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Top Insider Tips I Wish I'd Known as a First Year!

August 11, 2023

Hello! My name is Sophia Raspanti, and I’m a recent graduate and new employee of UNC Chapel Hill. I work with Carolina Housing, the university’s center for on-campus living! As a recent graduate, I care deeply about the students of Carolina and hope to be a sort of “big sister” for any UNC students! In this article, I’m going to tell you a few -- sometimes silly -- insider tips on things I wish I knew as a first year!

#1 You Can Use the Restroom at Any Time!

One of the great perks about being in college (and leaving high-school behind) is that you’re treated like an adult! I remember when I was in high school, I couldn’t wait to be 18 so I could make my own decisions, and I specifically remember having a handful of teachers who refused to let me use the restroom even when I was absolutely begging. Say goodbye to dancing in your seat and waiting for the bell to ring: you’re an adult and you deserve to exercise your basic human rights! While each professor’s classroom policies may vary, I guarantee no professor will ever restrict your basic human rights and necessities… and most of the time you don’t even need to ask to leave!

#2.  Connect with Your Professors!

     On a similar note, the faculty at UNC are incredibly friendly and here to help. You may feel nervous at first, but I recommend reaching out to your professors during office hours, after class, or via email and getting to know them. The teaching faculty at UNC is dedicated to helping students get as much as possible out of courses, and helping you reach your professional and personal goals. Getting to know your professors might seem intimidating, but I promise that nobody bites (they’d literally get fired for that), and I’ve always found it’s worth putting yourself out there… (this is coming from a very shy human, so, take it from me… it’s legit)!

(Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

#3. “Rate My Professor” is a LIFESAVER!

     If you haven’t heard the word on the street, there’s a website called “Rate My Professor” that is completely free (there’s a lot of annoying ads but I guarantee it’s worth it) where students can write their comments about professors and courses. Rate My Professor gives very honest opinions from multiple student perspectives, that provide great insight on what a course may be like. While some high-level and honors courses are only taught by one professor, most courses are offered at a variety of times with different instructors. That’s wear Rate My Professor comes in: you can search an instructor’s name to find out information about their teaching styles, the format of the course, and other “insider” information.

   I only caution one thing: I wouldn’t base your decision to take a course (or not take a course) based off a rating alone. I’ve taken many courses with professors that had “lower ratings” simply because students were upset that they did not attain the grades they desired. Don’t expect college to be easy: college courses require a lot of additional work and are very challenging. While Rate My Professor is a great tool, don’t feel the need to base your entire schedule based on other’s opinions: sometimes certain individuals just don’t mesh with an instructor’s teaching style and that doesn’t mean you will also dislike a course.

#4. Respect the Syllabi!

    Ahhhh, the famous college syllabi. I’m not sure if your high school teachers were anything like mine, but we were always told that your college syllabus of a course is an absolute lifeline. Well, turns out that’s 100% true. The syllabus for each course you take will be handed out or posted online either before classes begin or on the first day of class. Take time to read through the entire syllabus as it will contain all the necessary information (assignment schedules, exam dates, office hour and contact information, etc.) you will need to know for the semester.

Additionally, your syllabus will tell you what textbooks you will be using for the course. I personally recommend waiting until the first day of class to order your textbooks, as sometimes professors will find a cheaper alternative, or change the textbook used altogether, but as always, do what works best for you! Always assume that assignment due dates and exams will occur on the dates listed on the syllabus unless told otherwise. Some professors may not remind you of upcoming assignments and events, so I’m telling you: that syllabus is EVERYTHING!

(Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

#5. Don’t Wear Your Lanyard!

    This is honestly a silly recommendation, but as your (self-titled) “big sister”, I feel obligated to mention that college traditions, (even those that have been around from 50 years ago) somehow persist. Wearing your lanyard around your neck is an instant “giveaway” that you’re a first-year student, so if you want to look extra polished and cool, tuck it in your pocket or use a carabiner to clip your keys to your bag or belt. At Carolina Housing, we have lots of cute carabiners, so I recommend checking out our campus events and snagging one for free! 

#6. Late Night at SASB is Absolutely the Move.

     Free food, t-shirts, and all other goodies are the best, and there are plenty of opportunities and events where you can find these items on campus. My personal favorite is LNAP or colloquially, “Late Night at SASB”. LNAP officially stands for “Long Night Against Procrastination” which perfectly descries the fun of the program. Once a semester, the UNC learning center opens its doors in SASB on South Campus and offers walk-in tutoring, assistance on assignments and papers, free snacks and goodies, as well as a change of scenery where you can work on assignments late into the night with your friends and classmates! Even after my roommate and I moved to North Campus, we always made the trip to SASB to enjoy LNAP. I’m not sure if the name has changed since I graduated in May…but keep a lookout for that program: it’s absolutely worth the walk and is so much fun.

(Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

#7. Get To Know Your RAs!

RAs, or Resident Advisors, are students (just like you!) that live in your residence halls and help create a fun, safe, and encouraging environment for students living on campus! Depending on the size of your residence hall, there are often one or more RAs living on each floor, working together to create fun programs, community events, and offer support and a kind, listening ear to students. RAs are student-leaders and may be a year or two older than you, but their goal is to listen and support you, and make your on-campus experience safe and enjoyable.

You’ll likely meet your RAs during move-in, as well as during floor meetings during your first week at Carolina. Your RAs are all passionate about life on campus and creating environments that are conducive to academic success and personal growth. When I was a freshman, I was a bit shy and was nervous to get to know my RAs, but I’m here to tell you that there’s nothing to be afraid of! While your RAs are responsible for keeping your community safe, and therefore enforce the rules of your residence halls, they are not “out to get you”, and genuinely want to make sure everyone is having a fun and safe college experience. My roommate and I fostered many friendships with our RAs over the years, and we often baked cookies together, had fun chats during the evenings, and even took some graduation photos together!

Additionally, your residence halls will also have CDs, or community directors, who are professional staff that work closely with RAs and students to create a variety of exciting programs and opportunities that are unique to your community. Like the RAs, CDs are very kind and supportive, and want to make sure your student experience on campus is the best it can be. My roommate and I always looked forward to the opportunities our community staff put together, which ranged from game nights to free food from local restaurants. I recommend getting to know your community staff: they’ll always be in your corner and want to see you succeed!

#8. Take a Sip of Water from The Old Well!

     Carolina is filled with traditions and historic landmarks. One of our most famous traditions at Carolina is to take a sip of water from the Old Well on the first day of class! Legend says that anyone who takes a sip before midnight on the first day of class will earn a 4.0 GPA that semester. While I won’t confirm or deny this tradition, it’s always fun to head out with your roommate and friends to fill up your water bottle with cold, refreshing water from this beautiful, historic landmark.

(Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

In Conclusion

I wish I could write a giant handbook of all my recommendations and experiences of living on campus during my student career at Carolina, but I think writing short little blogs might be more digestible and fun for our readers. Stay tuned, I’ll keep updating with more and more thoughts and ideas, but for now: signing off! First-years, you’re going to be amazing! Go Tar Heels!

Carolina Housing updates policies and protocols regularly. Information found within this blog may not reflect our current standards and procedures. If you have any questions, please contact Carolina Housing at for the most up to date information.

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