Supporting First Year Students

Resources and Common Monthly Messages available on the Resource Hub main page still apply to first year students, but there are critical milestones that occur during senior year of high school and unique messaging for new students available below. 

Quick Links:


General Orientation to College

For first year – and especially first generation – college students, one of the biggest hurdles in the transition to postsecondary education is building an understanding of the key differences between high school and college life. Coaches and student support professionals can be instrumental in helping students to feel confident and empowered as they begin college. Some high schools offer “transition to college” courses and some colleges also cover this material in their orientations – encourage students to take advantage of opportunities such as these. 

  • Cover the basics: Degree programs, what they are, and requirements; course credits and how the number of classes students take is different; school vacations are different; services and support at colleges are free/included with tuition; etc.
    • ★ TIP:Remind students that this information and way of experiencing education is new for every first year student! They are not alone and shouldn’t feel embarrassed asking questions. 
  • Self-direction: While there are many supports available on campus for free, remind students that in college they are largely self-directed and need to take initiative. This applies to time management, meeting deadlines and requirements, seeking support, and asking questions.

First Year Timeline – Beginning in Senior Year

This timeline focuses on the transition to college and picks up after students have completed college applications. Please see resources linked above for additional information.

The fall of senior year in high school is full of important milestones and deadlines, including completing a FAFSA (opens October 1st), scholarship searches, and college applications. 

Students have applied. It’s decision time and the beginning of their transition to college. 


Applications, Admission, and Enrollment

  • If students have not yet applied, they may still do so at community colleges and many four-year institutions with late deadlines or rolling admissions. Learn about public higher education options
  • Students should check for decisions in the mail and online, as acceptance, rejection, and waitlist letters will begin arriving in the spring. They should thoroughly read each decision document – with their parent or guardian(s), counselor, advisor and/or coach – and note deadlines.
  • If possible, get to know options (and meet people) before making decisions. Students should consider visiting campuses and attending spring open houses, if they are offered. 
  • Decisions: Many colleges have a May 1 deposit deadline. Students will need to mail in their enrollment form, deposit check and signed financial-aid package.
    • ★ TIP:  Students should utilize free resources for support with comparing financial aid packages and making their decisions. Visit uAspire and see more information below.
  • Once they have made a decision, students should notify the other schools that they will not be attending. 
  • Early enrollment steps. After accepting admissions offers, students will receive additional information about course registration, orientation, meals and housing, and more. They should note all important deadlines and complete any required forms.


Financial Aid and Paying for College

  • Shortly after completing their FAFSA, students will receive and need to review their Student Aid Reports, which details how much students or families are expected to pay for college. Students should review this, ideally with an advisor, for errors and to discuss options.
  • Some students will be selected for verification and need to submit additional documents to the federal government. This includes tax returns and other items, which should be sent immediately. They should use the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) if possible, and if not, order a free tax transcript for verification.
  • Students should get support on comparing their offers and financial aid packages. uAspire offers individual support with this and has useful tools, such as their free online College Cost Calculator which helps students compare financial aid offers and the total costs of attending different colleges.
    • ★ TIP: Check out uAspire’s Next Steps: After the Financial Aid Offer. Students may consider reaching out to college financial-aid officers with questions or to explore financing and additional resources.
  • Students should get help understanding student loan debt (and how they will repay) and make informed decisions. Students may need help considering other costs, such as books, technology (laptop), and transportation, and how to manage them. 


Finishing High School and College Credits

  • Students may consider taking exams for college credit. This includes Advanced Placement exams and the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) through the College Board. Students may be able to access discounts, and this can be helpful for students with remediation needs or those who speak languages other than English.
  • Placement tests, like Accuplacer, determine the level of coursework that students will take in college.
    • ★ TIP:  There are many options to consider for students who require remedial or developmental education, including GPA opt-out programs. See Developmental or Remedial Education for more information.
  • If students have Learning Disability (LD) needs, or an Individualized Education Program (IEP), ensure they secure a copy of their assessment from high school (reevaluation post-high school can be cumbersome) and consider sharing it with their coach for help with getting services on campus. Students often don’t realize the resources they can access in college, both in and outside of class.
    • ★ TIP:  Encourage students to connect with the Disability Office on campus right away. For students who may feel a sense of stigma, remind them of their privacy and of the very valuable benefits of free services in college. 
  • If needed, remind students to transition their email on file with colleges from their high school email to a new one.

Prevent Summer Melt. Talk to students about it and support them with preparing for college. 

  • Summer Melt is when students who intend to attend college do not successfully enroll in the fall (or spring, if planned). This can happen for many reasons, including feeling overwhelmed by the numerous unfamiliar steps required to enroll, not getting enough support, and obligations at home.
    • ★ TIP: Talk to students about Summer Melt and empower them to get help during the exciting but sometimes difficult transition to college. 
    • ★ TIP: The Strategic Data Project has published research and developed many resources on Summer Melt


Summer Bridge and Final High School Details

  • Students should explore summer classes and bridge programs, including those at their chosen college (if elsewhere, check the credit transfer policy). Note that for some students and institutions, enrollment may be contingent upon summer programming.
  • Students should contact their high school counselor to ensure that their final high school transcript is sent to their chosen college, if necessary. 
  • Students may consider sending thank you notes to important individuals from high school, to further build their relationships in addition to showing gratitude. 


