The first few months of college, whether you’re brand new to campus or returning after the holiday, can be tough. You’ve spent a lot of time academically preparing for this opportunity in your life, just like everyone encouraged you to do. Yet, here you are struggling to adjust to the dream you’ve spent so much time and energy working towards.
There’s the fear of failing, the longing for your family and friends back home, the overarching feeling like you don’t belong or shouldn’t even be on campus, and the list goes on. In fact, it’s almost as if no one ever mentioned the real-life struggles that are popping up for you while you try to adjust to your new, young adult life. But guess what? You’re not alone in what you’re feeling and you’re definitely not alone in this experience.
If you’re a freshman this year at college, or you’ve been searching for tips to help you get through the first few weeks of the semester, then keep reading. Here are 8 tips to support you in effectively adjusting to college life:
1. Honor That You Might Feel Lonely
Being alone in college is very different than being alone at home. At home, it's as if being alone was a choice that you got to make depending on how you felt in the moment. You could put on headphones to quiet out the hustle and bustle downstairs, your best friends would be waiting for you in the cafeteria at school if you felt like being social, and your room represented a sanctuary of comfort during the most stressful of times. But in college, being alone isn't really a choice so much as a way of life. You spend a lot of time by yourself, especially in the beginning. Being alone in college means that you might actually feel lonely, and that's okay. Honor that. Take the time and space to acknowledge that you feel this way, and then let someone know like your mom, dad, mentor, or friends back home. Feeling lonely is part of life, but you are not alone in feeling lonely.
2. Set Some New Goals
Think of your freshman year or the beginning of a new semester as your college life’s New Year’s Day! Find some time to pause and make a few resolutions you’d like to see yourself accomplish during the next few months…and STICK to them. These resolutions are the goals you get to set for yourself. They can be something as simple as making your bed every morning to something more challenging like learning a new language. Whatever your goals are, write them down and make a few action steps for how to get there. Want a worksheet to keep your goals organized? Click here.
3. Be Proud of Yourself
At some point in your time at college, you are going to feel as if you don't deserve to be on campus with everyone else. When you do, think back through your life and everything you've had to do to get to this exact moment. You have spent the last several years working towards your college experience. Of course, you have had various key people supporting and encouraging you to get you here, but YOU were the one who did the work. And all that work? Well, it wasn't easy. Remind yourself that you get to be proud of all the effort you gave and all the sacrifices you made to get here, and that you are entitled to be here too.
4. Connect Back Home
When going off to college, it is important to connect to your campus and to the other students. In fact, it's often recommended that new college students should not go home during the first six weeks of school. For some people, the idea of refraining from going home (or not having the means to go home) can be difficult. But this doesn't mean you shouldn't or can't connect with your loved ones while you're trying to connect to your new college life. Instead, find opportunities to FaceTime or Skype back home, text and snap often, and even send some real snail mail to each other. Connecting back home can provide you with a sense of comfort and community, and can help you feel less homesick overall.
5. Find Your People
You’ve just spent the last four years if not longer establishing who you are and how you wanted people to identify you in your community. Being a freshman, you might find that you are beginning to feel a bit homesick. And if you’re a person of color, disabled, and/or part of the LGBTQ+ community you might, once again, find that you feel as if you don’t belong on campus. Take the time to learn about different student groups and activities available on your college campus and at organizations in your area off campus. Both of these will help you to establish another support system during your college experience that will ultimately understand the challenges that you may be facing. Not to mention, it will help take your mind off of missing your family and friends back home.
6. Use Your Voice
As a college student in the millennium age, you are already aware of the type of impact your voice can have. Think of your social media, the current protests...all of which were started by someone, somewhere, using their voice to speak to the injustices happening around them. Take notice of what's happening on campus to you and your peers - Are you being treated fairly? Are your needs being met via the promises you were given when you applied? Do you feel safe? Do you have access to the resources you expect? The answer to these questions should be a resounding "yes!" If not, speak up and speak out. Or, if it's unsafe for you to do the speaking, ask an ally to do it for you. Your mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing is a necessecity, not a novelty.
7. Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes
More often than not, our mistakes feel like a bad breakup. They're always in the back of our mind, amping up our anxiety and negative self-talk. And when we finally forget about them, they sneak back in right when we need our confidence the most. But I want to remind you that mistakes are inevitable. It's nearly impossible to be perfect 100% of the time. And honestly, trying to be perfect is really exhausting. Here in college, allow yourself to make mistakes every once in awhile, if not regularly. Neil Gaiman said it best when he said, "If you're making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world...you're DOING SOMETHING. Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for you being here."
8. Remember to Take Care of Yourself
There are so many different ideas and opinions about what one's college experience should be like, and yet no one really knows what college is going to be like for you other than yourself. Welcome the chance to look at what you need in order to navigate your life at college. Take in your different identities, marginalizations, and experiences because each and every single piece of you plays an important part in what type of self-care you may need at any given moment. Self-care is more than just bubble baths and binge-watching Netflix. Self-care is also finding time to do your assignments, taking advantage of support available on campus, workingout, and making a budget. You need both self-comfort and self-management in order to truly take care of yourself.
Adjusting to college life is completely normal. You can and will absolutely adjust to your college life, it just might take some time.
And Interfaith Bridge Counseling can help as we offer young adult counseling in-person or via video. Click here to learn more.
Until Next Time,
Lena McCain, MA | Teen & Young Adult Therapist, Founder
About Lena McCain, MA
Lena McCain is our Teen and Young Adult Therapist as well as Founder here at Interfaith Bridge Counseling. She holds a Masters in Clinical Mental Health: Mindfulness-based Transpersonal Counseling Psychology from Naropa University and is an LPC candidate. Her drive and passions lie in the realm of Interfaith Relations and Youth Collaboration, which she brings to Interfaith Bridge Counseling with over 12 years of experience and with an emphasis on one’s discovery of self, spirituality, and multicultural diversity. Lena’s expertise in spirituality and the therapeutic world acts as a reminder to our community, teens, and young adults that they are not alone in their experience of life.