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What I Wish I Knew as a First-Year Student

From learning how to live with a roommate, to learning how to manage time without a parent’s guidance—the first year of college is an entirely foreign experience for some students. As I wrap up my third year at Rocky Top, I have been reflecting on some things I’ve learned since my first day here. Here are some tips I wish I knew as an incoming student. 

Do’s and Don’t’s

  • DO join clubs and organizations! The earlier you get involved, the more likely you are to stay within an organization and take leadership positions. Future employers love to see how students are involved on campus, so start now!
  • DON’T stress about low grades. I was the definition of “big fish, small pond” before my first year, so college was a huge wake-up call. Don’t stress if you’re not at the top of your class, but take low grades as a sign to study more often and seek additional academic success resources. 
  • DO be the number one advocate for your education. If you see yourself falling behind in classes, don’t be afraid to schedule office hours with your professors or TAs. Look for tutors and peer mentors. Form study groups with people in your classes, and schedule group study sessions together. 
  • DON’T be afraid to explore other majors. As you take general electives, you might realize you find other jobs more interesting than those within your major. Try out more classes that interest you, and be open to considering them as a career path. Also consider adding on a minor if you find specific courses interesting.
  • DO apply for jobs and internships! With many majors, the best way to learn is hands-on or by job shadowing. Having job experiences under your belt as an undergraduate gives you an upper hand as a student and in the professional world. UT is partnered with Handshake to help students find jobs on- and off-campus. Having a LinkedIn account is also beneficial in the job searching process. 
  • DON’T let rejections get you down! You will have plenty more opportunities. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received is to always apply for the jobs that interest you, even if you don’t think you are prepared for them or the most qualified candidate. We are always the most critical of ourselves, and rejection should only serve as motivation to work harder for the next application period. 
  • DO join Facebook groups. My first year, I joined Facebook groups for secondhand clothing, textbook exchanges, and apartment hunting. Facebook groups can help you feel more connected to the student body, and you can find bargains in the process. 
  • DON’T miss out on all of the freebies—and I don’t just mean UT merch. Keep an eye out for food and other treats from different student organizations on Ped Walkway. 

Noncommuter Students

  • Make Knoxville feel like home! Explore the city on the weekends. Nearing the end of my third year, I’m still finding areas of Knoxville where I’ve never been. Find your new favorite coffee shops, parks, and trails and visit them if campus ever feels a little too small. 
  • Go to the dining halls! Meal swipes will be your best friend your first year. Use VolDining to find the daily menu at each dining hall, and enjoy the never-ending supply of food. 
  • Use the library! Finding a quiet space to study makes a huge difference. While living on campus, the library is a super convenient space for studying. While you’re there, utilize the Starbucks and POD Market.
  • Start the apartment search ASAP. I know you just moved in and you’re still navigating through friend groups, but remember you are in an apartment search alongside all of UT’s continuing students. It’s competitive, and leases are cheaper the earlier you sign. Visit if you need help finding an apartment off campus or matching with a roommate. 

Commuter Students

  • Taking late afternoon classes can be beneficial. Many students grow early friendships at dinner or by attending campus events, which occur in the late afternoon or at night. With later classes, you’ll already be on campus in time for these events or for dinner with friends.
  • Know ahead of time if events on campus or at the Food City Center might affect your normal driving/parking routine.
  • Find your favorite on-campus study spots for in-between classes. Some semesters, you’ll find yourself with odd free time between classes. Instead of going home, find a spot on campus to eat, study, or lounge around. It’ll save you loads of time (and gas), and you’ll have more opportunities to meet with friends.

Overall, take advantage of your time at UT. These four years are the only time you can study the things that interest you with like-minded students—and attend most UT sporting events for  free. 

Lyndsey is a senior from McKenzie, TN, studying journalism and media. She served as a Student Life Communications social media intern for the 2023-2024 school year. She has a passion for writing and social media, and her favorite UT memories are from attending football games with friends.