The First Day of College: Honest Answers to Your Most Popular Questions

The First Day of College: Honest Answers to Your Most Popular Questions

You know that dream where you show up to the wrong class on your first day of college? Well, that dream is a reality for dozens of ​freshmen every fall.

Just FYI, no one is going to remember that you went to the wrong room on the first day of class. Still, it's one of the many mistakes most of us want to avoid on our first day of school.

To help ease your first day fears, I compiled a list of the most common questions about the first day of college. So, if you're stressing about what to bring to class on the first day, or what to wear, read on to find​ some honest answers.

​Answers to ​Common First Day of College FAQs

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​How to Prepare for the First Day of College

If you’re nervous about the first day of college, preparing as much as you can beforehand will ease your mind. Here are a few things you should do before your first day of​ class.

​Double check your schedule

You’ve probably looked over your schedule at least a dozen times by now, but look at it one last time before the first day of the semester. Review your classes and the times they meet to avoid any mistakes. Showing up to class late, or even to the wrong class, won’t help your first day jitters, so double check your schedule.

​Find your classrooms

A day or two before classes start, take some time to find your classrooms. I know this is a hectic time, as you’re probably finishing up freshman orientation and organizing your dorm room. Take a break from all that to find where your classes meet.

​Log into your ​CMS

CMS is the abbreviation for course management system. Blackboard and Desire2Learn are common CMS. Whichever CMS your university uses, be sure you can log into the system. This is especially important if you’re taking online courses. You don’t want to find out the first day of college that you can’t access some of your classes.

​Plan your day

Make a plan for your first day of college, especially if you have long breaks between classes. You could easily waste this time, so plan how to use it productively. You could read your syllabi and put important school dates and deadlines in your planner, find important offices on campus, or go back to the dorm and finish unpacking. Having a plan will help calm your nerves by giving you predictability and a sense of control.

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​Gather your supplies

Trust me, you don’t want to be the person who has to borrow paper and pens from your classmates on the first day. Get your school supplies together beforehand; see below for what you should bring on the first day of college classes.

​Rehearse your introduction

There’s a good chance you’ll have to introduce yourself in at least some of your classes. Rehearse a short statement about yourself to say in class, especially if public speaking in front of strangers makes you nervous. (Keep reading for more on how to introduce yourself in college.)

​What to Bring on the First Day of ​Classes

You don’t need to go crazy at Staples buying school supplies for college, but you will need some basics, especially on the first day of class. You’ll also need to bring some personal supplies as well, particularly if you’re going to be on campus or away from your dorm room all day.

​School supplies to bring the first day of college

​Paper and a pen/pencil are probably the only school supplies you’ll truly need on the first day of class. You can bring either a spiral notebook or a binder with paper.

If you don’t use a binder, be sure your notebook has pockets or bring a folder. You’ll need somewhere to put your course syllabi and any other handouts you get on the first day of class. You may also want to bring a highlighter to highlight parts of ​your syllabi.

​Professors likely won’t expect you to have or to bring your textbooks on the first day, so no worries there. And I’d wait to see what the course laptop policy is before hauling your computer to class.

​Personal supplies to bring the first day of college

You can find all sorts of blog posts about what to carry in your college backpack. I’ll let you decide which snacks to bring and whether you want to ​carry a reusable water bottle all day.

But you should bring some personal supplies like tissues and hand sanitizer, if you use it. Your college classrooms will not have these things. College isn’t like K-12, where students are often expected to buy supplies for common use, like Kleenex and paper towels. Keep that in mind when you’re packing your backpack or book bag.

​How to Introduce Yourself in College

Ah, first day of college introductions – that panic inducing rite of passage. Just be glad you only have to do it during the first class meeting.

Actually, if you’re in a large class, it’s unlikely you’ll have to introduce yourself. No one has time to listen to 300 introductions. In a smaller class you may have stand up and introduce yourself to the entire class. Or your professor may request that you introduce yourself to just the two or three students sitting around you.

