My time as an undergraduate is ticking, which seems ridiculous to me when I consider how small, ignorant, and inexperienced I feel. I'm a junior masquerading as a senior. I'm a poser. I don't know what I'm doing. Nevertheless, the paperwork has been filed, the coursework has been completed, and with a few midterms under my belt I can feel myself turning the scary corner. And while I'm reeling from the vertigo of this premature expulsion, I am also beginning to feel the steadying effect of nostalgia. It's true that I don't know much, but the suggestions below are what I did when I was a freshman, and I'm glad I did.
Get your professor to like you.
If your professor likes you, they will be rooting for you to succeed. It's easier to get good grades when your professor wants you to get good grades. Additionally, it's easier to work hard on your coursework when you have a relationship with your instructor. It's amazing how motivated you feel when you're trying to turn in work that's worthy of your professor's time. The student-teacher relationship is symbiotic: if you like them and they like you, everybody wins. Don't be that creepy stalker that always talks to them after class and is always sending them emails and goes to every office hour just to schmooze. Just be the student you would want to teach. They'll like you for that.
Find the resources.
Most people at my school don't know there's a lawyer on call to give out legal advice for students free of charge. Most people at my school don't know that you can borrow professional videography equipment, iPads, and voice recorders from the campus production labs. Every day, somewhere on my campus, there is free food to be had, and most students have no idea. There's great stuff out there, you just have to seek it out. When you start school you will feel alone. You won't know where to go and what to do. But believe me when I say there are offices out there that exist for the mere purpose of making your life easier! You just have to find them. They won't come to you.
Pick a side.
Educational communities are wonderful things, but bureaucracy is not. Rest assured you will face both. Bureaucracy will screw you over. They will ask you to sign forms you don't have access to, and they will refer you to offices that have no idea what you're talking about, and they will treat your reasonable request like it's the most inconvenient and outlandish request they've ever gotten. But don't back down! Bite the bullet, do what they say, find the people in the administration who will back you up, and see it through to the end. Though you are technically powerless as a student in the political cogs of the university, if you find the right advocate you can be heard. And that principle matters. Getting involved with administration politics has made my college experience ten times more interesting and is maybe even teaching me more about the real world than my classes are.
Finish your gen-eds first.
You may be gung-ho to dig right into your area of study, and your curriculum requirements may even direct it, but if at all possible force yourself to get all those 101 classes out of the way. Believe me when I say that you do not want to be the only senior in a class of 250 freshmen taking the introduction to astrophysics class. By the time you're an upperclassmen you won't care about the courses that are meant broaden your horizon. You'll love your discipline too much to waste your time on a subject you'll never use. Or worse, you'll discover a new love in a new major and wonder if you missed your calling in life. Senior year is too late to change your educational trajectory. Get it out of your system while you're still figuring out your interests.
Even if your school isn't a multi-college state research institution with 16,000 undergraduates like mine is, chances are you haven't seen everything on campus. The hallmark of freshmen is that lost and confused expression on their faces. Begin exploring and that bewildered feeling will subside. Give other freshmen directions and they'll assume you're an upperclassmen. This is the best feeling. And you'll stumble across so much cool stuff! My school has rose gardens, aquariums, simulations labs, historic documents and paintings, robots, carnivorous plants, and hallways lined with display cases of rocks, models, taxidermy animals, and artifacts. Most of your life will not be spent in an epicenter of learning. Drink it in while you can.
There are probably lots of other things incoming freshmen should also do. Like get involved with student organizations, and go to class, and record all your new memories, and don't eat too much junk food to sate your initial feelings of freedom and loneliness, because the freshman-fifteen is really a thing. Stuff like that. There's plenty of good advice out there. My suggestions are just what worked for me. I want to remember what this setting was like, this time here at my school, what I did and what made it work for me and what I liked best. There's so much to say. I'm mentally preparing myself for the end.