If you (or your child) are about to head off to college, you’re likely in the midst of an array of
mixed emotions – anticipation about an exciting new chapter, anxiety about the unknown, and
much more. Even the most positive transitions can be fraught with stress and anxiety. But there
are things you can do to help navigate and make as smooth a transition as possible.
First and foremost, know that what you’re going through is normal. There’s no question that
freshman year is stressful. Even if you’re a well-prepared student, the transition to independent
life is stressful. Be aware of that. You are not going crazy; you are just in the middle of a big life
transition. It will get easier and better as you go along.
There are ways to prepare and learn about what you’re getting into. Break it all into pieces so you don’t get overwhelmed — not everything has to be done during orientation week.
Before you go:
Transition together: Many colleges offer freshman transition programs where freshmen live
together, study together and provide each other support. Ask about this at the college
you’re attending. These arrangements can be very helpful.
Read up: Read everything you can about the college you’re going to attend. Try to set up
coffee with fellow students in your hometown who already know the ropes of your new
college and can give you their advice – and also be a familiar face when you arrive on
Eat-in: If your college has a meal program, check it out. In the middle of stressful exams, it
can be one less thing to worry about.
When you arrive:
Tour the city around the college with your parents: Locate grocery stores, drug stores, fast
food restaurants, banks, hospital emergency rooms, shopping malls, etc. Check out the
public transportation system, especially if you’ve never ridden a bus or subway before.
Prepare to negotiate: Moving into a dorm room or apartment with a roommate is stressful.
Even if it’s your best friend from high school. Be prepared to negotiate a lot of things like
sleeping habits, eating habits, study habits, television viewing, snoring, drinking, smoking,
weekend visitors and other things that you cannot yet imagine.
Create a manageable schedule.
Be realistic: If you have a difficult time getting up in the morning without your parent
dragging you out of bed, don’t sign up for 8 o’clock classes. It’s very tempting to skip classes
in college; do not fall into this hole.
Start slowly: For example, take the minimum required credit hours your first semester. You can always
make up the credit hours later when you get used to college life. Start out with classes
you’re used to, like freshman English, biology, and college algebra. Don’t take aeronautical
engineering just because it sounds interesting.
Schedule partying time: There is plenty of time for everything. You can learn to study and
read during the day between classes. You do not need to party every night. Two to three
nights a week is plenty.
Don’t be surprised if:
You feel like you’ve made the biggest mistake of your life. You are not alone. More than 50%
of freshmen feel this way during the early days of college. It does go away.
You get homesick. Join the crowd – everyone does. Hang in there; it will go away. The
sooner you develop a social support group, the more at home you will begin to feel. Join
groups and go to social gatherings the dorm or college plans for freshmen.
Avoid these pitfalls:
Gamers, beware: Mom is not there to tell you to stop. If you flunk out of school because
you forgot to stop playing World of Warcraft, you’ll be back home fighting with your parents
and siblings for computer time. (If you think you’re going to make video games your life,
make sure your college has that as a degree option. These programs are very specialized,
and a company will not hire you because you can tell them how many hours you can play
without taking a bathroom break.)
Do not get behind! There is no one making sure you do your homework, so do not let it
slide. Trying to read 300 pages of biology the night before a test is impossible. You know
this. Do not get more stupid when you get to college!
Manage your money: If you have trouble managing your money, multiple that times 10 and
that will be the trouble you have managing money your freshman year in college. Plan for
this and work with your parents to make smart money decisions, like limited debit
withdrawals per month, etc.
Seek support when you need it
If you have had mental health issues in the past, you are at a greater risk to have an
exacerbation of the problems freshman year. Pay attention to the early warning signs and
get help early. Most schools offer on-campus counseling centers.
If you have learning or mental health concerns, contact the college’s student disabilities
office. You do not need to have a disability; this is the office that can provide support for
your academics if you get behind, need special accommodations, etc.
Remember, college is fun. There is a lot more to learn than just your school subjects. You have
to make the grades to stay in, so don’t be a slacker. But there are other great things to do as
well: Saturday afternoon football games, intramurals, parties, great arts attractions and more.
Not to mention enlightening dorm hallway conversations and the establishment of lifelong
friendships. Use the time to expand your horizons and your mind. It is a special and privileged
time of life; do not waste it.