First-Year Fails: Things I Learned as a First-Year

It’s a tale as old as time. High school or college……it doesn’t matter: life as a first-year feels like being a little fish in a big pond. Your first year is a time to adjust, grow up and hopefully, learn a lot. For me, that meant learning a lot by experiencing, which….didn’t always go as planned. If you’re a first-year reading this, I hope you can use this as a guide to help you figure out what to do (and what NOT to do) to make your transition a bit smoother.


1. Go to Class

Students sit in a classroom in Kalkin Hall at UVM.

Listen, I understand. We all have days (maybe even multiple days in a row) where we just don’t want to get out of bed for an 8:00 am. Unfortunately, this piece of advice comes from some personal experience of facing the consequences. Once you skip one class, it becomes much easier to skip more and more frequently (don’t ask me why… I’m not a psych major). One “oh, I’ll just skip today” becomes two, then three, then– you get the point. Even on the days when you know you won’t be paying the best attention, it’s better to be physically present in the class where you can at least retain some information. Sick days and mental health days, of course, are the exception to this rule. Your health should be priority #1.

2. It’s Okay to Not be Okay

A piece of paper is held by a hand with purple nails that reads "It's okay no to be okay."

This brings me to my next point. In an environment like college, it’s so easy to throw yourself into your studies and social life, and neglect taking care of yourself. You have more freedom, and with that comes more responsibility, which can be super stressful. It’s important to remember that you’re human and you can only do so much until you burn out. If just getting out of bed is what you can manage one day, you should be proud of yourself for doing it. Reach out for help if you need it, from friends, family or resources provided on campus, such as CAPS and drop-in sessions from our identity centers.

3. Everyone is in the Same Boat as You

A folded paper boat floats in a body of water.

Building a life in a brand new place is intimidating to say the least. If you’re like me, it’s especially hard to reach out to people and start forming friendships. Trust me: don’t psych yourself out. This newness and uncertainty you may be feeling is a completely shared experience. You’re not the only new kid on the block– there are hundreds of people just like you on campus. And with tons of clubs and organizations, as well as your major-specific courses, there are so many ways to meet people with common interests. Relax, take a deep breath, and strike up a conversation. Even if it seems like it, I promise that friend groups are not set in stone within the first week– you’ve got time.

4. Make Yourself Happy

A plant with a beautiful flower blooms in a pot while surrounded by other plants that are not blooming and all look alike.

I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned this year is to not let other people’s judgement affect your actions. This isn’t your small town high school where everyone knows everyone; this is an university with thousands of students who honestly should have a lot more pressing things to do than judge you. And if they do, who cares! The people who matter will like you for whoever you are and whoever you hope to be. If you want to dye your hair, dye your hair. If you want to do a cartwheel across the Commons, go for it! Life is about the little moments and you can’t live it to the fullest if you spend it worrying about what everyone else thinks.

5. Go to Office Hours

A chalkboard full of complicated math problems.

As a first-year, you’ll probably take a lot of entry level courses, and some of those take place in packed lecture halls with hundreds of other students. Don’t let the number of people in your classes deter you from speaking to your professors. Something that I was surprised to learn this year was that your professors are genuinely rooting for you and won’t treat you like you’re just another number– you just need to meet them halfway. Go to office hours, even if you don’t think you need the help. This allows you to get to know them and for them to get to know you (which can lead to better grades and great opportunities).

6. Utilize your Advisor

Students sit at a table with a sign in the foreground that reads "Need advice? Come on in!"

What is a degree audit? How do I know what to take next semester? How do I declare a minor? These are all questions that your advisor can give you answers to. Advisors are there to help you with anything and everything. They can point you towards career and academic opportunities, be a sounding board for any of your future course plans and give just plain life advice, too. Especially in your first year of college, there’s so much to figure out and often feels like you’re lost trying to do everything right. Let your advisor provide a sense of stability when everything gets to be a little too much. Your advisor has been in your shoes before and has the knowledge to help you get where you want to go. If you’re a current student and want to set up a meeting with your advisor, go to your myUVM portal, click on the “Advising (Degree Audit)” tab and you’ll be good to go!


As I reach the end of my first year here at UVM, I can say that there have been a lot of up and downs, but I’ve been able to get through it, and I know you can too. The main takeaway of this long tangent of a blog is that you are not alone and you’re going to be okay. Stay cool and authentic to yourself. See you on campus next year!

<3 Emily I.