Adjusting to College

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Starting college is often an adjustment for first-year students. While all of the changes can be exciting, they can also come with a variety of emotions. College offers more freedom than most first-year students are accustomed to, but there’s also a lot more responsibility. During your first few weeks and months on campus, it’s normal to feel nervous, scared, lonely, and overwhelmed as you get used to a new environment and make new friends. Here are some of the common stressors many first-year college students face.

Time Management

In college, your schedule is probably more flexible than it has been in the past. Because time is more unstructured, it can be difficult to know how to prioritize tasks. In addition to class and study time, there are also demands on your time such as organizations and activities, a job, socializing, and self-care. At first, many students feel overwhelmed as they struggle to balance coursework, other responsibilities, and a social life. Using a planner or a scheduling app can help you manage your hectic and changing life.

Academic Performance

It can be hard to keep up with the increased academic demands—especially when you and/or your family have high standards for your academic performance. You may also feel pressure because of requirements for scholarships and graduate school admission that you have not experienced before. it’s important to attend class regularly, keep up with readings and assignments, and ask for help when you need it. Professors and teaching assistants are there to help and want you to succeed.

Roommate Conflict

Learning to live with someone new who may come from a very different background can be one of the most challenging aspects of going to college. Different living habits (such as sleep schedules, levels of neatness, noise level preferences) are the most common sources of roommate conflict. Not communicating your preferences about living together can lead to tension and eventually conflict. Instead of bottling up anger and frustration about what your roommate does that bothers you, it’s better to calmly and respectfully communicate your thoughts. If things don’t improve after trying to talk through issues, check in with a resident advisor, resident director, or a counselor for advice.

Long-Distance Dating Relationships

Many first-year students come to college attached to a partner who is attending a different university or lives somewhere else. Being away from your partner may cause worry and loneliness. To make the distance easier to manage, it’s important to focus on strong communication, openness, and finding ways to connect—even if you aren’t seeing each other as often. Remember that having social support from others is key to your success and happiness in college, so as you work to ensure your relationship with your partner is strong, also focus on making new friends at college.

Financial Concerns

College is usually the first time students are responsible for their own budgets. Some students may be solely responsible for paying for their tuition, books, and living expenses, and this may feel overwhelming at first. Others may be receiving assistance from their families, but have never been responsible for setting and sticking to a budget. No matter what your situation, money can be a stressor. To minimize money stress, it’s a good idea to educate yourself about financial wellness, be honest with yourself about what you can and cannot afford, and talk to others you trust about what will work best for you.

Body Image

Many college students struggle with body image. Our national culture focuses a lot on physical appearance—particularly during young adulthood. Media representations of the ideal body, messages from peers, and other cultural factors often shape how we see ourselves. When our culture sends so many confusing, conflicting, and sometimes unhealthy messages, it can be hard to maintain a healthy body image—especially when you’re in a new situation and trying to fit in and form new relationships. If you find yourself focusing a lot on how you look or becoming upset about your body, discussing your concerns with someone like a counselor or other medical professional can be helpful in creating, developing, and maintaining a healthy body image.

Recommendations for First-Year College Students

  • Be patient. At first, campus may seem new and overwhelming, but it will become more familiar with time. It may also take a bit of time for you to meet people and build friendships, and that’s normal.
  • Connect with other students. Remember that you’re not alone—others are feeling lonely and overwhelmed, too. Don’t be afraid to share your feelings with your classmates and you meet. Your resident advisor is an excellent resource for ideas about getting involved and feeling like you’re part of your new campus.
  • Get involved. Student organizations are a fun way to interact with other students. Meeting people with similar interests and goals is a good way to make friends and participate in social activities.
  • Use your resources. There are many places on campus where you can find community. Check out programming offered at cultural houses and the LGBTQ office to connect with diverse groups. Also, the counseling center, career service center, your academic advisor, financial aid programs, and mentoring/tutoring programs are here to assist you when you need it.
  • Care for yourself. The foundation for a productive college career is a healthy lifestyle. Make sure you get enough rest, prioritize healthy eating, and find some sort of physical activity you enjoy.

Want to know more?

Bradbury-Haehl, N. & McGarvey, B. (2016). The freshman survival guide: Soulful advice for studying, socializing, and everything in between. New York: Center Street.

Cohen, H. (2016). The naked roommate: And 107 other issues you might run into in college. (6th ed.) Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.

Kaplan, S. & Riegert, K. (2016). Goodnight dorm room: All the advice I wish I got before going to college. Berekley, CA: Ulysses Press.