How to Have a Successful First Semester at CU Boulder

Starting your first year at CU Boulder is such an exciting time! You’re switching from the structures of high school, extracurriculars, and family, to almost being on your own. Shifting from having all of that structure to being nearly independent can be a little anxiety-inducing, but let’s be honest—it’s also incredible.

Untapped Learning is an organization that supports college students as they make that transition, and we’ve had 30+ CU alums on staff. We sat down with those coaches and asked what they wish they had known as CU freshmen. Here’s what they had to say: 

Figure Out Your Sleep Schedule 

Research shows that first-year college students frequently struggle to maintain healthy sleep habits, which obviously has a negative impact on their academic performance and overall well-being. This isn’t news to anyone—we know that. Taking that into consideration, what are some reasonable steps students can take to improve their sleep habits?

  1. Figure out what a semi-consistent sleep schedule looks like: It’s not realistic to tell freshmen they should go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. Despite anyone’s best efforts, there will be late study nights, late food runs, and late nights out with friends. That’s part of the college experience, and we don’t want to discourage that at all (maybe aside from the nights you’re up late cramming, we can help prevent that). So, where can we find consistency? Our suggestion is simply to try and get up at the same time on weekdays. Use your weekends to turn off alarms and catch up on sleep! Any consistency during the week helps to regulate your body’s internal clock, and over time you’ll wake up more naturally and your alertness will significantly improve in your first class of the day. If you have a later start to classes on Wednesday, try your best to still wake up when you would for your Monday 8am. Head to the gym, go get some work done at a coffee shop, or at the very least, take advantage of that time for some guilt-free screen time. It’ll help in the long run for a plethora of reasons, but short-term: it’ll prevent you from skipping class because you feel exhausted and want to sleep in, which typically comes back to bite you in the butt.
  1. Create a relaxing bedtime routine: Sleeping away from home can be kind of weird at first. Sleeping in a twin-XL right across from another person can feel really discombobulating, and a lot of the time it results in having trouble falling asleep. Our solution? Create a relaxing bedtime routine. Whether that’s making a cup of tea right before you brush your teeth and do your skin care, reading/listening to a book, saving your favorite podcast until the hour before you go to bed—figure out how you like to wind down, which IDEALLY does not involve checking social media. It’s really helpful when you make an effort to calm your body and mind. As humans, we need some consistency. When we get into a good routine, habit, groove, flow, whatever you want to call it, we tend to be more at ease which can help prevent the nightly struggle to fall asleep and stay up late even when that’s not your intention.

Suck It Up, Go Work Out

We know that physical activity increases blood flow to our brain, improving our ability to learn and retain information. Much like “get more sleep,” it’s not groundbreaking news. HOWEVER. It’s notable for many reasons. Sure, this can prevent the freshman 15, but more importantly: Movement reduces stress and improves mental health and attention. When it increases blood flow to the brain, it releases endorphins, which help alleviate anxiety. Elle Woods said it best, click here if you don’t get that reference and want to be in the know.

  1. Take fitness classes: The CU Rec Center offers many types of fitness classes, from yoga to high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Bonus: these classes are also a great way to meet new people. It can be really hard to start exercising on your own, so join a class to take the pressure off yourself. Signing up for a class makes it a little harder to bail on your workout 🙂
  1. Take a hike: It’s more than just a mildly outdated insult—take advantage of Boulder’s unreal and scenic location. And yes, this goes beyond hiking. You can hike at Chautauqua (might we suggest the classic Royal Arch trail), but honestly just getting outside to play Spikeball at Farrand Field is an equally great way to get in some movement AND some much-needed fresh air. 
  1. Take the stairs: The most minor of inconveniences, no explanation needed, just do it.

“Get Involved”

We know that’s a cheesy way to phrase it, but seriously: Being part of the CU community will make your college experience exponentially better.

  1. Join clubs and organizations: There are so many events to help you figure out what interests you on campus, AND they provide an organic way to meet new people. Go wild, join more than one club; not every club will be the right fit, and that’s okay. You won’t know if you don’t try. If you don’t know where to start, check out the center for student involvement. This resource can help you find clubs and activities that align with your interests and career goals, providing more opportunities for engagement on campus. 
  1. Go to games and events: Nothing says school spirit like athletic events (and there are plenty of other other campus events that give off the same vibe), and they’re a great way to meet new people and feel like you’re a Buff. This year, sports passes go on sale on July 10th at 10am. MT. Get in the queue early, they sell out super fast!

