Written by University of Utah student and StepUp Federal Work-Study Employee Marcella Sweet – updated 5/28/19

College is a whirlwind of change and new experiences that in some ways you cannot anticipate or fully understand until you are standing on the other side looking back. I would do many things differently in my first year of college if I knew what I do now. Maybe knowing a bit about my experience will help give you some tips to make your first year as great of an experience as possible.

Research transportation options


I wish I had taken the time to learn about the transportation systems in my area. I knew that there were buses and a TRAX train system, but I did not sit down and really look at my options. This meant I ended up using bus lines to get to my job and often arrived late because of the multiple busses I needed to take. If I had researched the transportation in my area, I would have seen that there was a train that went directly past my job and arrived 40 minutes sooner than the bus. Knowing the transportation options would have also allowed me to more easily explore my new town rather than thinking I was stuck on campus because I didn’t have a car that first year. Additionally, most colleges offer students free or discounted public transportation passes. Make sure to explore these options at your school.


Put thought into your big purchases


I thought I needed a car and a new laptop when I started college. I did not actually need either of these; they just made my life a little more convenient. Buying a car and a new laptop in college cost me a lot of money, when I could have continued to use public transportation, used the library computers, or bought a used laptop. When it comes to big purchases in college, make sure you really take the time to think about what you can and can’t live without.


Take care of your physical health

I was an athlete in high school, playing year-round sports and staying involved with activities such as hiking, skiing, and swimming. I never really ate junk food and I did not worry about what I ate because of my constant activity. This meant I had a warped view of nutrition. But when I got to college I was busier, so I began to eat more junk food and didn’t stay as active. I wish I had taken advantage of my school’s gym and realized that my previous habits would need to change as my circumstances changed. Your brain needs good food and exercise – in order to perform the best you can in school, be sure to eat nutritious, balanced meals and stay as active and healthy as you can.


Take care of your mental health

I moved to a new state to attend college, without knowing anyone before I came. I did not consider this a problem before I packed my bags. If I am being honest, I looked forward to being far away from my parents and having free reign over my life. But connection, friends, and family matter. Loneliness is a real thing in college, especially if you are moving to a new city or state to attend university. Being alone can affect your grades, your work, and your motivation. I wish I had looked into clubs and activities on my campus and surrounding area before I blindly moved to a new state thinking I would figure it out once I got there. Finding groups of people who share your interests will give outlets for communication and the ability to have a well-rounded day.


Realize your first year is not your only year

My first year, I allowed myself to get caught up in stress. Looking back, I wish I could tell my 18-year-old self that college is a journey and that, even if everything isn’t perfect, every year of community college or university is a new opportunity to improve. Your first year will pass and you will move and grow into a new person. Remember to enjoy the journey!

Marcella was previously a Federal Work-Study student with UHEAA and StepUp Utah. She completed her undergraduate coursework at the University of Utah.