, you will build relationships that can last a lifetime and being involved in various clubs, activities, and sports will help you to meet new people. Involvement on campus will also help you build professional skills future employers will require such as management, budgeting, and marketing. Student government is a great way to acquire these skills but there are opportunities elsewhere as well. For example, several universities offer alternative spring break programs in which students travel across the country and to perform community service. I participated on such a program at my college twice and in addition to having the opportunity to serve, I still keep in contact with many of my fellow participants.


While clubs such as the ultimate Frisbee team are fun and let you make friends, don’t forget that you are paying tuition and studying hard for a reason. Your first year in college is a great time to start building your professional experience with an internship. While most are unpaid, internships allow you to witness the inner workings of companies or agencies. The benefits are twofold. First, you can decide whether or not you really want to pursue a given career. After interning in a district court, I realized I no longer wanted to become a lawyer. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, internships give you specialized skills that future employers require. Also, in some cases internships may even turn into actual jobs. The important thing to remember is that you must put yourself out there and be available when such opportunities arise.

Study Abroad

My decision to study abroad was a pivotal point in my life and it has shaped me into the person I am today. Taking a semester to live in a foreign country is a unique luxury available to college students. Unless you work for a very specific type of company or manage to get certain government jobs, you will be hard pressed to convince a future employer to give you four months off to travel. Studying abroad helps you build valuable skills such as communication, problem solving, and of course language skills. The people you meet and the things you experience will help you to shape your perspective and understand your own culture and way of life better than you can imagine.

Stay Healthy

There is no doubt that your college years can be some of the most fun year of your life but the key is moderation. It is easy to pick up bad habits including excessive drinking and poor diet choices. During these years you will have access to world class fitness facilities and countless opportunities to play any number of intramural sports and activities. Don’t let these years go to waste. You will feel better and be more productive by taking advantage of these opportunities. They will also allow you to meet new and diverse people, another major benefit of modern college life.

Take Advantage of Career Services

Ultimately the purpose of attending college is to obtain a great job. To do so takes time, effort, and a bit of luck. My best advice for tipping the odds in your favor in this tough job market is to start early. College flies by and before you know it, you will be done and facing the real world and a hefty bill for student loans. Most colleges and universities have on-campus career services centers that help you do anything from practicing interview strategies to helping you write an effective resume. They also generally offer job and career listings to help you get started working right away.

Ultimately, you are responsible for your own success. You must make yourself available to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. College is an exciting time and it is crucial that you work hard, study hard, and of course have fun.