This article is part one of three on going to college. This article will focus on tips to help students transition into college. Part two will focus on tips for younger siblings. Part three will focus on parents.
In a few days I will be going on a service trip to Poland with a group of youths from Florham Park. The kid are between 12 and 18 years old. The majority of them are 18 and transitioning to college in September. Being around them has made me reflect on my own transition into college years ago. I am the youngest of four boys. When my oldest brother went to college I cried. Intuitively I knew that we would never all live under the same roof together. My brothers and I made a ritual. The last night that they were home before they went to school we would spend the night together watching movies.
By the time I went to school I was the only one living at home. I had the latest move in date for my group of friends. I remember my last night I felt conflicting emotions. I was excited but also slightly sad. I realized that I was moving on from the home that I had always known. I also felt slightly guilty for leaving my parents. I was worried about how they would cope with an empty house. It was also slightly terrifying to go to school where I didn’t know anyone. I knew I would have to make a new group of friends which is something I hadn’t done in years.
Anxiety, Depression, and Overwhelmed
Anxiety, depression, stress and feeling overwhelmed are very common on college campuses. Below are some statistics on the prevalence of these feelings.
- 41.6% of students experience anxiety
- 30% of college students
- 85% of college students reported that they had felt overwhelmed by everything they had to do at some point in the past year
- 34.6% of students felt depressed
Clearly college students are struggling. The transition to college that I experienced is not uncommon. Below is a list of tips for college students to help with their transition.
Tips for Coping with the Transition to College
Eat and sleep well
Having a steady sleep routine is important. I have always been a reader. Most nights in college I would turn off all of my electronic devices and read for at least half an hour before I went to bed. My freshman year we had a television in my dorm room. That was one of only two years that I had a television in my bedroom. Avoid falling asleep with the television on.
Proper nutrition is key. College dining halls aren’t know for putting out the most healthy food. Rather they serve food that is cheap to buy in bulk. However most dining halls do have health options including salad bars and plenty of fruit. Most days I had a salad for lunch and took a piece of fruit on my way out for a snack.
Get plenty of exercise
Exercise is very important for overall health and well-being. It is also a strong combatant to stress and depression. Almost all colleges have gyms that students can use for free. If you aren’t into lifting weights that is fine. Alternatives could be intramural sports leagues, swimming, dance classes, and other options.
Make academics a priority
While college can be a time for fun it shouldn’t come at the cost of academics. College is just a phase of your life but how you perform academically can impact you career options initially. College shouldn’t be a four year party. Perform well academically and it can open up a lot of doors.
Get to know your professors
College professors are different than high school teachers. They have much more limited time with students and more demands. I strongly recommend going to office hours and getting to know your professors. If they know your name, face, and about you I have found that they are willing to help. They also have extensive networks which never hurts when searching for internships and jobs. While in college I developed relationships with several professors. When it came time for grad school I needed letters of recommendation for the admissions board to review. I approached two professors who I had cultivated relationships with over the years and asked for letters of recommendation. They disclosed to me that they were the grad school admissions board. They happily wrote letters to themselves recommending that I be accepted to grad school. Professors can open a lot of doors.
Find a quiet place to study
My experience is that in college keeping up academically is like drinking from a fire house. I found early on that my dorm room was not a good place to study. There were too many distractions and friends popping in to hang out. I quickly found a quiet spot on the 4th floor of the library where few people ventured. I ended up spending countless hours at “my table” doing my work and studying. Over the years I found other spots that were great for studying. They were always quiet and rarely used. Find your spot or spots that work for you.
Become familiar with the tutoring center
Most college campuses have tutoring centers and services. These are usually provided for free and cover most major topics. I found that the classroom lectures and independent practice were not enough for me to thoroughly understand the material, particularly science and math courses. I ended up spending hours at the counseling center going over my work with tutors. This helped me perform exceptionally well academically.
Make an appointment at the counseling center
Most colleges offer free counseling services to students. This is one of the few instances in life where you can get quality therapy for free. Now most of these counseling centers become overwhelmed around midterms and finals. Getting an appointment then can be tricky. Beat the crowds though. Make an early appointment and speak to someone about anything that is effecting you. Laying a strong foundation early on can help prevent depression and anxiety.
Realize that while college can be fun it doesn’t need to be “the best time of your life”
Sometimes I hear people say that college was the best time of their life. I find that incredibly sad. For people who say that it means that they peaked when they were 18-22 and they will never be that happy again. Sounds pretty grim to me. College can be a lot of fun. But don’t over hype it. Realize that college is just another phase in life. Have fun but don’t fell pressured that you need to make it the best years of your life.
Join an organization
College campuses have a plethora of organizations that you can join. These are a great way to meet like minded people and to structure your schedule. Find an organization that you are interested in and join it.
College can and should be fun. However it is a time to learn and grow. I have seen countless examples of young adults who only have crazy drunken stories and mediocre grades to show for their years at college. Have fun but keep focused on the fact that you are there to better yourself and your future. Simultaneously don’t take yourself to seriously. All work and no play leads to a dull existence. Realize that you can define what fun is for you. 20% of college students don’t drink. 1 in 3 have 3 drinks or less when they drink. Movies and media today portray college as one giant party for drugs and alcohol. It doesn’t have to be that. Figure out before you go to college what you want out of your experience. I encourage you to dream big and look beyond all the crazy parties. If you ever need someone to talk to reach out to your counseling center or to us.