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The Black Girl’s Guide To Freshman Year

Traffic has picked up. The lines in Target are a little longer, and Twitter is filled with pictures of teary-eyed parents and hashtags repping the Class of 2020. It can only mean one thing, Freshman Year! I have spent the majority of my career on college campuses and the excitement of welcoming a new class of students is only rivaled by that of graduation. The glee, anxiety, and absolute wonder are all palpable as you walk around campus. The first few weeks are a huge adjustment as you are making new friends, figuring out how to live with a stranger, learning all the names of the buildings, and learning the words to your new alma mater. Many of the decisions and choices you make your freshman year can either set you on the course for success or leave you with some serious regret. In an effort to help you make the most of your first year at your new home, here are some tips you may find helpful. Enjoy!


  • Get a master plan. When you get your syllabus for each class, make yourself a large master calendar of all the due dates for all of your projects. This may seem a little overwhelming at first but it will be good to have a visual representation of what the semester looks like for you. You then want to break down the semester calendar into monthly and weekly to do lists so that it keeps you moving toward due dates.
  • Avoid procrastination as much as possible. I know many of us think we do our best work under pressure but just think how much better your papers and projects will be if you give yourself time to start, stop, revise, etc. You’ll also save yourself a lot of stress.
  • Introduce yourself to your professors. Look on your syllabus to find each professors’ office hours and then stop by to say hello. It doesn’t have to be anything long or formal. You can just tell them your name and that you are really looking forward to learning from them this semester. Remember that you will eventually need letters of recommendation from some of your professors and this is a good way to begin building a relationship.
  • Participate in class. Asking for clarification of topics you don’t understand, listening attentively, and answering questions posed by the professor helps you to engage the material better. Do you think you’re more likely to remember something that you breezed by in the textbook at 2am the night before the test or the topic that garnered a 20 minute discussion in class? And it’s ok to not always have the right answers. Professors want to see you attempting to make sense of the material. You don’t have to be perfect!
  • Read before your classes. It will also help you better engage the material if you read it before you get to class on the day it’s being discussed. If you’ve already read, it makes it easier for you to participate in discussions and hearing the professor’s lecture will likely make much more sense.
  • Learn how to REALLY study. It’s highly likely that the methods you used to study in high school won’t be as effective for college. For one, there is just a lot more material to cover and secondly, you cannot expect that your professor will be telling you exactly what will be on every test. Some of the test questions may come from the textbook and others will likely come from the lectures. But they probably won’t make an announcement that you should pay attention now because this will be on the test. Do you learn best by re-writing your notes? Recording the lectures (with permission) and replaying them? Talking things out in a group? Whatever your method is, it will likely take you longer than it did in high school so you need to give yourself time to try out several methods to see what works for you.
  • Trust yourself. It’s not uncommon to have a little bit of Imposter syndrome as a freshman. The Imposter syndrome refers to feeling as though you are a fraud and that at any moment someone will find out that you don’t really deserve to be where you are. When this feeling strikes it can be pretty powerful and make you question whether you really deserve to be in college. Trust me, you do! Trust the skills and hard work you’ve put into getting this far and build upon it. Of course there will be things that you don’t know, but not knowing does not equal total failure! Be careful not to be overly critical of yourself and give yourself time to get into the swing of things.


  • Make a plan before problems arise. Undoubtedly there will be issues that come up when you are sharing such a small space with someone who is likely a stranger to you. Sit down very early in the semester and lay some ground rules for your shared space. You want to discuss things like noise level, cleaning duties, policies for having visitors, and what things are considered community property (it may be ok for her to share your dish washing liquid but not your new Steve Madden pumps)! Having a plan before an issue comes up will make it easier for you all to live together peacefully.
  • Address conflict as soon as possible. When there is conflict between you and your roommate, try to address it as soon as possible. Don’t go on Twitter and send subtweets or complain about her in the GroupMe with your other friends. And please DO NOT leave a passive aggressive note on her bed outlining all the ways that she sucks as a roommate. This will definitely not help. Ask for a time where you can both sit and discuss the issue you are having. Put your heads together to attack the problem, not each other.
  • Use a mediator if necessary. If you have tried to address concerns with your roommate and it doesn’t seem like it is working, ask to meet with your RA so that they can help you both come to a solution for how to resolve the issue. It is very easy for situations to escalate when you are in such close quarters and before you find yourself in a situation that you will regret, it is better to call in backup.
  • Respect each other’s differences. It’s likely that you and your new roomie have some things in common but probably also have many differences.  A great way to build a relationship with her is to maintain a genuine curiousity about who she is and her background. If you observe her doing something that you don’t quite understand, ask her to tell you more about what it means vs. being judgemental and calling her behavior wrong.

