Advice from Our College Students at RILD

While students receive lots of advice from parents and teachers before starting college, the most meaningful advice often comes from their fellow students. We interviewed four of our college students about the surprises they encountered in college, their secrets to success, and what advice they would offer incoming first-year students. 


All four students emphasized the importance of establishing relationships with professors. One student, a recent graduate of Sewanee: The University of the South, said:

“You need to be in the driver seat with the relationships with professors. You can’t wait until they make a relationship with you.”

Another student who is a rising sophomore at Trinity College commented that connecting with professors makes it easier to ask for help and succeed. One theme that ran through all four interviews was that self-advocacy is crucial in college. There are often fewer safety nets than in high school, so you have to take care of yourself and speak up when you need support. As one student shared, it’s up to the individual to determine what their college experience will be like.

Managing the College Workload 

While the high school workload is no doubt demanding, all interviewees described the challenges of balancing their assignments in college. One rising junior at the University of Maine summed up the high demands of college assignments:

“Projects, papers, papers, a few more papers. It doesn’t stop. The workload doesn’t pause.”  

Another student, a rising senior at George Washington University, said she was surprised at first that the academic and other skills she had learned in high school didn’t translate. The expectations and timelines for assignments differ between high school and college, so students should be prepared for an adjustment period during which they determine how to prioritize their assignments and other responsibilities. 

“Secret Weapons”

What is it that makes these students so successful? All four students described the steps they took to plan and prioritize their assignments. Meeting with their executive function coach or educational therapist helped them to establish calendar systems that worked for them and learn more effective strategies. 

“Donna helped me learn better study and organizational skills. Once I saw that play out, and I got better grades, it built my confidence and it went from there.”

Two students shared that making sure their medication is effective — and having the courage to make a switch if it’s not — was an important factor of their success. Keeping a routine that includes getting up at the same time every day, exercising, and going to bed early was also important.  

Quick College Tips

  • Keep a strict daily routine — especially in times of stress.
  • Don’t ever skip class — show up and participate.
  • If you went to therapy in high school, continue this for the transition to college.
  • A lot about college is about making connections with people:
    • Build a relationship with your professors.
    • Take advantage of office hours and opportunities.
    • Participate in class because participation is more of your grade than you think it will be.
    • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

For more information about the Research Institute for Learning and Development (RILD) and the services we offer, please visit Our core philosophy is predicated on delivering customized services to meet the needs of the individual, focusing on students’ strengths, processes, and strategies. RILD is dedicated to helping students achieve increased school success and enhanced self-confidence.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Program Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development: