Dear Student in Your First Few Weeks of College,
It’s happening. Can you believe it? This is what college is “really” like. It’s not a campus tour. This isn’t orientation. It’s real. And for most students, regardless of your GPA, it’s going to be uncomfortable at times. That’s the part they never tell you about in high school. Most students NEVER see it coming.
Right now, you’ve got five big changes coming at you at warp speed. It’s Social, Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Academic (SEPFA). You’re dealing with new emotions, new challenges, new friends, new foods, new classes, new teachers, new schedules, new smells, new sounds, new situations you expected and a lot more you didn’t expect.
8 Hints for Managing the First Few Weeks of College
You might have already made new friends or you’re thinking that EVERYONE has made new friends but you (hint: most of them knew people before coming to college). You might be shocked that you’re feeling homesick considering you were just sick of being at home a few weeks ago (hint: two-thirds of students admit feeling homesick or lonely).
You might have sat alone in the dining hall, with friends, with strangers, or made ramen in your room because you didn’t have anyone to eat with (hint: the people sitting alone “really” need you to sit with them).
You might be longing for your long distance boyfriend or girlfriend more than you ever imagined (tip: stay on campus and put down the phone, please).
You might be a first-generation student thinking “Am I good enough?” (hint: HELL YES! You’re deserving, worthy, and unstoppable).
You might realize your roommate isn’t your best friend or even a friend (tip: friendship was never required). You might be burning through your summer savings at a crazy pace (hint: stop eating out, get books from the library, make a budget).
You might have gone to class and left overwhelmed by the readings, the work, the size, or you never made it to class because you overslept… again (hint: go to office hours and go to class).
You might have gone to a party and done something you regret or saw something you regret or stepped in something you regret (hint: don’t repeat doing what you regret and avoid open-toed shoes). You might be thinking you chose the wrong school because everyone you see on social media is having a MUCH better time than you (hint: no one posts picture of themselves crying on Instagram or Snapchat)
Whatever challenges you’re facing, you are normal. Yes, you are unique, but your problems are not. According to the ACHA-NCHA Spring 2019 data, 65.7 of college students felt overwhelming anxiety over the past year, 87.4 percent were overwhelmed with all they had to do, and 55.9 percent felt hopeless (10.7 percentage point increase since 2011). Check out more data at the American College Health Association report here.
Harlan Cohen Answers FAQs from Grown and Flown Parents on How to Help Their Teen at College
3 Ways to Get Comfortable at College
The truth is that college (and life) can be uncomfortable at times. It hits different students at different times. The mistake is fighting these feelings. Instead, face them. Start by renaming the first year The Getting Comfortable Year. Then think PEOPLE, PLACES, and PATIENCE. Here’s what I mean:
FIND YOUR FIVE PEOPLE ON CAMPUS. These are the people who are in your corner to help you, support you, and guide you. Find the kindest people (not the coolest). Look for people who volunteer, get paid, or can be enlisted. These include orientation leaders, peer mentors, teammates, RAs, teachers, counselors, coaches, professional staff, spiritual leaders, upperclassmen, tutors, and any leader or professional on campus who gives you a good feeling.
FIND YOUR THREE PLACES ON CAMPUS. Places are where you can sweat, play, pray, live, learn, lead, love and work. Places can be activities and organizations where you can share experiences and build meaningful relationships with people over time. Make sure at least two of these places are activities or organizations where you don’t need to try out, audition, or be invited. Spiritual groups, volunteer groups, multicultural centers, and service groups are all great places. Oh, and look for free food.
BE PATIENT. You want it all now. I get it. You’re used to Google, Alexa, and texting people who will help you immediately. Most of you don’t have a ton of practice with patience. Finding your people and places doesn’t take two weeks or two months. It can take a couple of semesters or longer. When you intentionally put yourself in places doing things you love and surround yourself with people who share similar interests, managing all these changes becomes, well, more manageable. The tough stuff doesn’t last as long.
In closing, please be kind to yourself. You’re managing so many changes. No one has prepared you for all of this. Be an imperfectionist. Give yourself permission to not know the answers and practice getting help. Follow this advice and before you know it, you’ll be the one helping new students get comfortable with the uncomfortable next fall. But for now, it’s your turn. Embrace it.
Always in your corner,
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Harlan Cohen is a speaker and New York Times bestselling author of The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issue You Might Run Into In College and The Naked Roommate For Parents Only. Follow him on @HarlanCohen (Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat), Facebook, and at Harlan Cohen and Best First Year.