Grace On Gies: 5 Tips For Succeeding During Your Freshman Year

The beginning of the semester can be a fun, but also a very stressful time — especially for the incoming students.

My freshman year was primarily online, but I was still able to live my first year on campus. Still, I found myself facing many different obstacles and learning a bunch of new methods and tips along the way. With the semester being almost over, I have compiled a list of five tips that would be beneficial to incoming students (and college students in general). They were some of the more important things that I learned my freshman year and I will continue to use them for the rest of my college experience.

1. Take Time To Improve Professional Skills

Professional skills are critical in business, and I started learning about them almost immediately. Last year, within the first two weeks, we were offered 25 extra credit points in my Business 101 class to attend an online business career fair. I took the opportunity and attended the event. To be honest, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing and showed up not prepared at all. I didn’t even have an elevator pitch. It was my first experience with anyone in the professional world and I was very intimidated by the whole thing.

I talked to representatives from different companies and noticed conversations going on between people who were there for a purpose; they didn’t just come to check it out. For a time, I felt like I was just wasting everyone’s time. However, I realized that people are willing to help you learn and want you to grow. Through that experience, I was able to learn what companies are seeking in potential employees and the opportunities available to students.

Notably, I learned that you need to put yourself out of your comfort zone so you can learn new things. I remember this event scared me so much and I almost didn’t attend it. Now, I’m glad I did. It opened my eyes to why professional skills and connections are so important. It especially made me realize that it’s important to work on these skills to be taken seriously and be confident in what you can bring.

While I did receive cover letter and resume help through my Business 101 course, the skill that I needed help on the most was networking and interviewing. For interviewing, the best way learn about that was taking advantage of mock interviews and trying different positions or clubs that involve interviews. You learn by taking risks and making mistakes. By attending these interviews, I learned the type of questions being asked by companies. As a result, I reflected on stories I could use for future interviews. At the same time, I discovered my nervous tics in pressure situations and how I could fix them.

Freshman year is an important time to hone your professional skills and grow your connections because you’ll be ahead of everyone else. I remember my schedule being more introduction courses freshman year and enjoyed a lot of free time. I suggest taking some of that free time to improve your interviewing and resume writing skills to improve your chances at finding an internship, job or just creating relationships for the future.

Gies Giving Day

2. Midterm Season Happens Fast, Stay On Top Of Your Work

I remember all the excitement that went on during the first couple weeks of freshman year. Everyone just wanted to get to know their classmates and plan fun things to do. It all just reminded me of summer camp. However, that fantasy comes to a screeching halt the moment that midterms begin. During high school, I used to be able to start studying a few days before the test and earn high marks. College is a lot different, and cramming is not going to get you far.

I admit that I’ve fallen to the temptation to put things off. I’m immediately regretted it because of all the stress I could’ve avoided. I made this mistake earlier this year for my first finance test. I assumed that since it only covered a few weeks of introductory material, it wouldn’t be that difficult to figure it all out. In reality, I barely understood the material and it was noticeable the moment I started studying. I knew absolutely nothing, and I had one day to prepare for this test. As a result, I only studied one chapter, showed up the next day feeling insecure and confused — and inevitably failed the test.

In high school, we had the same class five times a week for 45 minutes. During class, we would have time to try different problems and there were many examples to show. In contrast, most of my college courses are once-a-week lectures in big classrooms for an hour- and-a-half. There are over 100 students, so the teacher doesn’t stop all the time to make sure that everything makes sense. As a result, it is your responsibility to stay on top of work and understand it all. My advice is to learn the material the week that it is taught and organize your study schedule so you won’t get burnt out and can treat it as a review. By doing this, I found that I was more comfortable going into the exams as well as learning new material afterwards since it all continued to be cumulative, and I didn’t have to re-teach myself.

3. Take Advantage Of Office Hours And Extra Help Sessions

One difference between high school and college that I noticed right away is the existence of office hours. Professors have arranged times open to any questions or concerns you may have about the class. The professors have a lot of material to cover and put aside these extra hours to help students who need extra help. This was especially important last year being primarily online; the office hours over Zoom were easy to join and I got to know my professors who were teaching in an asynchronous environment.

