The first year of College is often said to be the greatest year of transition that an individual will ever experience. In the midst of all of the changes: living without parents, learning in a new environment, managing personal finances, living in a new city, meeting new friends, developing new goals, exploring new identities, there is a lot of opportunity and a lot of risk. In fact moments of transition are well-acknowledged to be some of the most vulnerable moments we will ever experience in life (Schreiner, 2012). 

With the proper planning and support you will make it through this first year with a whole new range of skills, resources, mentors and values in your toolkit.


  1. Go to Class. Students underestimate the value of attending class, especially in Willamette’s small classes. If you are absent, your professors will notice!
  2. When you are in class, pay attention. Turn off your cell phone, only use your laptop to take notes if you need it, don’t talk to your neighbor. Listen, take notes, write down questions as they occur to you and talk with the professor about them after class or during office hours.
  3. Utilize your Professors as the resource that they are. They are your single greatest mentor when it comes to learning how to pass their class and they want to help you! Developing relationships with professors is also helpful when you want letters of recommendation for scholarships or jobs down the road.
  4. Willamette University is so much more than just classes. There is a library, gym, academic success center, career center, (other resources you want to list and link to). You pay student fees in order to make these resources available- use them! They will help you feel more informed and centered as a student on campus.
  5. Make this experience about you. This isn’t your parent’s education, or your teacher’s or your sibling’s. This experience is about you. Start thinking deeply about why you are here, and what you want to get out of this experience.

College-Level Learning

One of the best lessons in early college is that studying, attending class, and really learning in general, is different than it was in high school. Learning in high school is transactional: often captured by doing the work that is right in front of you, downloading a critical mass of information in order to pass a test, and then dumping that information. In college, learning is relational.  You are going to be constantly engaging in the learning cycle:

In each class, you will learn things that you can then apply in your other classes, or areas of your life. This is not information that can just be dumped, it is information that becomes integral to your life and success in college. Especially as you are going to be required to synthesize and remember information across a semester, and from class to class in order to be able to succeed in your college-level exams.


  1. Review information within 24 hours. The Ebbinghaus Forgetfulness Curve shows that human beings forget 70% of what we hear within 24 hours of hearing it. In order to retain information, it is critical to review that information within that timeframe 1-2 times which helps move the information from the short to long term memory.
  2. Engage deeply with your reading and notes. Annotate your readings by underlining key passages, asking questions in the margins or re-phrasing what you just ready. Do the same with your notes in class. This process helps you review what you are learning and to think more deeply about it. Annotation is another method of moving information from short to long term memory.
  3. Teach someone what you know. There is no better way to make sure you understand a concept than by teaching it to a parent, roommate, or friend. These types of conversations show you gaps in your knowledge and illuminate what you need to study more.

Accounting for Mindset

Some people approach life with the belief that you are born with a certain amount of skill or intellect. They believe that they ‘are math people,’ that ‘science just isn’t my strong suit,’ or that ‘if I have to work hard, it must mean that I’m not good at something.’ That type of thinking, or mindset, is very challenging, because it discounts the relationship between hard work, persistence, and success.

"Carol Dweck (2006) writes about mindset and it’s impact on the way we approach challenges in our lives. People with fixed mindsets believe that their talents, abilities, and qualities are carved in stone, whereas people with growth mindsets believe that their basic qualities such as talents and intelligence can be cultivated through their efforts (Dweck, 2006). Those with fixed mindsets avoid challenges, give up when obstacles get in their way, ignore criticism, and find the success of others threatening. Those with growth mindsets embrace challenges, persist through obstacles, learn from criticism, and are inspired by the success of others.



With the growth mindset, we can acknowledge our failures and find inspiration to keep improving. For example, getting a D on a paper is not the end-all of your college career. That D shows the potential for improvement and learning.  The D might inspire you to work harder and seek out the resources and tools that will help you earn the grade you are capable of achieving. While the grade may be frustrating, your mindset will affect your response to either avoid the challenge or embrace the challenge and improve your work." (from the Learning Corner at Oregon State University,


  • Remember that working hard and trying new things leads to immense success.  Relying on ‘natural talent’ means that you will never get any better than you are at this moment in time.
  • Even though you may struggle or fail, the amount of growth you’ll experience will be powerful and could influence other areas of your life.
  • Be persistent. When obstacles get in your way, power through. Do not give up.
  • When you receive criticism, do not ignore it. Listen to the criticism. Learn from it and see if you can change your thinking or actions so that you’ll be more successful in the future.
  • Draw inspiration from the success of others. When your friends succeed, offer sincere congratulations. Be motivated by success. Avoid comparing the success of others with your own path, as no two paths to success will look alike.


The content of this site and related documents are drawn from, or influenced by, the Learning Corner at Oregon State University.

Tools for Navigating College

Tools for College-Level Learning

Tools for Accounting for Mindset

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