Students in residence hall

There’s much to be done. In your first year at the University of Colorado, you will be bombarded with ways to spend your time. Part of this is simply adjustment. However, to help make the process less stressful or overwhelming, the following guide breaks down your first year at CU-Boulder into phases to direct your focus.

Please know that no one’s journey through the first year is the same. Feel free to browse the content in each phase or choose based on the category with which you identify.

This education is yours.

After all of the anticipation and build-up, you’ve finally arrived in Boulder.  It’s easy to be drawn into the infinite opportunities that the city has to offer and the excitement of being on your own. Many students come with concerns about fitting in with CU’s campus life. This is a great time to get connected with Student Affairs and find out more of what CU has to offer!

Design Tips:

  • Figure out where your classes are and how long it takes to get there. Use the Campus Map to get around.
  • Get to know your academic advisor. Your advisor will be your point person for exploring and confirming your academic interests and strengths, and will help you to explore your self, values, and skills. For more information on your specific advisor, see their biographies posted here.

  • Buy a Planner (in the bookstore). Although it is paper, this is still the most effective way to organize your time. Fill in important dates, deadlines, events, study time, friend time, time off, and anything else you need to keep at the front of your mind. 

  • Read your syllabus! Your instructor puts together the syllabus as an academic contract. Your syllabus allows you to see the upcoming assignments, the weight of tests, the grading system, and basically anything else your instructor feels is “need to know.” 
  • Adapt. No instructor teaches content the same way. There will be some who lead heavy discussions for the majority of class and others who will lecture throughout. Unfortunately, you don’t have control over the way an instructor delivers content. However, you can control the way in which you respond. Talk through strategies with your academic advisor.


  • Know that culture shock is normal. Our first-year advisors hold extended walk-in appointments the first week of classes to help you through the challenge of adapting to a new environment and community.
  • Study time. 1 hour in class, 2 hours out of class. This is not a guideline. Your instructors design their classes with the assumption that, for every one hour you are in class, you will study at least two hours out of class.
  • Don’t wait for your first exams to seek out a tutor! All first-year students living in the residence halls have access to FREE tutoring.
  • Yes, the semester happens fast! The middle of the term is in October and March, right around the time many students feel like they’re just getting started. This is why it’s so important to start studying for your exams right from the start of classes. Don’t be fooled by “Midterm.” Although you might think that this denotes an exam in the middle of your term, CU-Boulder uses it to refer to all tests in your class that happen before the end-of-term exams. 

To end the year successfully, you have to start strong.

How do you want to remember your first year? Although it feels like you just got here, you’re already making choices that impact your academic success. Your class attendance, the amount of time you choose to devote to studies, participating in extracurriculars, Greek life, and the many other small decisions you make each day impact your academics for the good or the bad. This is the best time to try and figure out the correct balance of your academic and social lives, and it all comes back to the tone you want to set for the year.

Design Tips:

  • Make an Appointment with your academic advisor. This is the time to get connected to resources on campus that will boost your ability to succeed. You also need to meet with your advisor at least once during the year, so the earlier the better!
  • Go to class! With your late nights and the just-long-enough commute to class, it’s very tempting to skip for the day. More than anything else, your attendance has the most direct impact on your grades. Plus, faculty members are known to throw in an occasional quiz you can only take while in class.
  • Work in some time for fitness at the Recreation Center. The boost in endorphins that comes from exercise does great things for stress relief, organizing thoughts, and generally feeling better. The Recreation Center also puts on a number of workshops and events that are great chances to meet new people.
  • Try to connect with others. Visit the Student Involvement Fair or CU’s Clubs website to see if there is a campus organization that shares your values.
  • Get to know your instructors, even in your lectures. Connecting with faculty is critical to making the most out of your time at CU-Boulder. Although some class sizes can be overwhelming, instructors all offer office hours to discuss class content and answer questions. Just as you are excited to be studying alongside some of world’s leading faculty, our faculty members are thrilled to be working with some of the nation’s best students.

