College is a unique experience in every sense of the word. Your college years are intended to be some of the most fun and memorable times of your life. For many students, going off to college means leaving home for the first time and getting that first real taste of independence. There’s no denying that it’s an awesome feeling. You no longer have anyone there that’s telling you what you can and cannot do. Sounds pretty exciting, doesn’t it? Just as you start to envision all your newfound freedom, reality slowly and simultaneously may start to creep in. You are solely responsible for yourself now; that’s a big deal. You no longer have anyone to wake you up for class on time in the morning. You’ve got to make sure you’re eating healthily and getting all the proper nutrients. You need to get all your studying and assignments done. You’ve got to put your money management skills to the test. Phew, that’s a lot! So, now if I were to take a guess at this point, I’d say you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed. I totally get it! But don’t worry, all of this is normal. I mean, you’re about to embark on a massive life experience on your own, so your up and down feelings and emotions are completely valid. Many students who have come before you are all too familiar with what you’re going through but look at them now—they turned out just fine, and now it’s your turn to make your mark!

College is the perfect time to adopt and practice healthy behaviors and habits to make your experience more manageable and enjoyable. This way, you can be proud of your hard work and accomplishments and look back on your college years fondly.

Ready to put your newfound responsibilities to work? Lucky for you, we’ve got key survival tips that you can implement when you’re in the thick of your college journey.  

Stay Organized

One of the biggest keys to success in college is staying organized in all aspects of your life—your class schedule, materials, assignments, deadlines, meetings, work schedule, plans with family and friends, finances, sleep schedule, meals, living space—you get the picture. It’s a lot, but staying organized helps keep you motivated, productive, and focused. Consider using a planner, an app, or calendar to keep you on track.

Maintain a Good School-Life Balance 

It’s no secret that while you’re away at school, you’re bound to be busy. That’s how it should be; you’re going to want to fully immerse yourself in college life and all the experiences that come with it. Make sure that you’re dedicating ample time to your studies, but also making time for your friends, sports, and extracurricular activities you may be involved in to create a nice school-life balance. 

Get to Class 

Got an 8 AM class? Those early mornings can be rough, but don’t get into the habit of hitting the snooze button, rolling over, and going back to bed. Remember, no one is there to wake you up in the morning, so it’s all on you. Furthermore, if you skip class, you’re wasting valuable money and may fall behind. Get into the groove and get yourself up for class, or you’re a night owl and feel that you will have difficulty waking up early, schedule your classes in the afternoons and evenings to decrease your chances of oversleeping and skipping class.

Use Campus Resources 

Colleges offer endless amounts of resources—tutoring centers, writing services, career centers, libraries, financial aid services, dining services, recreational and athletic activities, health centers—that are designed to help you succeed, in both your academic and personal life. They’re there for a reason, so be sure to use them to the best of your ability.

Take Advantage of Office Hours 

You’re in school for a reason; to get an education and figure out what you’re passionate about. Take advantage of your professor’s office hours to get help in your area of study, ask questions about your course content and their expectations, build a professional relationship with them, and get professional advice from them. Who knows, maybe you’ll even be able to ask for a reference or letter of recommendation from them when it comes time to job search.

Meet with Your Academic Advisor 

Similar to meeting with your professors, be sure to take the time to get to know your advisor as well. They’re assigned to you to help you succeed. They’re there to guide and help you set your academic goals, find what programs and activities pique your interest, ensure you get into all your classes and take them at the right time (some classes are only offered in spring or fall semesters), make sure you’re on track to graduate on time, and can help you find internship or other job opportunities.

Keep Your Space Neat and Tidy 

Your environment can make or break your mood. Messy areas can be stress-inducing and distracting. But when you’re surrounded by a clean, organized environment, you’re more productive and motivated and eager to tackle the day. In fact, 92% of college students admit that they feel their best mentally and physically when their space is clean and organized.

Whether you live alone or have roommates, keep your living quarters neat and tidy. That means getting into the habit of making your bed every day, cleaning your room and bathroom, tidying up the kitchen, and doing your laundry. If you do have a roommate, it would be wise for you both to sit down together early on to get on the same page about cleaning and your personal space. You may need to be explicit about how to clean and how often to clean, set expectations for cleaning, discuss whether or not you’ll split cleaning duties, etc. Remember to communicate clearly and sensibly and always be respectful of each other and your personal space and belongings.

Follow a Well-Balanced Diet 

It’s perfectly fine to indulge in pizza, tacos, fried foods, and ice cream every so often, but they shouldn’t be the only things on your menu every day. Stay disciplined and make it a point to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet (yes, that includes incorporating an appropriate amount of fruit and veggies!). And, while you’re at it, make sure you’re staying hydrated by getting plenty of water and getting some exercise in, too!

Have Budget Check-Ins 

Thinking that just because you’re a college student, it means you don’t need a budget? Think again! Your college years are one of the most opportune times for you to practice money management and budgeting.
Your budget should include your income, your spending, your savings, your wants versus needs, your outstanding debt, and general expenses while you’re away at school like housing and utilities, tuition, books and supplies, transportation, food/groceries, recreation and entertainment, and bills. Establish budget categories, allocate your spending limits, and track your expenses to see where your money is going and what you need to change.

Keep in mind that one of the most crucial parts of budgeting is that budgets are not “set it and forget it.” They’re something that you must keep up with and evaluate on an ongoing basis to see if there are any areas that you need to address or adjust.

Save First 

There’s no denying that college is expensive. But the bills don’t stop just because you’re in school. After graduation, you’ll likely be one of many millions of students that has loans to repay, and it adds up quickly, especially when interest starts accruing. For reference, as a country, we have approximately $1.75 trillion in total student loan debt, with the average borrower owing an average of $28,950.

So, what better time than while away at college to prioritize a savings first mentality? Save extra money whenever and as often as you can. Got a part-time job or a paid internship? Great! Set aside a portion of your earnings from each paycheck that’s designated specifically for your savings. The same goes for any unexpected income you receive—money from graduation, birthdays, or holidays—be sure to put some of that money into your savings account.

Does this mean that I’m saying that you need to save every single dollar you earn and cut out all activities with your friends? No, of course not! College is absolutely a time you should prioritize having fun, too, and it’s okay to splurge every once in a while. All I am saying is to remember to save money and pay yourself first, then spend what’s left over or in your budget as you wish. Trust me, every little bit counts!  

Put Your Best Foot Forward 

College is a once-in-a-lifetime experience where you’re destined to receive a solid education, make lifelong friends, and pave your path to a successful future.

All of us at GOLD are here for you and cheering you on every step of the way as you become more independent—personally, academically, and financially!

Chelsea Welk

Chelsea Welk

Chelsea is the Communications Manager at GOLD. She provides Members and future Members with detailed financial information that's aimed to better serve their personal financial goals. Chelsea enjoys working to fulfill GOLD's mission and vision to help make a positive difference in our Members' everyday lives.

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