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​What to say when introducing yourself in college

There are some common questions you may be asked to answer in your first day of college introduction. You’ll almost certainly be asked to state your name and hometown. You may also be asked to state your major and explain why you chose that major and/or why you chose your college.

Some professors may ask you to explain why you chose to take their class, whether you have any prior experience with the subject matter, and what you expect from the class.

You may also be asked to say something interesting about yourself. Everyone hates this question, but professors ask for a reason. This is one of the ways they begin to learn your names. They can remember Susie’s name more easily if they know she’s the one with six ​hamsters.

It’s also possible your professor may do a full-on icebreaker activity. If so, you should drop the class immediately (just kidding).

Regardless of how the introductions happen, keep your introduction short and to the point. Don’t start rambling, despite how nervous you may be.

​How to introduce yourself in a college class example

Your introduction really doesn’t need to be more than a few simple sentences. For example, suppose your professor asks you to state your name, hometown, major and an interesting fact about yourself. Your response can be something short like:

"Hi! My name is Big Bird and I’m from Sesame Street. I’m not sure what I want to major in yet, but I think ornithology sounds fun. An interesting fact about me is that my best friend is a Snuffleupagus."

Then take your seat to indicate you’re done and that it’s time to move onto the next victim student.

​How not to introduce yourself in college

The truth is, no one is going to remember what you said on the first day of class – unless you said something massively stupid or inappropriate. So, don’t do that.

While you shouldn’t feel compelled to lie, there are some things your professors and classmates don’t need to know about you. For instance, they don’t need to know that your grades were too bad to get into any other college or that you want to major in partying.

Since it’s likely you’ll be asked those questions, you need to come up with respectable answers to them.


True story. I once had a student say in his introduction that he signed up for my class because it looked like the easiest of the courses still open when he enrolled. Well, it wasn’t.

I don’t go out of my way to make my general education classes difficult, but the average for that course at the end of the semester is usually around 68%. He believed the common college myth that gen ed courses are easy. Do not underestimate your gen ed classes. And don't tell your prof you ​expect her class to be easy.


​What to Wear on the First Day of College

I know there are entire Pinterest boards dedicated to this topic, so let me give it to you straight: no one remembers or cares what you wear on the first day of college.

College isn’t like K-12, where you buy a bunch of clothes at back to school summer sales, then show up in your fancy new outfits the first week of class. As long as all your private bits are covered, no one cares what you wear to class in college.

That said, you probably shouldn’t show up in your pajamas on the first day (save that for finals week). You should wear something comfortable; jeans and a t-shirt are typical and perfectly acceptable.

The only time you might want to dress up for class is if you’re giving a presentation. Otherwise, just focus on decency and comfort.

​What Happens on the First Day of Class in College

You should get a syllabus on the first day of class, but may be wondering what else you’ll do that day.

It depends on the size of the class and on the professor. In a smaller class, the professor may take attendance and ask you to do introductions. In a large class, the professor probably won’t call roll or do introductions. You may be asked to fill out a form or write a paragraph about yourself; this is a way of taking attendance without having to call out the name of every student.

Each of your professors will probably review the syllabus on the first day. Some of your professors may lecture too. If so, it’ll likely be an overview lecture, laying out the objectives and structure of the course. On the other hand, some professors may launch into the course material on day one, so be prepared to take notes.

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​Here are a few other tips for the first day of class in college. Be sure to read what comes after that.

​Tips for the first day of college classes

Show up early. This gives you time to make sure you’re in the right classroom and to choose your seat.

Choose your seat wisely. There may be some shuffling around the first week as students add/drop the course, but generally where you’re sitting at the end of Week 1 is where you’ll stay all semester. Make sure you get the seat you want.

Pay attention. Actually read parts of the syllabus as the professor discusses them and listen when your classmates introduce themselves. If your professor lectures on the first day, listen and take notes. And … Stay. Off. Your. Phone.

​One thing you should definitely not do the first day of class in college

Do not introduce yourself to your professor on the first day of class. Yes, I know this is shocking and totally opposite the advice you’ve read on the internet.

