Transitioning to Your New Life at College
“But who’s gonna do my laundry?”
When it comes to college adjusting to life away from friends family pets—and even your bed—can be a bit overwhelming. You’ll be juggling a lot: newfound independence increased responsibility academic challenges developing friendships social temptations and limited closet space. But if you know what to expect you can plan and prepare for the transition—within reason! After all part of the allure of heading off to college is not knowing what’s going to happen next!
Staying mentally and physically healthy
You’ve no doubt heard of the “Freshman 15” which refers to the weight that some students put on their first year on campus. But it’s not just about eating hot fudge sundaes because you miss your cat! There are a lot of reasons college students pack on the pounds.
Are you used to gym class or high school sports? If you don’t plan to play a varsity sport at college you’ll want to look for other ways to stay healthy. Sign up for an intramural sport find a workout buddy or swim some laps a few days a week. Exercise is also a great way to decrease feelings of stress which is often a trigger that leads to overeating.
Even something as simple as yoga or meditation in your room can help relax your mind and allow you to refocus when everything around you feels chaotic. Most colleges offer free counseling to their students so don’t be afraid to inquire. In most cases it won’t cost you a dime and it can be nice to have a neutral person to just listen.
What you eat is as important as how much you eat and it’s not only about your waistline. Your nutritional intake will affect your brain your energy level your immune system and your ability to sleep. (See “Chow Time! Tips for Eating Healthy on Campus” on page 20.) And just like high school sleep is one of the most vital components to staying physically and academically fit.
Living on your own
Laundry isn’t going to be the only responsibility you’ll suddenly have to master. Your parents won’t be there to wake you up prod you to go to bed or nag you to do your homework. You’ll need to learn to protect your things from being damaged or stolen (bring locks or safes for your electronics valuables and bike) communicate with people that are annoying you and share an already ridiculously small space (bring storage!).
For the latter call the college and ask to speak to someone in charge of resident dorms—or even just an RA on a freshman floor. Find out what you’re allowed to bring what’s essential vs. optional and what actually fits in a typical dorm room. If you know what dorm you’ve been assigned ask if there’s an elevator and be sure to consider that a “triple” (three people living in a room) is going to be even more crowded than a “double.”
In addition to exploring your campus you may want to get to know the surrounding city or town. Just remember many colleges restrict freshmen from having cars so you’ll need to investigate your options for exploring. Call the local chamber of commerce or visitors’ bureau and ask a few questions. Is it safe to walk at night? Are there designated bike paths throughout the city? Do buses run from the college to downtown on a semi-regular schedule? Also check the college’s website for information on local transportation things to do around town and where on or off campus you can go to get toothpaste if you run out. Of course also talk to other students when you (hopefully) visit campus.
“Anywhere you go takes time to transition—that in and of itself is an important life lesson” says Massimo Pacchione assistant director of admissions at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI). “The best thing a student … can do is to get to know the city around them. Be active and stay active. Be curious. There’s so much to do at your doorstep … [and] building a network of friends and activities will make [college] feel like home in no time.”
Connecting with other students
Although college can be very intimidating for freshmen it’s important to remember that you’re all in the same boat! To ease the transition call your soon-to-be roommate after you get the dorm assignment and contact information from the college. That one call can do wonders to calm your nerves and boost your confidence not to mention give you the chance to divvy up the list of must-haves for your room! You may even want to stay in touch via Facebook or texting to bond even more before meeting in person.
Most schools will have plenty of “getting to know you” or group activities during freshman orientation and on a regular basis throughout the year. You may be tempted to skip these but don’t; they’re one of the best ways to get to know other students in a casual fun environment.
“Perhaps the biggest concern for students entering college is leaving the parental safety net from home and discovering how to fit into their new surroundings,” says Ryan Dwyer assistant director of admissions and assistant coach for the men’s lacrosse team at Wells College (NY). “At Wells students become acclimated from day one and are welcomed with open arms by students in all classes [and] through several traditions.”
If you don’t want to rely only on what the school has planned for you get involved in on-campus activities. (Even off-campus activities like church or volunteering can help you meet new people!)
“It is normal to feel homesick in your first few weeks or even months at college,” says Leah Kendall director of Academy 101 a unique freshman course at Winthrop University (SC) that helps students make the transition to college life. “To ease the social transition find your niche. Consider joining a student organization stay on campus during the weekends explore Greek life—get involved! You will never feel connected by sitting in your residence hall; it is important to connect with a student group where you find a strong fit. Challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. It will change your life.”
Ask any professor the best way to stay on top of things and they’ll say “Go to class.”
“I always ask students the names of their professors,” says Lawrence Technological University (MI) Dean of Students Kevin Finn. “When they cannot answer I know their involvement in class is limited. Take the time to introduce yourself to your professors. Never be nervous to ask them for help. The initial introduction will make it easier when you contact them for assistance.”
Of course showing up isn’t enough. You’ll need to study and do homework!
“As a first-year college student your approach to learning will be radically different from what it was in high school; academic responsibility shifts to the student,” says Kendall. “For every one hour you are in class you need to spend at least two hours outside of class working through the material.”
And now that you’re on your own that means you’ll have to muster up some willpower when it comes to setting aside study time each night—even if there’s a party. Because guess what? There’s ALWAYS a party.
But you won’t constantly need to rely on willpower if you have good time management and organization.
“In college you will be juggling more responsibilities than you have faced before and developing a system for organizing all those responsibilities is paramount to success,” explains SFAI Dean of Students Megann Sept. “Some students use to-do lists while others prefer a planner they can write in and others use the calendar feature on their smartphone. There is no right way to set up an organizational system and the key is to find a system that works for you.”
And if you do fall behind be proactive. Make an appointment to talk to your professors ask for help from academic support services get a tutor or join a study group. Learn from your mistakes and move on.
If you succeed at staying organized and managing your time you’ll also feel a lot less guilty when you do go to that party or just hang out with friends. After all enjoying college is about balance and all work and no play makes for a very dull experience!
When all else fails step back and take a moment to be grateful for the opportunity to further your education. “Remember you do not have to go to college; you get to go to college” reminds Kendall. “Approach learning with a thankful mindset.”
Wendy Burt-Thomas is the editor of My College Guide.