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First-year jitters? Tips for a successful start at the U

Your first year of college can be exciting and overwhelming. Whether you’re concerned about moving away from home for the first time, getting to know Salt Lake City, making new friends or navigating college-level coursework, there are a variety of reasons why people have first-year jitters. 

“It’s important for students to recognize that they’re going through a period of their life associated with a lot of changes,” said Andrea Thomas, chief experience officer at the University of Utah. “They really need to make sure that they are kind to themselves and that they recognize when they need to reach out and get help.”

While some first-year nervousness can be overcome with time, there are many resources at the University of Utah to help you feel more confident and find the support you need as you start your higher-education journey. The Utah Fresh website is your guide to everything you need to know as a new student, like a checklist of tasks to complete; important dates and deadlines; details about housing and meal plans; and lots of other helpful info. Below are some additional tips and guidance to help you thrive in your first year.

Familiarize yourself with on-campus resources

From tutoring to counseling to recreational opportunities, the U has countless resources to not only help you succeed academically but to help you thrive in all areas of your life. While you likely heard about some of these resources on your campus tour, or during new student orientation, the information overload that happens during this time may mean some of the details didn’t sink in. Here’s a good rule of thumb: If a need arises, check the U’s website before going to an outside source. Resources offered by the U will often be low or no cost for students. If you need help researching resources the Advising Center, Counseling Center, Basic Needs Collective or resident assistants are good places to start.

Know who your resident assistant is

If you live on campus, you will have a resident assistant, or RA, assigned to the court you live in. RAs are older students whose job is to support students living on campus. They provide new resident orientation, plan regular activities for the students they are assigned to and can help with ongoing resident issues. 

For many students, your first year of college may be the first time you have lived away from home and with people outside of your immediate family. RAs are there to help with this learning curve—from providing tips on using the residence hall washers and dryers to mediating issues between roommates. Because they know the U well, they can also answer questions you may have about accessing other resources on campus.

Visit your academic advisor early and often

Academic advisors are here to guide you through the requirements you need to meet to complete your degree in a timely manner. If you have declared a major, you meet with the advisor assigned to your degree (if you have multiple majors, that means multiple advisors). 

If you are undecided on a major, you’ll meet with an undeclared advisor. These advisors can help you work through general education requirements and consider potential majors. 

You should meet with your advisor at least once a semester and meeting with them early in your first semester can help ensure you are set up for success. Recently the U launched a new program called Navigate U which uses software and data to provide more personalized support to students. This includes proactive advising, which means advisors will also initiate contact with students that is responsive to individual needs. 

“Through shared responsibility, Navigate U creates a space where all of our efforts build momentum and move the critical work of student success forward for every student,” said T. Chase Hagood, senior associate vice president for academic affairs and dean of undergraduate studies.

Participate in campus social events and activities and get to know the community around the U

Building connections with others is key to a successful first year of college. While neglecting schoolwork for a social life is a recipe for disaster, the opposite is true as well. You will do better in your courses if you have meaningful social connections. Campus Connect is one resource you can use to get to know the campus better and find other students who share interests similar to yours. 

Getting to know the community surrounding the U is another way to add richness to your college experience. Your UCard doubles as a transit pass, giving you no-cost access to the entire Utah Transit Authority system. You can use the bus to run errands or attend an event downtown, or take the Frontrunner train as far south as Provo or as far north as Ogden if you are looking for a bigger adventure.

Remember that well-being is a multifaceted issue

Success in higher education goes beyond the classroom—you need to take care of your physical, social, and emotional well-being too. This is a lot of work, especially when you are navigating grown-up decisions for the first time. Fortunately, you are not alone. There are many people at the U who are dedicated to supporting you. As you focus on finding a balance between the various areas of well-being, you will be better prepared for life after graduation.

At the University of Utah, the Center for Campus Wellness, University Counseling Center and TELUS Health Student Support are a few ways students can access wellness support. 

“Wellness is a crucial aspect of not only student success in college but throughout life,” said Sherrá Watkins, the associate vice president for health and wellness. “When we address student needs holistically, we provide the best opportunity for them to succeed in college and to be ready to start the next phase of their life.” 

It’s OK to not know what you want to do

While some people have known what they want to be since childhood and they successfully build a happy career in that same field as an adult, that is the exception and not the rule. The purpose of attending college is to discover more about yourself. If you don’t know what you want to do for a career, that is OK. Higher education is an opportunity to learn more about the available options and to test out different fields to see which one is the best fit. And whether or not you work in the field you get your degree in, completing higher education prepares you to better face the challenges of the modern world. 

“If your journey is different from someone else’s journey, that’s nothing to get worried about,” said Thomas. “In fact, finding your own path is something to get excited about.”