New to college? UWM experts offer tips for first-year students

A new academic year is here, and many students are embarking on their first year of college.

Freshman year can be both an exciting and stressful time for newcomers. But there are plenty of resources available to help freshmen get acclimated to college life. Here, three UWM experts – Brian Hinshaw, director of Pathway Advising; Eric Jessup-Anger, director of Student Involvement; and Brennan O’Lena, director of the Student Success Center – answer questions and offer tips for first-year students.

What advice would you offer college freshmen?

Brian Hinshaw

Brian Hinshaw and Eric Jessup-Anger: Make sure you have a calendar to track your class times, key due dates for each class assignment and campus events you want to attend. Using your time to get the most from the opportunities at UWM is key to your success.

Once you’re on campus, set up a tutoring schedule and get involved with a student organization. Studies show the more time students spend on campus, the more likely they are to do well academically. Check in with your academic advisor to see what your first year will entail, and what you’ll want to accomplish prior to sophomore year. It’s important to always plan ahead.

What are your top 5 tips to help a student get the most of their courses?

Brennan O’Lena

Brennan O’Lena:

  • Look at your syllabus early and often! Knowing the deadlines and what is to come will make your experience less stressful.
  • Get to know your instructors. Introduce yourself after class or during office hours.
  • Try out different strategies to take notes and study. What worked in one class might not work in another.
  • Connect with your classmates. This will open up opportunities for studying and motivate you to show up for class.
  • Stay organized and be sure to keep a copy of your work. Many classes in your major will build off of each other, and having examples of past work can help you prepare.

How should students work to develop relationships with a faculty member?

Eric Jessup-Anger

Hinshaw and Jessup-Anger: All instructors will list their office hours on their course syllabus – these will be the days and times that they set aside to provide extra help or guidance to students. Getting to know your instructors will be incredibly helpful down the road as you investigate possible majors or careers, or if you need a letter of recommendation for a scholarship application or internship opportunity.

As you advance through college, talk to faculty about opportunities to get involved in their research or other scholarly activities. It’s a great way to deepen your learning, possibly earn some money and build close relationships with other students and faculty members.

Besides faculty members, who are the most important people on campus that students should get to know as they set out on their college journey?

Hinshaw and Jessup-Anger: It’s important for students to assemble a support team that includes their instructors and academic advisor, as well as success coaches or peer mentors. UW-Milwaukee has a lot of support services available to students, from tutoring to a writing center to multicultural offices.

Staff in other offices including the Dean of Students, University Housing, University Recreation and Student Involvement can help you tailor your college experience and provide support and opportunities for involvement and fun. They are dedicated to supporting student success and well-being.

What is the best way for students to discover organizations or activities outside of their studies?

Jessup-Anger: Fall Welcome is a great time to attend events and get a taste of campus life, while the Involvement Fair offers opportunities to explore student organizations. Resident assistants can suggest ways to get involved in the dorms.

Finding a job on campus can also help first-year students meet new people. The staff in the Student Involvement office can offer a lot of resources to help students find their place on campus. Follow them @dostuffuwm on Instagram and Facebook.

What advice would you give students about deciding on a major?

Hinshaw: The advisors in Pathway Advising have particular expertise with undecided students, and can recommend courses that might fit a broad area of interests that connect to multiple majors on campus. Students can make an appointment through the Navigate advising platform or drop in anytime on Wednesdays for walk-in advising.

We also often recommend a course, Educational Psychology 110, that is focused on helping students choose their major or career path. The class dedicates time and attention early in a semester to discovering, researching and deciding on potential areas of study.

Another good resource is the Student Experience and Talent office, which offers career counseling and advising, as well as opportunities to apply for internships and other educational experiences away from the classroom.

Talking with family, friends and neighbors about their career choices can spark ideas, too. Or reach out to people in interesting careers and find out about their college experience and jobs. What did they major in? And what would they major in now if they had to go to college all over again?

How can students get help if they are stressed, depressed or overwhelmed?

Hinshaw: It’s never a mistake to check in with an academic advisor, coach, mentor or someone else on your support team to discuss how things are going. UWM’s University Counseling Services office has a wide range of mental health services and resources for students.

Note: A version of this story appears on the Degree Choices website.

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