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Advice for college students

Posted 5 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 24, 2023

A student high fives Stryker Eagle at UWL during Welcome Week in fall 2021. New Student Orientation and Welcome Week is an amazing opportunity to meet new people and begin to form friendships.

Current students share how to be successful in college

We sat down with University of Wisconsin-La Crosse senior resident assistant staff who have fielded hundreds of questions and concerns over the years related to the day-to-day challenges of college life. Here is their best advice for a successful transition to college.  

1. Have patience — you will find friends

UWL students in fall 2018.

Some students come to college with the assumption that they’ll meet their best friend the first day or that their roommate will become their best friend. They try so hard to make those early relationships work, and they think they’ve failed when they don’t.  

You don’t need to become best friends with the people you meet on your first day of college. You also don’t need to become best friends or even “friends” with your roommate. You need to get along with people and be a compassionate person, but not having that friendship bond with random people you meet is perfectly normal and OK. 

Keep engaging in the many opportunities for campus involvement, and you’ll eventually find people who click with you and become your friends. Most importantly, don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t find your friends right away. 

2. Take the leap — out of your comfort zone 

UWL’s New Student Orientation & Welcome Week occur at the start of the fall semester and are designed to provide the experiences and information for a successful transition to UWL.

Many people feel nervous about the idea of meeting new people and doing new things in college. They may want to avoid engaging with new groups or participating in something that isn't familiar. Know that you are not alone in these feelings. It is hard to meet new people and try new things, but setting your mind to it and getting through that initial hurdle can result in opportunities you never imagined. You will have more opportunity for new friendships and feelings of being connected and included your first year if you make an effort to engage. 

UWL’s New Student Orientation is an amazing opportunity for new UWL students to meet new people and begin to form friendships. Some events are required. Consider attending many of the unrequired events. You can’t meet new people if you don’t make yourself available. View the schedule of events

3. Forget those Hollywood films  

Hollywood sign.

You may have a pre-conceived idea of what college looks like based on movies you’ve watched. But movies often don't show students studying late nights at the library, becoming stressed as they juggle assignment priorities or attending tutoring after a below-average midterm exam grade. Films tend to show just the fun – constant parties, an amazing social life, or meeting that best friend your first day. Recognize this isn’t real. If you don’t expect college to look like the movies, you’ll be much more accepting of reality that is sometimes fun times, but also filled with hard times and challenges too. 

4. Reflect on personal priorities

Student pictured outside in 2016.

College is filled with decisions like what classes to take, what groups to join, what people to spend your time with. It is a lot easier to make these decisions if you take time to understand yourself. Make time to reflect on what is working and what isn’t — write it down if that helps. What’s happening now is a great guide for where you ultimately want to go. 

Along those lines, don’t let peer pressure overrule your own interests and goals. Some students feel pressure to drink in college or go to the bars. There is a lot to do on campus and you will not miss out if you are not going out.  

5. Own your experience 

Students at UWL’s Involvement Fest in 2016. The fall 2022 Involvement Fest will be from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14 in the Student Union lawn.

You will feel like you belong in college more when you have say in what your experience looks like. One of the best ways to do that is to get involved in a student organization that matches your interests. Find one on the list, reach out and attend a meeting. If it doesn’t fit, try out another. There is an org for every interest at UWL: board games, boxing, bowling, biology, cheese, ceramics – and those are just a few of the organizations listed on the My Orgs website

Another way to own your experience is to be more involved in the big decisions about college, like understanding your financial aid. If you rely on parents for every part of the process, it’s harder to understand the value of your education. 

6. Do things alone sometimes 

Students walks in front of Morris Hall on the UWL campus.

As a new student, you may get into the habit of planning all your campus outings in the company of friends, but remember you can also do these things alone too. And it's actually good to learn to do things independently. Go eat at the student dining hall alone. Walk to class alone. Or join a student organization alone. Doing things alone can also open you up meeting new people and truly taking in your surroundings. No one looks funny sitting alone. We promise. Someone will probably ask you to sit by them or you’ll find someone who looks familiar. 