Social Life

  • Expand your circle, wisely. Now more than ever before, technology has made it easy to stay connected to loved ones. This makes it very tempting to overly rely on your connections with high school friends and could prevent you from branching out to make new friends. Some of the best friends you’ll ever have in your life could be made in the next few years, so remain open. However, it is important that you allow friendships to develop naturally and not try to force it. You have to be discerning when meeting new people because not everyone you meet should be in your inner circle. Give it time to see if these new friends are reliable. Can you trust them with personal information? Do you value the same things? Remember, you are a reflection of the five people you spend the most time with. What does your circle say about you?
  • Get involved. There are likely organizations for virtually anything you are interested in on your campus. From anime to intramural volleyball, it’s likely there is a club for you. There is probably a roster of all clubs on your school’s website and it’s also likely that most of the organizations have some type of social media you can check out. Spend some time figuring out what you want to do outside of the classroom to enhance your time on campus. But be careful not to overcommit, you don’t want to stretch yourself too thin.
  • Party smart. It may seem like everyone is drinking and smoking to have a good time, but I promise you they are not. [ictt-tweet-inline via=”therapy4bgirls”]There are plenty of ways to have a good time in college that don’t involve substances. [/ictt-tweet-inline]Your campus has likely spent lots of time planning events to help you to unwind and have some fun. Be sure to check them out. Check out the schedules for the sporting events happening this fall. Even if you’re not a fan of the sport, these tend to be pretty fun gatherings. Host an old-school game night in your room complete with Connect Four and Uno or try a new game like Black Card Revoked.  You also want to make sure to take full advantage of that student ID. Plenty of local spots like museums and movie theaters will give you a discounted rate for showing your ID upon admission.
  • Be mindful. If you are planning to join a sorority while in college, remember that for most of these organizations, discretion is key. You may already know what sorority you’re interested in, but it’s never a good idea to run around campus saying things like “I can’t wait until I’m on the Fall 2018 line for ____.” While your enthusiasm is generally encouraged, there is a time and place to make your intentions known and making an announcement on Snapchat is probably not the way to go.
  • Have faith. College is a great time to take your spiritual practices to the next level or to try out some new practices. If faith is something that has been important to you, then you will want to make sure to nurture it while in college. Many schools have a chaplain on campus who kind of serves as the university pastor and there are typically many local churches who will send transportation to campuses to pick up students for services and then provide transportation back to campus. Check out a few places and find the one that feeds your needs.


  • Snack smart. Sometimes eating in the dining hall can literally feel like a kid in the candy store. I mean there are slices of pizza, french fries, and most likely an ice cream machine. Who wouldn’t be tempted? It’s totally fine to indulge in these treats every now and then but try to make sure you’re getting a little balance too. Try to include some fresh fruit and/or veggies at each meal. It’s also important to make sure that you are actually eating enough. Once the semester starts really moving, college students are often moving so fast they will forget to eat. This is not ok. If you are having trouble remembering to slow down for meals, set an alarm on your phone to remind you and keep healthier snacks in your bag so that you can still get enough nutrition throughout the day.
  • Get some rest. It may be tempting to stay up until the wee hours of the morning but consider the price you’ll pay for such. Not getting enough sleep can result in decreased productivity, changes to your mood, increased weight gain, memory impairment, and premature aging of the skin (you gotta protect the glo up right?). Use these tips to begin establishing good sleep hygiene. Your body and mind will thank you for it.
  • Guard you heart and your parts. It’s really important to make good decisions around your sexual and reproductive health while in college. If you are having sex (and it’s totally fine not to by the way), make sure you are making well-informed decisions about your partners! Don’t sleep with someone with the hopes it will make them commit to you. [ictt-tweet-inline via=”therapy4bgirls”]If the commitment was not there before the sex, it won’t be afterwards. [/ictt-tweet-inline]Don’t sleep with someone because they are pressuring you to do so. Sex should be enthusiastically and unequivocally consensual. If you’re not 100% sure you want to sleep with them, then don’t and reconsider whether this is someone who has your best interest at heart. Always use a condom and I encourage you to have your own so that you know they are intact and not expired. Get on some type of birth control if you are not already. Get tested for sexually transmitted infections and make sure you partner has gotten tested as well. I recommend getting tested together if possible.
  • Know the symptoms. There are several mental health concerns that have their initial onset during college. Additionally, anxiety and depressive disorders are also pretty common among college students. It’s important that you know yourself well enough to know if something is off. Are you noticing that you seem to be more distant, less interested in things that you once enjoyed, hearing things that others are not hearing, having panic attacks? All of these symptoms could be a sign that something larger is going on and you should make an appointment to talk with someone at your school’s counseling center.

Offices to Visit

  • Counseling Center. If you are experiencing difficulty with your transition to college, having relationship concerns, feeling anxious or depressed or anything else really, then you want to make an appointment to talk with someone in the counseling center. The services are confidential and may even be free. If you feel like you could benefit from talking to an unbiased person who will not be judgmental, I’d encourage you to give it a try.
  • Career Services. It may seem a little early to already be thinking about your life post graduation but actually, you can never start too early. It’s important that you get registered with career services so you can get information about jobs on and off campus and about internships you can get either during the school year or the summer. Your career services office also probably sponsors a career fair at least once a year. Even though the career fairs are geared more toward the upperclassmen, it’s important for you to attend your first year so that you know what to expect and can see what types of fields are represented.
  • Writing Lab. You may be surprised by the amount of writing you will have to do over the next 4-5 years. If this is an area that you struggle in or need some help tightening up your skills make sure to visit the Writing Lab. Even if you think you are a pretty good writer, it never hurts to have another set of eyes on that paper before you turn it in.
  • Study Abroad. Did you know that you could visit another country, take some cool classes, and possibly not pay for any of it. If this sounds good to you, then you definitely want to visit the Study Abroad office. There are tons of opportunities to spend a semester studying in a different country and also lots of scholarships and programs that will help you pay for the costs. To prep for this, you also want to make sure that you make plans to get a passport.

And Finally…

  • Humor your parents. While you going away to college is probably the most amazing experience of your life thus far, your parents are probably really struggling with it. Of course they want you to be independent and successful, but they are also really going to miss you 🙁 . Make sure to stay connected to them by calling home at least once a week and trying to text when you can. If you are proactive about checking in, you can ward off some of the angry voicemails they are sure to leave after not hearing from you for 2 weeks. They’ll probably also drop a few extra dollars in your checking account if you call home more as well 🙂 .

Do you need other tips or have questions about being successful during your first year of college? Ask them in the comments below and be sure to share this post with your new roommate and your bestie at another school.

Wishing you an amazing first year,


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Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Sisterhood heals
Order Now

Looking for the UK Edition?
Order here

Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Looking for the UK Edition? Order here