Financial Aid

  • Students should complete their Master Promissory Note (MPN) and Entrance Counseling for their federal student loans (carefully consider which types of loans they are taking and how much).
  • Review tuition and fees bill and financial aid with students. Discuss budgeting, preparing to pay their fall bills, and managing indirect expenses like books, technology (laptop), and transportation [LINK: Commuter Students], etc. 
    • ★ TIP: has helpful budgeting resources.
    • ★ TIP:  Many schools have resources and funds to help with managing expenses, including books, technology, and public transportation, so explore what is available at each institution. 
  • If students’ family situations have changed and/or they need additional resources, they may appeal for more financial aid.

This is not a comprehensive list of all milestones, but rather key messages for first year students. Please see Common Monthly Messages available on the Resource Hub main page.


Getting Students Connected:

More specifics are on the Common Monthly Messages Main Page.

  • Getting connected to their college learning management platforms – and community – is critical to student success. 
  • Ensure students are connected to their schools’ platforms, portals, and email accounts and that they check them regularly.
  • Students should register for and attend their orientations. 
  • Ensure students have been assigned an academic advisor, and that they reach out and connect. Talk about ways to feel empowered getting to know advisors and faculty and asking for help.
  • Familiarize students with the free resources available to them, including tutoring, writing help and paper review, career centers, and more. 
    • ★ TIP: Spend time with students differentiating between advisors and coaches, etc.
  • Encourage students to connect to their school community by exploring student groups, college events, and social gatherings (even virtually). Assist students in finding a social outlet that connects with something they are interested in or with which they identify (this may include Success Boston student groups). 


Enrollment Considerations:

  • Talk with students about their degree-completion goals and timeline and if possible, encourage students to attend full-time. Students who enroll full-time are more likely to graduate than those who attend part-time. Full-time means taking an average of at least 15 credits per semester (although the FAFSA requirement for full-time is 12 credits per semester). Most associate degree programs require 60 credits to graduate, while most bachelor’s degree programs require 120 credits to graduate. When planning for the fall, consider students’ goals, needs, and obligations outside of school – and assist with problem-solving and setting up for success. 
  • Ideally at the outset, consider students’ potential eligibility for programs like the Mayor's Tuition Free Community College program and Massachusetts’ Commonwealth Commitment, which have GPA and full-time enrollment requirements – and offer significant savings and transfer benefits. Discuss transfer plans early.
  • Continuous enrollment among students attending four-year institutions is a significant predictor of six-year graduation rates. Students who have fewer than two “stop-out” periods within five years of postsecondary education have higher rates of postsecondary success than their counterparts with two or more “stop-outs.” If students maintain enrollment semester-to-semester, they will have a better chance of graduating on time and saving money. 


Career Planning and Work

  • Goal Setting & Career Mapping: Open and early conversations with students about longer term goals for their life, career, and degree can help with both putting together a postsecondary completion plan, and with identifying areas where they may need support problem-solving. 
  • Internships often lead to better career pathways, are crucial for some industries, and in some cases can be paid opportunities. Many summer internships have application deadlines in the fall. Begin searching for a summer internship in the fall to increase chances of landing a good internship.
    • ★ TIP: Students don’t always have to choose between earning money and internship experience in their fields of interest. Look into college-offered and other stipends and grants for “unpaid” internships, as well as programs such as Bunker Hill Community College’s Learn and Earn.
  • Encourage students to not to work more than 20 hours per week during the school year. Students should go to school full-time and work part-time OR work full-time and go to school part-time – doing both full-time is very difficult to manage and not recommended. Research shows that students who work more than 20 hours per work while taking a full course load often struggle to do well and ultimately take longer to obtain their degree (if at all).


Planning for Academic Success

  • Students should create a study plan that includes when, how, and where they will work and build this into their weekly schedule. They should use a calendar (Google, Outlook, Apple, etc.) to manage time well.
  • For mastery and comprehension of material, learning is slow and takes time and hard work. Students should expect to study a minimum of two to three hours for every hour spent in class. For a full-time student, 30 hours a week is the average. 
  • Help students identify the resources available on campus to help with time management and studying. Support students as they find ways to balance responsibilities between school, work, and life.
  • Students should know their GPA and whether they are making Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) to remain eligible for financial aid and to remain at their college. At most institutions, students are required to maintain at least a 2.0 GPA to remain eligible for financial aid and in good academic standing. While students may try to appeal SAP, those who do not perform well academically can end up on academic probation and risk failing out of college. 
    • ★ TIP:  SAP generally consists of maintaining at least a 2.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale and passing enough classes with progress toward a degree. The maximum timeframe requirements typically limit financial aid eligibility to no more than three years for an associate’s degree and no more than six years for a bachelor’s degree. 


Selecting a Major

  • Students should make a well-informed decision about their major and select one that they enjoy and provides good career options. 
  • Encourage students to explore majors and careers by reaching out to academic advising and career services, using search tools, and connecting with people in their fields of interest.
  • Students should build a plan to take classes that add up to a major and ensure that core classes are covered. If students are required to take developmental courses, take them early.