The first year of college is a unique transition period, in which the student establishes a college identity and social network. Alcohol use is often part of this process, and many first-year college students develop a pattern of heavy drinking that puts them at risk for adverse consequences during their college years and into young adulthood. To better understand the development of risky alcohol use during this transition, we reviewed the literature on influences on college drinking and identified moderators and mediators that were particularly relevant for first-year alcohol use. As the transition from high school to college presents a unique opportunity for intervention, we discuss how these moderators and mediators can inform alcohol abuse prevention programs. We also identify approaches aimed at changing the culture of alcohol use on campus. Limitations of the reviewed research are highlighted in the context of promising directions for future research.