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The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Freshman Survival Guide

DeKALB | Now that classes are officially in full-swing, it is easy to think that there is too much to handle here at NIU. Whether it’s classes, getting involved or anything in between, this survival guide will hopefully keep the semester going smoothly for all.


Going to class every day is the first step students should take to ensure success during their freshman year, said Steven Barleen, acting associate director for the Academic Advising Center. 

Scheduling classes is important for students because not only do they need to plan out their schedule so they can succeed. However, when picking classes, it may be best to pick courses based on an individual’s personal preferences.

“If you are not a morning person, then don’t take an 8 a.m. class,” Barleen said. “There is nothing wrong with taking classes later in the day.”

While students should finalize their schedules early in the semester, they should not be afraid of either dropping or withdrawing from a class if they are having trouble completing the coursework, he said.

“Get your schedule solidified as quickly as possible,” Barleen said.  “You see students coming in Friday wanting to add and drop classes, and at that point you’ve missed a week of class and that’s a bad idea.”

You need to try to get off to a good start with a high GPA, because graduating with a good GPA is more important than graduating in four years, Barleen said.


There are hundreds of student organizations at NIU, including professional organizations, groups for support in different majors, as well as the numerous service and social groups, said Becky Harlow, assistant director for Student Involvement and Leadership Development.

“There’s lots of opportunities for students to get involved, no matter what they are looking for,” Harlow said.

Many organizations advertise with fliers and chalk messages around campus early in the year, and freshman should keep their eyes open for the dates and times of the informational meetings, she said. Also, some students may be nervous about joining a group or trying something new, but there’s just a leap they have to take in order to make connections.

“A part of college is getting used to experiencing things that you probably wouldn’t normally,” Harlow said. “And what better way to do that then to meet other people interested in the same things you are.”


Sleeping as well as working in some exercise are good ways to help prevent stress, said Kimberly Cecil, a licensed clinical social worker in the Counseling and Student Development Center.

“Sleep deprivation has serious implications for students, especially as the semester wears on,” Cecil said. “Students should set out a block of seven to eight hours everyday for sleep.”

In addition to scheduling time for sleep, students also need to plan time for studying.

“Set aside time in your schedule that is just for studying,” Cecil said. “You’re going to have stuff to do and if you don’t set aside time for studying and try to fit in among the other things, you run out of time.”

Studying in advance and preparing for tests helps to prevent stress, she said. When students need to cram for that big test, it is very important to take breaks during studying.

“Study for 45 minutes and then take a 15 minute break, you can keep your mind alert because if you try to study for three hours at a time, it just wears you out,” Cecil said.

Getting up and moving around during those breaks is important, she said. Students should walk around or stretch as a way to get their blood flowing again.


It is important for first year students to plan out and eat three meals a day in order to avoid fluctuations in their weight, said Martha O’Gorman, coordinator of nutrition programming for Campus Recreation Services.

“It is really hard to eat healthy in the residence hall if you’re here seven days a week and you have the lowest meal plan,” O’Gorman said. “If you’re doing that, it’s important then to choose the foods you keep in your room carefully.”  She listed bagels, dried fruit, yogurt and peanut butter as healthy options that would all keep well in a small refrigerator.

Also, the Nutrition and Wellness section of the Recreation Services website features a walkthrough of healthy dining hall meals for students on 1,800, 2,400 or 3,000 calorie diets. The website also features a shopping guide for helping students make healthy choices at the local grocery stores, O’Gorman said.

In addition, Recreation Services also has interns who are available to help students create a personalized meal plan, O’Gorman said.


Keeping your door open is the simplest way to meet people and get involved on your floor, said Douglas Community Advisor Anthony Kusz.

“The more you talk with the floor and get involved, the happier you are when you live here,” Kusz said.  “People that stay by themselves in their room are the ones that either don’t make it to the end or don’t return for a second year.”

While getting involved with the floor helps to create a positive environment, it’s inevitable that some conflicts will eventually arise.

You can always go to the CA for help resolving a problem with your roommate or other people on the floor, he said. Housing and Dining also offers Roommate Agreements where roommates can discuss and decide on rules to help keep a peaceful environment.     

Although many students don’t, you should take the roommate agreements seriously because they might help to avoid problems later on, Kusz said.