Leaving home for the first time and moving off to college can be a daunting task for any 18-year-old. The prospect of living on your own, away from the watchful eyes of mom and dad is both frightening and exciting.

Everyone will have a different experience during their first year in college, but there are certain steps you can take to ensure that you make the most of this new period in your life without sacrificing the grades.

Live In a Dorm

One of the most important things any freshman student can do is make an attempt to live in an on-campus dorm for his or her first year. They will most likely be old, smelly and have communal bathrooms that never seem to be clean or have hot water, but it will be the best time of your life.

When sharing a hall and bathroom with 30 or 40 other students, you have no choice but to make friends, and those friends will last the rest of your life. You'll meet plenty of people in classes and at other social activities, but those whom you live with in a freshmen dorm will be your first true long-term college buddies.

Just remember, they're all in the same boat as you: fresh out of high school, on their own for the first time and trying to figure out just what this college experience is all about. Live with them for a year, and chances are you'll figure things out much better as well.

Go to Class

When it comes to classes, there are countless pieces of advice on how to handle it, but only you can truly know the best way to keep organized and on top of your grades.

Of course, one piece of advice is universal: Go to class!

Even the best students can fall into the all-to-common trap of partying late into the night after a big game and just not feeling like getting up for a boring lecture first thing in the morning. Before you know it, you're missing lectures along with quizzes, you're a week behind in your notes and when you go to the professors for help, they just want to know why they should help someone who doesn't make an effort to show up.

College is not about professors out to fail everyone with impossible exams and completely incomprehensible notes (for the most part, anyway). If you show up and pay attention, you'll find that good grades will follow much more easily than it may seem initially.

Set Up Your Schedule With Care

Setting up when you take your classes can be just as important as what classes you take. Every college will pair incoming freshmen with advisers to make sure you get started out taking the correct courses, but most of the time the student is given some flexibility to choose course times.

Don't just assume that because you had to get up early for high school everyday, suddenly an 8 a.m. class is like sleeping in. Trust me, it doesn't work like that.

Chances are in high school the temptation was much lower to hop from party to party all night during the week or carry the football tailgate clear into Sunday night. Everyone should enjoy themselves outside of school during their time there -- just keep in mind that if you plan to do so, those early classes may start coming very early, and the last thing you want is to fall into the trap of sleeping through your alarm every day.

Figure Out Professors' Expectations

Once the time rolls around to actually jump into the semester, it's vital to know what each professor expects of you. As we rely more on technology, the traditional paper syllabus and worksheets that used to outline the course schedule and objectives are disappearing. These days, professors have information online, and some universities have their own site for students to log in and see updates in coursework and schedule changes.

The professor will expect you to keep up with this information and turn in assignments when they're due. Your parents won't be able to watch over you and make sure you're getting the work done, and professors won't call home to let them know you haven't been coming to class or turning assignments in. You're going to need to make sure you stay motivated and organized in order to juggle the course load.

Again, there are thousands of other students along with you trying to figure everything out, so get to know them. Set up study groups around exam time and swap class notes to fill in any holes you might have. Also, make use of your professors outside of class time. Their job is to help the students, and believe it or not, they might enjoy getting to know those in their class.

If you have a question or a concern about how something is going in a course, email the professor, visit during office hours, or set up a time to stop by their office. You'll find that they're often very receptive, and in some cases, being friendly with them and showing that you're making the effort can mean all the difference if a grade winds up on the line between two letters.

Enjoy Yourself!

Don't let all this talk of classes and grades overwhelm you. Above all else, have fun!

If you go to a school known for sports, make time to attend the big games. Make friends and join them for parties (even in the middle of the week sometimes). Pull an all-nighter at least once your freshmen year; it's a staple of college life, and everyone should see just what it takes to cram for an exam into the wee hours.

Just don't let any of the fun get in the way of grades. In the end, the school doesn't care how many football games you attend in one season if your transcript has D's and F's all over it.

If you can maintain a manageable course load and keep in touch with professors to ensure you're doing well throughout the semester, you'll find that not only will your first year of college life be much less stressful, you'll also have plenty of time to live your own version of Animal House.