Office hours were also a great place to ask my more specific questions on problems where I had trouble. Last year, I took an Introduction to Coding course or CS 105. I had never had any experience with coding or computer work. I was completely lost in the homework and needed help on understanding so many of the problems. While the professor showed some of the questions in class, it still was not enough for me to fully understand the problem. Stubborn as I am, I wanted to figure it out alone. Soon enough, I knew that it would take forever, and it was easier to ask. As a result, I started going to office hours to ask more specific questions on how to understand homework problems and concepts. I found that this helped me stay on top of my work and feel more confident trying new problems and going into the tests.  I would highly suggest attending any extra help offered, especially right before the exams since it’s very easy to get behind. You also never know when the professor or teaching assistants will give hints or advice for the upcoming midterms or homework.

Grace Elizabeth Bock

4. Don’t Be Afraid To Put Yourself Out There And Try New Things

One of the first things I noticed at a big university is the immense number of different clubs and opportunities. It can be easy to only go for the clubs that will be beneficial on your resume (or the ones all your friends are doing). However, I feel that it’s so important to really put yourself out there and try new things.

During my Quad Day as a freshman, I found the Makeup and Skincare Club and was completely infatuated by it. Currently, I am the treasurer for the club and have been able to learn more about my business skills while also engaging in fun activities involving a hobby of mine. Through being the treasurer, I have learned how to create budget requests, handle reimbursements for purchases, and work on a team. Through this club, I have also been able to meet a bunch of people outside my major and really reach out of my comfort zone.

This is just one example of the hundreds of clubs that you can join at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. While I do believe that it’s important to build a good resume by joining clubs that are similar to your major, it is also important to try new things and find different interests that really make you different than everyone around you. When it comes to choosing clubs related to my major, I joined the Accounting Club freshman year and then ended up on executive board. I also became the marketing chair for the club. With this position, I was put in charge of social media, flyers, and all creative aspects. This may have started as a move into accounting, but I was able to learn different marketing techniques and dive deeper into my more creative side — which put my very outside of my comfort zone. Therefore, I feel that it’s important to participate in different activities that you never expected or meet new people because it helps grow you into an more engaging and interesting person.

5. Research Your Classes And Learn About More About The Opportunities Around You

A great opportunity at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is that we don’t need to declare our major until the end of our sophomore year. As a result, freshman year schedules tend to be more business requisites and gen eds. Still, we must start looking into potential majors.

My advice is to connect with your advisor. The advisor can lay out a plan for you and give you an insight into what classes to take now vs later. Last year, I reached out to my advisor to help me create a fall semester schedule involving potential majors. The advisor directed me to start looking at finance and accounting classes. He also gave me tips on how to manage these two classes together and what to expect.

I would also suggest contacting students who have already taken the courses, whether you’re talking to a friend or reading reviews of other students.  Through this, you become more aware of how the class is laid out and what type of work you will be completing, such as tests or papers. Just a few weeks ago, I was registering for my classes when I found all the classes were filled up. I quickly logged on to student advising and the student was able to give me tips on other classes I could take and her experiences with them. Our conversation also made advisors aware that people still wanted to be part of these classes, enabling them to potentially add more class options to students. Overall, I feel that it is important to become aware of the resources around you and the experience of others because this gives an insight on how much time is needed to put in the class and what you will be doing.

In conclusion, these are just five of the tips that I learned throughout the course of my freshman year. Freshman year can be stressful, but it will be worthwhile if you are able to stay on top of your work and use whatever resources are available to your advantage. It is never too late to try something out your freshman year and I suggest looking into whatever interests you. There is so much to do and so many people to meet. By using your time wisely and staying organized, I believe that your freshman year can be a great year!

Grace Bock is a sophomore at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Gies College of Business. Though she was raised by two Illinois graduates, she had no intention of carrying on the legacy until the first time she visited the campus and fell in love. Currently undeclared, she has enjoyed looking into the different business majors, especially accounting. She likes to spend her free time trying new skincare, organizing, staying active, and meeting new people.

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