5 Mistakes to Avoid as a First-Year Student

A view from Eastman Quad in Jan. 2018 (before I was officially a Yellowjacket!)


Here at the University, our motto “Meliora” speaks to our mission of each person striving to become ever better. Taking inspiration from that mindset, I’ll readily admit I’ve made countless mistakes in college. While I try not to dwell on them with regret, there are definitely ways I could’ve done things better!

Since many incoming first-years are committing to UR around this time, I thought I’d share a few mistakes that I’ve personally made so future Yellowjackets can learn from my experiences.

1. Misunderstanding course prerequisites

One of the first mistakes I made in college was registering for a class I wasn’t allowed to take. Even if the registration system lets you sign up for a class, make sure you’ve met all the requirements!

I can’t recall what specifically confused me at the time, but here’s an example of something to look out for. If you check out the photo above showing a course listing, you’ll notice “Restrictions” are listed as one of the bolded categories on the side. However, if you read the “Description” section, it mentions a prerequisite course. Although some professors can waive prerequisites if you ask, they’re usually mandatory—so unless you hear otherwise, assume they’re synonymous with restrictions.

Pro tip for incoming first-years: Download the Better CDCS Google Chrome extension to map out your class schedule! This is super useful for finding scheduling conflicts and visualizing your course load (excluding labs/workshops, which you sign up for later). Note that this is not the same process as actual registration, which you’ll receive instructions about during orientation.

If you’re nervous about registration, don’t fret—your First-Year Fellow and academic advisor will be great resources on campus!

2. Not exploring two-credit electives

At UR, most first-years take a standard load of 16 credits (or four classes) during their first semester. This is mainly because first-years in their first semester aren’t allowed to take more than three credits over their four regular classes. However, there are plenty of one or two-credit courses that are fair game.

During my first semester, I hadn’t looked into any classes outside of my majors. In retrospect, though, I wish I’d considered adding an elective, since I enjoyed the two-credit dance courses I took as a sophomore. Plus, I’ve met many of my friends through mutual classes, so taking a fun elective could’ve been a great way to meet people early on.

View from a stroll near Eastman

3. Mostly staying on campus

While acclimating to campus is a big part of the first-year experience, I think it would’ve been nice if I explored the city of Rochester more often. Once classes are in session, it’s hard to find time to venture out every week, but it was a bit of a missed opportunity that I didn’t try to do so more often.

Also, as an out-of-state student, I’ve found that a lot of people back home have asked what I like to do around Rochester. So, aside from the fun of adventure, it’s worth keeping in mind that visiting cool places off campus could come in handy as a good icebreaker.

4. Not making the most of campus life

This may sound contradictory to my previous point, but aside from going off campus more often, I wish I’d made better use of how I spent time on campus. By this I mean that there were a number of small changes I could’ve made to immerse myself more with campus life.

For instance, studying in the lounge instead of my room, attending more school events, and not ordering the same two items at The Pit every time might’ve added some excitement to my days as a first-year. That being said, I still loved campus, and I remember the end of spring semester being the first time I dreaded summer break because I knew I’d have to leave!

Since we’re currently in COVID-19 times, one quick disclaimer: If circumstances will prevent you from being on campus as a first-year, please don’t be discouraged! I met one of my favorite people during a yoga class sophomore year, and as a now-junior who’s studying remotely, I’m hopeful that it’s never too late to jump back into normal campus life. Being remote can be tough, but don’t take a slow start as a bad sign; you may experience amazing things in the years ahead!

A snowy night outside Sue B. (Nov. 2018)

5. Being ill-prepared for Rochester’s weather

Although I came to Rochester mentally prepared for the winter, unfortunately I failed to pack the appropriate physical belongings to reflect this state of mind.

Since I’m from California, I needed to buy snow boots as a first-year, and looking back, I wish I’d read more reviews before springing for the reasonably priced cute ones I selected. By the end of the year, I felt water soaking through my boots whenever I walked through slush, and I ultimately had to spend more money replacing them. I recommend investing in a good pair early on so you can use them for your remaining years at the University.

On the flip side, a more unexpected discovery was that Rochester summers can get pretty hot, too. I lived in a residence hall without air-conditioning, so personally I’d recommend acquiring a fan if you’re in the same situation.


While I’m still making plenty of mistakes along the way, one thing I can thank my past self for is following my heart to the right college. Some of my most valuable lessons have taken place outside the classroom, and I’m really glad I’ve had the opportunity to learn those things as a member of the University of Rochester community.

To any rising first-years, I hope you’ll feel the same way a few years from now!

About the author

Carolyn Richter

Hi! I’m a member of the Class of 2022 majoring in marketing and creative writing with minors in journalism and legal studies. I was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I’m thrilled to share my experiences about the second home I’ve found at the University of Rochester. On campus I participate in the Campus Times, Forté Campus, Cancer Awareness Club, and Hatha Yoga Club.

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