7. Don’t wait for an invite 

Students walking on campus in fall 2017.

Everyone is waiting for an invite. Be bold. Be the person who invites someone else. And if no one wants to come, it's OK to go do it alone.  

8. Have small talk in your back pocket 

Someone holding a small card that says "Hello."

Getting to know new people is a necessary part of college life. Have some questions or conversation topics in your back pocket. What’s your favorite board game? What have you heard about this professor? How do you feel about this subject? It’s hard to come up with conversations on the spot, so give yourself a head start.  

9. Strategically sit in your classes 

2017 guest lecture in physics.

In many classes, you get to pick your seat. Don’t go to the back corner. Sit among other people. You may be surprised that you meet some of your best friends in your classes.  

Remember even casual, low-stakes relationships like those you make by sitting near the same people in classes or frequenting the same coffee shop can make a difference in improving your overall wellbeing. Take a look at this New York Times article that explores the difference these "weak ties" made in one woman's life. 

10. Introduce yourself to your professors 

Fall 2020 College of Business Administration Meet and Greet where students get to know faculty and staff across the college

UWL has a relatively low student-to-faculty ratio, meaning you have a pretty good shot at your professor knowing you on a first-name basis if you engage. Speak up in class, stay around to talk after lecture, go to office hours or volunteer to help with research or projects. Because you’ll likely be one of few students who actually do this, you’ll have a better shot at building a lasting connection that sticks for your years in college. That can lead to a lasting relationship — not to mention a great reference. 

11. Use the campus resources you are paying for 

Open house for UWL’s Office of Multicultural Student Resources in 2018.

As a student you have access to a lot of great resources that are included in your tuition and fees. Want help figuring out what classes to take? Need help sorting out your finances? Need help communicating with professors about special accommodations? Want someone to talk to about feelings of anxiety? Or want to join a fun sport in your free time? You have so much at your fingertips. Unsure where to start? Ask your resident assistant about what’s available.

Here is a list of a few common services on the UWL campus:  

  • Financial aid – Paying for school is a complex and difficult task, but the Financial Aid office is here to help you. And you can even ask questions through their website.  
  • Student Health Center: Primary care, same-day care and physical therapy are some of the services.  
  • Counseling & Testing: Where is my support system? Right here. Confidential counseling services are available to students in a variety of formats, including crisis care. 
  • Murphy Learning Center: Receive free tutoring services in a variety of courses. 
  • Murphy Library: Help with research, access to study spaces, hundreds of databases, computers, books, reference materials, special collections, and more. 
  • Recreational Eagle Center: Let’s Move! Intramurals, Esports, Sport Clubs, Outdoor Connection, Fitness, Indoor Climbing, and more! 
  • Campus Food Pantry: Non-perishable food and hygiene items. To gain access, complete the registration form. Open to all students.   
  • Campus Thread: Campus Thread, located inside the Center for Transformative Justice, is UWL’s free clothing closet with everything from jeans and T-shirts to professional attire such as suits and dresses. Visit the Campus Thread webpage to learn more.  
  • Office of Multicultural Student Services: Support with academics, finances, leadership, and personal/social development for African American, Indigenous/American Indian, Hispanic/Latinx, Asian American, Hmoob, and biracial or multi-ethnic students at UWL. 
  • ACCESS Center: Staff can help communicate with your professors and staff about any disability related accommodations, including extended test-taking, note-taking, ASL interpreting services, and much more.  
  • City bus transportation: With a student ID, you don’t have to pay.  
  • Violence Prevention Office: A Violence Prevention Specialist is available to assist you with advocacy, information, and support so that you can make informed choices about the options available to you. Services are free, confidential, and available to all UWL students, faculty, and/or staff members 
  • Wellness & Health Advocacy: Health education, health promotion programming, alcohol and other drug education, community engagement, and partnership that supports and empowers the campus community to make choices and create lifelong habits that promote health and well-being across all dimensions. 

Find more resources on the Student Success page.


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