Front-Load Your Week: 

What does that mean? Fair question. We just mean that the more work you can knock out at the beginning of the week, the better. Whether that’s completing assignments, studying, drafting an essay, editing a video—try and get as much done as you can on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Parties, mountain trips, and other social events are always going to come up, but they’re often planned for later in the week. Staying ahead on your schoolwork means you can participate in the things you want to do without having the stress of unfinished assignments looming over you. It’s the worst feeling, and we want to help you avoid it.

  1. Get ahead: Tackle your most important assignments at the beginning of the week when your energy and motivation are highest.
  1. Break down tasks: Divvy up larger assignments into smaller, more manageable tasks, and complete a portion of that large assignment each day to avoid last-minute stress. 
  1. Develop an organizational system: Using a planner or digital calendar helps you stay organized, reduces anxiety, and ensures you don’t miss important tasks. You’ll need all the mental space you can get to manage college life effectively. Not really a “planner person” or “calendar guy”? 1. You’re going to have to adjust in the “real world,” just saying. 2. Add any events, like study sessions, doctor’s appointments, friends’ birthday dinners, etc. to your Canvas calendar; all of your assignments are (typically) already there, and it’ll help you visualize what you have going on in the week.

Ask for Help

It’s ok to struggle a little freshman year, you’re not alone in that. Building structure and asking for help are signs of strength, not weakness. CU and the Boulder community offer a lot of resources to support you during this transition.  

  1. Office Hours: Professors and TAs are there to help you understand course material and provide guidance. SERIOUSLY, GO TO OFFICE HOURS 😭 We really can’t emphasize how much that will help you long term.
  1. Tutoring Services: Take advantage of department tutoring sessions for additional academic support. 
  1. Untapped Learning: Hit us up. We provide personalized coaching to help you develop effective study habits, manage your time, and achieve your academic goals. Our job isn’t to get mad at you if you miss an assignment deadline, it’s to help you get your sh!t together and put structures in place to prevent it from happening the next time. We’re here to hold you accountable, but we go by the cheesy mantra “Two pats on the back, one kick in the tail.” We want to help you succeed, but we know that old habits die hard and it takes time to develop new, healthy ones. We’re not here to yell at you; we’re literally just here to help.

Additional Tips from CU Students

Thrive academically, maximize your free time.

1. Acknowledge the importance of self-awareness, and prioritize balance: Balancing academic responsibilities with jobs, internships, and social activities is really important. Know what works for you to recharge, and figure out how you can create systems around those things to maintain a healthy balance. Let’s be clear, we’re not encouraging you to skip class because it interferes with your social life or ideal sleep schedule, we’re encouraging you to figure out what academic work has to get done before you can commit to plans, give your work schedule preferences to your boss, etc.

2. Go to class: We kind of already said this BUT—even though freshman lectures can be large and some may feel impersonal, attending and participating in class establishes a long-term habit of prioritizing academics, and it ensures you stay engaged with the class. Also, the days you skip almost guarantees there will be a random attendance check. Just saying.

3. Utilize campus resources: CU offers such a wealth of resources. (Many of them are free!) Academic support, extracurricular opportunities, and mental health services are all CU offerings that you can get in on to help you be your best self. Take advantage of the resources while you have that access!

CU Advice: Direct Quotes

“Take accountability, you don’t know everything.” You’ll be humbled over and over and over again, and it’s ok—that’s how you learn. Yes, it sucks sometimes and will hurt your feelings, but you’ll have some super valuable takeaways.

“College can be a lot of fun, but sometimes you forget why you’re there in the first place.” (Academics. You’re here to learn, and we want you to have a great college experience while you do that, but don’t forget the priority.)

“Many exams and projects will fall on one day. Work ahead.” When it rains, it pours. If you prep accordingly, you’ll be fine.

“Figure out some type of academic routine so you can plan your social life around that. If you don’t have an academic routine, getting behind and trying to catch up takes time away from being social anyway.” Self-explanatory.

“Ask people for support, advice, positions, jobs, etc. CU is a big school with many opportunities available to students, but not many students know the extent of opportunities available, or utilize the available resources. I got most of what I needed from CU, including jobs, internships, and research positions.” This may apply to juniors and seniors slightly more, but we won’t discount it from freshmen (or sophomores).

Don’t hesitate to ask for support if you need help with the transition. We have over 30 graduates who went to CU, and we understand the school, the resources, and the culture. 

Welcome, and Sko Buffs!

Parenting a child who struggles with executive function can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to navigate this journey alone. Let Untapped help!

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Katie has been with Untapped for over 5 years. She earned a BA in English lit from Miami University in Ohio, and more recently, an MBA from the University of Denver (DU). Katie enjoys reading, skiing, and playing Connections in the NYT Games app.

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