To begin, I just want to say congratulations! Whether you’re the first one in your family to go to college or it was expected of you to go to college, you got in after jumping through many hoops! You might be feeling excitement, anxiety, stress, happiness, or all of the above! Beginning college marks a significant transition in your life and things will change. During my two years working at a college counseling center, I was privileged to work with international students, commuter students, students who lived in dorms, students who were first in their family to go to college, and students who were there because it was expected of them and they had no idea what they actually wanted to do. No matter if you’re living on campus or commuting, adjusting to college life takes some time and effort, so let’s go through some things that might help ease the transition.
First, the work load is different than in high school and so accepting there will be more responsibility on your part is a helpful first step. For example, you won’t have the same classes five days a week so there is more time to either prepare or procrastinate. At the counseling center, one of the most common complaints was the heightened anxiety and stress that students felt due to procrastination. They expected to be able to do a project over night like in high school, but quickly learned that the expectations for the project were higher so the work load was more. Unfortunately, practice makes perfect, so all the years procrastinating made it difficult to do anything but that. It will be helpful to practice beginning things sooner and do little bits at a time versus the entire project in one night. You will learn relatively quickly how much effort and energy your new work load will require. Be patient with yourself as you get acquainted with your new expectations!
Secondly, know what reenergizes you! Understanding what you need in terms of self care (time alone vs. more social time) will help you cope with the new stress and anxiety you will encounter. An introvert is re-energized by alone time or time with a small close group of loved ones. If this is you, find a quiet and low populated place on campus to study or just be; like an empty floor of the library, a secluded corner of the campus, or your dorm if it meets criteria. An extrovert is reenergized by large groups and social situations. If this is you, make new friends and find places you can be with others like joining clubs or studying in a well populated area of campus. Some folx are a little bit of both, so take some time to get to know yourself in your new environment.
A third tip is to communicate your needs with loved ones around you. Do loved ones call you more or less than you’d like them to? Expressing your needs will help you and loved ones’ transition into this new time in your life. Being away from family and friends can take a toll on emotions – so figure out what you need and ask others for help.
The most important tip that I can provide is to accept that adjusting to college will take time. The average student takes 3-6 months to adjust to a new schedule, new stressors, and new experiences, but it is not uncommon for adjustment to take up to a year. During the adjustment period be kind to yourself because you’re doing the best you can. Take extra time to do things you enjoy, stay hydrated, and make sure you’re sleeping. College is a time that you can learn more about yourself in all aspects of life; what you like, what you aren’t comfortable with, and what your passion is. You make your college experience what you want it to be! Do remember that it’s okay if this doesn’t feel like the “best time of your life” as we’ve all been told it will be. People around you may appear to be totally fine and not as stressed, but trust me – many new students struggle. It’s okay if your new life feels pretty foreign sometimes. Pay attention to yourself. If after your first semester, you are still struggling to feel like yourself – don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most college counseling centers have lots of resources in the form of groups, workshops and coaching. Honoring your own needs and speaking up for support can be some of the most useful tools available to you in your college career.
So, breath deep and work hard. Find time for rest, work and fun. Believe in yourself. You were accepted by your school for a reason. You’ve got this.