Roadblocks Most College Freshmen Will Face
Roadblocks, setbacks, problems—whatever you want to call them, you’re going to have some challenges your first year on campus.
The good news is that some are avoidable if you prepare in advance, and the rest can be addressed to minimize the impact. We asked some school officials to share a few of the most common struggles they see among freshmen, along with their advice on how to cope.
Problem #1: Loneliness, homesickness
Going to college is a period of transitions in many ways. Not only are students moving away from home, but also a number of changes may be occurring at home. “Home friends are going away to other colleges, a parent may choose to change his or her career, or some parents may even divorce,” says Karen PosaAmrhein, director of first year experiences and mentoring at California University of Pennsylvania. “A student who is feeling lonely should know they are not alone in how they feel.”
Regina Moro, assistant professor in the Department of Counseling at Barry University (FL), says that many of the issues college students face can be addressed by seeking counseling services on university campuses. “Whether it’s trouble managing the workload of college, difficulties with a roommate, or being away from family and friends for the first time, [there is help],” Moro says.
“Professional counselors are trained to work with students to help them focus on what solutions would be best for them individually. Many students are not aware that they are eligible for free counseling services on their university campuses.”
Southwestern University (TX) Vice President for Student Life Jaime Woody says that her school works with students on early involvement and engagement. “During the first weeks on campus, students have the opportunity to engage with small and large groups, meet current students, and potentially find an on-campus job,” Woody says.
Problem #2: Poor time management and organizational skills
“Time management may be the hardest thing for new students to master,” says Ella Curry, assistant director of recruitment at Marshall University (WV). “In college, students will only spend about 15 hours a week in class. What they often don’t realize is that they need to spend at least that much time outside the classroom studying and completing homework.”
“One of the best ways to manage time is to be aware of how time is spent by identifying everything done in a typical week,” says Amrhein. “When students write down everything they do and how much time it takes, they will get a more realistic view of how they can manage their time. Then they can begin to prioritize.”
Karen Violanti, associate dean for first year students and the First Stop Office at McDaniel College (MD), adds that most colleges have multiple in-person and online resources in place to assist students in managing their time.
Once you figure out how to organize your academic work and plan your time well, you’ll be able to enjoy time with your friends and get involved in other activities without feeling guilty. After all, part of the college experience is about having a social life. You just need to find the right balance to make it work.
Problem #3: Financial issues
Erin Giles, program assistant in the First Stop Office at McDaniel College, points out that many students have recently become responsible for managing the finances of their education—some by choice, others by necessity. Many of these students are the first ones in their family to attend college, and the intricacies of Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms and financial aid paperwork are often stressful and overwhelming. Moreover, many students have to get a job to help pay their way, which can result in students taking on too much. There are only a certain number of hours in the day for academics, a social life and sleep.
“Paying for college is one of the biggest concerns students and parents have, and there are times when the reality of the cost exceeds families’ expectations,” says Curry of Marshall. “If you find yourself struggling to make the required payments, don’t wait. Go to the financial aid office immediately. They may be able to adjust your payment plan or even find additional support for you.”
Many students also do work-study programs to help cover expenses, including textbooks, toiletries, entertainment and clothing. Financial pressures can push you to work more, but it’s important that you leave enough hours during the week for homework, studying and a social life. Spreading yourself too thin can leave you anxious, stressed, sick and lonely. Choose a work-study job you enjoy; that fits into your schedule nicely; and that helps you relieve stress, meet new people and/or do some studying in the downtimes.
Problem #4: Pressure to choose a major or feeling stuck in a major
Violanti of McDaniel says that as students enter higher education, they often feel pressure to quickly choose a path, major or minor.
“We talk often with students about embracing the process of the liberal arts and discipline exploration,” Violanti says. “Many students share a sense of relief when we share that it’s OK to not know your path and that college is about exploration and finding your passion. We offer an integrated general education plan, which, like many colleges, offers students a structured opportunity to explore multiple disciplines until they find the area that best aligns with their interests. Most colleges also have career exploration centers that connect early with students as they move through the developmental process
Problem #5: Roommate issues
Jill Beloff Farrell, dean and professor of education at the Adrian Dominican School of Education at Barry University, believes that a lack of communication is at the root of many of the challenges facing college students.
“If students are continuously encouraged to communicate openly and often, and if they feel comfortable communicating, many of their challenges can be dealt with, and they will be more successful as they navigate the challenges of a rigorous academic schedule, living on their own, making their own decisions and becoming adults,” Farrell says. “Effective and ongoing communication with all of the people in their lives can be the best tool in their college toolkit.”
Woody of Southwestern adds that social constructs often depict the roommate situation as a euphoric one, which, in turn, creates an unrealistic expectation.
“Sometimes entering students expect their roommate to be their best friend,” Woody says. “Our Residence Life staff works to shift that expectation into a more realistic lens. We encourage our students to create roommate and suite mate contracts that set parameters for the relationships and, hopefully, set them up for success.”
Problem #6: Stress
Curry of Marshall says that most students find college to be more stressful than high school, especially in terms of higher-stakes tests and assignments.
“The best way to manage this stress is to be prepared,” Curry says. “Don’t wait until the last minute to study or write your papers. It’s also important to eat well, get enough sleep and take breaks from time to time. If the stress becomes overwhelming, ask for help.”
Violanti of McDaniel shares that most colleges have resources in place to support students as they deal with the stress of the first year. “Resources may include first-year experience offices, counseling and health services, residence life offices, student engagement offices, campus safety, and many more,” she says. “Our most frequent suggestion to new students is to create a network of people they trust the most (friends, family, faculty, staff, advisers) so they feel supported in times of stress.”
Whatever problems you face in college, know that there are helpful and confidential resources available to you. Your best bet is to ask about these programs and services long before you need them. It’ll help you feel prepared and give you more freedom to explore, learn and enjoy your college experience!