  • Learn respectful communication with instructors. Don’t assume that every faculty member goes by her first name. In general, it is best to start formally. Lead with “Dear Dr. X” or “Dear Professor X”. Instructors respond well to formality, then will guide you to the level of formality they prefer.
  • Cope with Test Anxiety. Anxiety over your exams is common with undergraduates. Visit Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) in the C4C for free sessions or workshops and strategizing ways to succeed with it.

It’s never too early to look ahead.

Registration Already! Registration typically begins the first week of November for the spring semester and the first week of April for the fall semester. It’s best to meet with your advisor, who can walk through the process with you. To maximize your time, meet earlier in the semester and begin a conversation about your interests, goals, and strengths.

Design Tips:

  • Know your Degree Audit. Choose courses based on what you see there and check in with your academic advisor to make sure you’re on the right track.

  • When selecting classes, put in a little research. CU posts its Faculty Course Questionnaires (FCQs) online to help you see the course demands and hours spent per week.
  • Explore Career Options. If you need tangible steps forward beyond your academic career, visit Career Services in the C4C. At their office, you can take StrengthsQuest to learn more about your own unique skills and discover the different fields in which graduates have used their majors. 
  • Plan backup options. Meet with your academic advisor to discuss secondary options and classes that can help you explore second majors, minors, certificates, electives, or other areas of interest.
  • You might be prevented from registering if you haven’t seen your advisor, your enrollment date and time have not come up, or you have a separate hold on your account from another department. Be proactive and work with your advisor early in the semester to make sure you remove any obstacles preventing you from registering.
  • Find a roommate. To prevent anxiety at the end of the year, make roommate plans in early January, including the people you’ll be living with and where you hope to live. Planning your living situation takes away a substantial burden that usually hits early Spring.

Make a journey out of chasing your goal.

Somewhere in your first year, we hope your college experience will feel natural. Knowing you have reached this place is full of intangibles that can be difficult to identify beyond CU just feeling right. Use this time to deepen your education, broaden your community connections, clarify your goals, and learn new ways to enhance the journey.

Design Tips:

  • Tell someone about your major. Try to articulate your field of interest to someone close to you. The exercise helps you both say out loud what you like about your field of interest and makes it feel more real.
  • Combat Cabin Fever! Students often find their stride in the middle of winter, but are setback by an emotional downturn connected to the weather. Discover creative ways to get out of your dorm room by going to the Rec Center or attending campus events.
  • Time to think about scholarships. Research CU Scholarship Opportunities to see if your field of interest has new or continuing opportunities for financial aid.
  • Deepen your résumé. Consider applying for an internship with one of Boulder’s many local businesses. Internships are typically offered for a summer, although some are offered during the semester. For help in finding an internship within your field of interest and compiling a competitive application, visit Career Services in the C4C.
  • Plan your Study Abroad experience. Going abroad is the best way to widen your cultural perspective. In your First Year, discuss with your advisor different classes you might take abroad, as well as the best time to travel within your academic career.

The ending is as important as the beginning.

Staying focused. Your first year is coming to a close, and after a full year of studies and adapting to the college experience, you might feel a strong mixture of burned out, exam stress, and sadness over the year coming to a close. Continue to push forward and stay engaged. Your advisor holds extended walk-in appointment hours to help answer questions about your next steps forward, to help you sound out what you learned the past year, and help you begin the transition to your Sophomore year when it all begins again!

Design Tips:

  • Keep checking CU Email. Over the summer and winter breaks, we will continue to send you important information about campus procedures and your specific college experience. Keep an eye out for important information on registration, a new advisor assignment, financial aid, and new opportunities already beginning for students in their second year.
  • Set aside more exam time. At the end of the semester, you are so fatigued that it can be difficult to retain information. Start studying several weeks in advance. That way, you can master your content one piece at a time without the added stress of cramming.
  • Buy books early. Contact your instructor and get your next semester’s booklist before leaving for break. Think about buying the books beforehand and reading them in advance as a way to familiarize yourself with the content before class begins.
  • Think about summer courses. CU-Boulder has a number of offerings in a variety of departments. For more information, visit the CU summer session homepage: