What to Look for in a First-Year College Experience

by Ashley Eneriz

Your first-year college experience is significant—it’s the time you grow as an individual, plant your roots, and become part of new communities. Building strong connections in college enables you to create long-lasting relationships and pave the road for graduation and future career exploration.

When considering colleges, it’s important to research what the first-year experience entails. Does a university go out of its way to make new students feel welcomed and comfortable? Or are they expected to figure out this new, challenging world on their own?

Learning the answers to these questions can help you narrow down your choices. Here are some key elements to look for before deciding where you’ll spend your first year in college.

Understanding the First-Year Experience in College

With a little research, it’s possible to get an accurate picture of a school’s first-year college experience. When deciding between your top choices, consider four main areas:

  • First-Year Seminar: Does the school offer a first-year seminar and what does it look like?
  • Social Groups: What type of groups or activities are available?
  • Career Guidance: Do new students receive career guidance from the start?
  • Extra Support: Does the school offer counseling, academic support, or other opportunities to support first-year students in the college transition?

Remember, you want to find a university that supports first-year students for the whole year, not one that only offers an impressive rally at the start of the semester. Having access to useful resources and support all year long can make a significant difference in your overall experience.

Make First-Year Seminar a Priority

The transition into college affects a new incoming student in every way—intellectually, socially, emotionally, spiritually—and seminars or courses that focus on first-year preparations can help students navigate these changes. Azusa Pacific University is among the schools that strive to provide first-year students with a focused First-Year Seminar experience that’s both rewarding and memorable.

“The First-Year Seminar experience paves the way to success at APU and beyond,” said Bryant Mathews, PhD, interim director of General Education and a professor at Azusa Pacific. “Students get connected with other students in their major, or others who are exploring majors, and learn about support resources on campus. They learn to practice key wellness strategies to help them thrive in college. Finally, students strengthen their critical thinking skills by wrestling with challenging readings together in community.”

As a result of its intentional curriculum, participating in APU’s First-Year Seminar can help you become familiar with the many available campus resources and learn where to go for help. It’s an important part of preparing you to succeed in the classroom and in other areas of life.

Look for Opportunities Across Campus

A seminar for first-year college students is also a wonderful way to connect with other new students. However, it’s important to look for a variety of opportunities across campus that can help you get involved, including clubs, internships, jobs, and events.

Make a point to ask your admission counselor about the university’s social groups, academic communities, and other ways to connect. At APU, you can also explore valuable resources like living-learning communities, which can help you get involved in a community-oriented environment, or mentoring programs for consistent, one-on-one encouragement and support.

It’s Never Too Early to Focus on Career Goals

When weighing your prospects, look for universities that offer a career assessment or StrengthsFinder assessment opportunity during your first year. This is a powerful tool to help you discover what your natural strengths are, while also learning how to develop your talents and maximize your potential.

You don’t want to wait until your senior year in college for career guidance. APU provides students access to these assessments and the Career Center early in their college experiences. Receiving career guidance can help first-year students identify if they’ve chosen the right major, learn ways to prepare for jobs after graduation, and determine if they should consider graduate school.

How APU’s First-Year Experience Measures Up

U.S. News & World Report recently ranked APU’s first-year experience among the top 30 out of all colleges in the country for 2021. This ranking recognizes APU’s successful programming, including the seminar course, events, living-learning communities, and counseling, all designed specifically for first-year college learners.

“Azusa Pacific takes care to design supportive programming and campus opportunities that meet students where they are, whether they are in their first semester or final semester,” said Alexa Johansen, an adjunct professor and previous First-Year Seminar coordinator. “APU nurtures who they are made to be: university scholars, successful young adults, active community members, and, most importantly, sons and daughters of Christ.”

Want to see what the first-year experience at Azusa Pacific University looks like and if it’s right for you? Explore the school’s Academic Success Center to discover all the resources and support available to students.