I live in a university town with an increasingly large student body (over 11,000 this last year!) so it stands to reason that college students are a population I’m seeing more of in my work.
The climate in our relatively small town isn’t the friendliest to our college students, although it isn’t bad either. The shortage of grocery options during the opening of each semester makes non-college residents a little grouchy. The expanding campus, while beautiful, is definitely changing the landscape, and change is stressful.
The community itself is having some growing pains adjusting and that’s the thing our city and our college residents have most in common. Two sets of people changing, trying to navigate, adapt, and even thrive while figuring out just what has to be done to make all of that happen.
I said all of that to say, college life is tough. A new city, new people, new bed, new closet, new rules, no structure (or having to create your own), buying your own groceries the first time, figuring out how to navigate a new town plus a huge school, while everyone else is buzzing around, bumping into each other doing the same is no piece of cake.
Give yourself a break! Literally. Just because the American Pie movies suggest that college is one long party full of sexy people having fun and not worrying about much doesn’t mean that’s really how it is or even how it’s supposed to be. Those are funny movies. This is real life. It counts and you know it and having that burden on your shoulders for the first time is big. Everyone else that has already done it can sit back and remember their happy times easier than the hard ones because they made it out ok and it’s been years (decades). It’s a distant memory what those first couple of semesters of fear, anxiety, feelings of being adrift or lost, and the nervousness that comes with trying to construct a new social system were like. Be kind to yourself by showing self-compassion. This is hard sometimes and that’s ok!
Know your limits. If you’ve bitten off more than you can chew hours wise, reevaluate before signing up for classes next semester. Just because you’re technically a freshman but you “should” be in sophomore year, doesn’t mean you need to wear yourself out trying to catch up. Think about what you know you can do and do that. Reach out when things get to be too much academically. Your campus will have all sorts of help for that.
Build a social support system. Away from home for the first time you probably feel lonely. Totally normal! You may even feel weird about making new friends in a new place. Your college will have tons of activities, groups, sororities, fraternities, a rec hall where you can work out, and many other things available for just this purpose. Don’t be shy about asking your academic advisor or resident advisor about what’s going on and how you can get involved! It’s what they’re there for. Try new things until you find one you like, even if it’s just a dorm movie night or something like that. Build from there! If you hang around a bit, it’ll happen naturally.
Give yourself some boundaries. If you’re in the dorms or sharing an apartment with someone you barely know your toes will get stepped on and you’ll step on others. It happens while we figure out everyone’s role in our living place. Try to be honest and keep you guilt in check. If it’s not ok that your roommate let his girlfriend crash in your bed or use your towels, say so early on and keep it light. Ask if they’ve got things they might not want you doing with their stuff or in their space too.
Exercise. Running across campus can feel like plenty of exercise, but be sure that you take advantage of any on-campus free gyms or rec centers that you can use. It’s a good place to meet people you might not otherwise (hello, social support system!), and exercise is a great way to relieve stress, regulate your sleep patterns, and avoid the much-storied “freshman 15”.
Exist in your community. Whatever city your college is in, it’ll have places to go, things to do, organizations that may be of interested. Connect yourself with your new home by learning about more than just what’s happening on campus - learn about the community that supports that campus. Get involved with volunteer opportunities and groups. Think: soup kitchens, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, local sports team (participate or help ref for community teams if you’re into sports!), churches with outreach programs, local foster homes, community closets, meals on wheels, or animal shelters. If you’re not sure where to start ask on campus or contact the local chamber of commerce to ask about organizations that take volunteers.
Counseling! Hire a counselor to help you keep your head sorted out while you’re working hard. There are so many benefits to counseling! Think of it as a way to unpack all the stuff you deal with during the week, examine it, and then repack only the parts you want to keep and get rid of the things you don’t. Having third party perspective that is supportive, kind, and able to give you a place to “vent” and some coaching to help keep you motivated, organized, and feeling heard is really helpful. Your campus may have a student counseling center, or you can find one off campus.
It isn’t about doing college how everyone else thinks you should or having the movie/picture perfect “typical” college experience. It’s really about making it yours
and growing! It’s totally normal to have the “freshman blues” a little bit (or even the “freshman-I-feel-totally-panickeds”). Having a plan in place to help yourself out (and maybe even a friendly neighborhood counselor to help you on the way) will help you start and finish strong.
________________________________________________________________________ Whitney White is a counselor working in Texas in multiple settings with diverse populations. Some of her areas of passion are anxiety, non-suicidal self-injury, and compassion fatigue. With an integrated approach utilizing client strengths, she supports others in achieving their best self. For more information please visit
counselingbywhitney.wordpress.com. The thoughts expressed in Whitney’s blogs do not represent her employers.