The usual advice​ is that you should go up to your professor after class, introduce yourself and tell them how much you’re looking forward to the class. That advice is​ mostly written by students. This advice is written by a professor and I’m telling you, the first day of class is the worst time to introduce yourself to me​.

Look, every semester I have four classes with a minimum of 30 students. That means I have at least 120 students each semester. It also means I have lots of students coming up to introduce themselves. The chances that I’ll remember your name/face and which of my classes you’re in after only seeing you once is very small.

Also, just because you have a two hour break after class doesn’t mean I do. If I only have 10 minutes to get to my next class, I’m not going to be thrilled with students chatting me up as I’m trying to leave. I won’t be rude to you, but will wish you’d show more respect for my time. 

And honestly, “I’m looking forward to the class” is such an overused phrase now (thanks, internet), no one believes you actually mean it.

​How to properly introduce yourself to professors

The correct way to introduce yourself to professors is when you can have a meaningful interaction. That involves going to office hours and asking an intelligent question about the syllabus or, preferably, about the course material. Or asking about majoring in their subject, if you’re truly interested in that possibility.

You should wait and do this around Week 3 of the semester. By that point, your professor will recognize you as one of their students, even if they aren’t sure from which class. That familiarity makes the introduction less awkward and makes the professor more open to speaking with you because you're someone they actually know. This is much better than approaching them as a total stranger on the first day of class.

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​What to Expect on the First Day of College

You probably figure we’ve already covered this, but there are a few other things to expect on the first day of college.

​Expect Some Confusion

No matter how well prepared you are, the first day of college can be confusing. College professors have fewer rules and standards to meet than high school teachers. That means your classes will be very different from one another.

As mentioned, some of your professors may lecture the first day of class and others will not. Some may just review the course syllabus and dismiss class 30 minutes early. Some professors may want to be called by their title, while others tell you to call them by their first name. Some may give a short self-introduction; others may show you photos of their vacation, pets and kids.

College professors get to set their own course policies, so you may have a strict attendance policy in one class and no attendance policy in another. The same goes for extra credit. And some professors might assign homework every week, while others may only have three exams all semester.

It can be confusing to have such different experiences in your classes, but that diversity of experience is one of the best parts of college. Your motto for the first day of college should be “roll with it,” because you really don’t know what to expect when you walk into each classroom.

​Expect Some Disappointment

If your first day of college feels like a bit of a letdown, know that you’re not alone. I’ve worked with lots of students who felt disappointed after their first day of college classes.

You probably spent years planning and preparing for college. You’ve probably fantasized about what college life will be like. So, you’ve invested a lot of time and energy into creating the ideal of college.

Then you go to class on the first day, read a boring syllabus, listen to students introduce themselves, maybe sit through a short lecture…and it’s over. You might be wondering if that’s all there is to college and, if so, what was all the hype about?

If you feel that way at the end of your first day, be assured it’s normal. Not every student will feel this, but if you do, it’s okay. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. And it certainly doesn’t mean you picked the wrong college, a common concern among freshmen. If you’re disappointed in your first day, please don’t jump to the conclusion that you need to transfer colleges.

Honestly, don’t read too much into the first day of classes. You can’t tell from the first day what a class will actually be like. You need to wait a few days to get a feel for a class. By then you should know more about how your professor teaches, know a few of your classmates, and know more about what to expect on a day-to-day basis. So, if you’re disappointed on the first day of college, just ​hang in there awhile.

The first day of class can be both exciting and stressful, whether it’s your first semester of college or your fifth. Preparing prior to the start of the semester will help ease those first day jitters. And by the second or third week, you’ll have your new routine down pat and will have totally forgotten those first day nerves. So, if your first day doesn’t turn out as planned, just relax and give it some time.

The Prudent Professor
 

The Prudent Professor is the alter ego of Amanda Coleman (BS, MS, PhD), who has taught, advised and mentored students for over 20 years. Amanda has worked with students in high school through graduate school, at schools ranging from community colleges to large state universities. Amanda spends most of her free time bookmarking crafts she’ll probably never make and planning trips she’ll probably never take. She also outlines plots for novels she will eventually write (maybe).

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