Conquering College: Tips for Adjusting to College Life

A young woman sits on the grass with her laptop on a college campus.As a young person entering into college life, you are probably having many thoughts about what lies ahead and feeling excited about this fresh start. Your parents are excited too, and probably nervous that their teenage child is now moving into adulthood. They may have had successful college years, or perhaps, they are seeing a dream they had for their own education realized, as you enter into college. Their feelings and expectations, when combined with your own, are a part of a transformation that can be both exciting and terrifying.

Young adulthood is already a time of transition that usually includes establishing a new identity and managing new emotions. Going to college presents even more change during this time, and that will require you to have a stronger ability to adapt. Moving into a new environment and meeting new people means leaving everything that’s familiar. The past may have been great—something that’s hard to leave behind; or maybe it was more difficult, you struggled just to get through, and what you’re facing may be a welcome change. Regardless of your experience, what’s happening now is a loss; a loss of your adolescence, of a time in which your family and friends provided a pretty reliable safety net when you needed it.

What often aren’t addressed are the common fears, the nerves, and anxieties, that often surface while trying to figure out a new way to establish yourself in a new environment. It’s important to acknowledge that these struggles and new emotions can occur naturally in this stage of life. It’s normal for young adults to feel stress at this time. Stressors, such as figuring out new living arrangements, redefining your role in your parent’s home, managing finances, long distance relationships, breakups, or how to add or drop a class can mean extra demands that you may not have been prepared for. Adapting to changes, learning new coping mechanisms, or revisiting some familiar ones are all important strategies that can help you feel grounded.

The following are a few tips to help maintain some sense of normalcy and maybe gain a little relief while adjusting to the changes that are natural in this stage of life.

1. Good time management is important! It’s time to start putting it into practice, if you haven’t yet. By having an organized schedule, you can stay on track of your priorities and tackle each day in a proactive fashion.

2. Implement a routine of healthy habits. You can’t succeed if you don’t stay healthy! Tight budgets, new parties, a heavy caseload, and late night snacks, can wreak havoc on healthy habits. Preventing illness, and having a healthy routine can help you keep some balance in your new environment.

3. Ask for help. Sometimes it’s not clear where to go, or maybe it’s embarrassing to ask. Identify the fear and recognize that it may be holding you back from getting good information. Then you can find out who has the answers, or at least where you can go for some direction. Once you ask, you can move through the fear and move forward. Your college is full of resources, such as counselors, mentors, and other advocates. Don’t hesitate to ask your parents, teachers, or new friends at school for some assistance. Remember: at some point, everyone needs help with something. None of us can do it alone!

4. A social outlet may bring many great benefits. Getting into campus life will help you learn your way around and build a support system. Being able to have friends to turn to in tough times is important. It’s also great to have them in times of celebration. Having fun with friends stimulates healthy hormones that can help you feel better emotionally and physically; so join a club, play intramural sports, or start another new activity that will inspire new friendships.

5. Remember your safety net. Returning home on weekends or vacations to get “refueled” can give you a short break and allow you to return refreshed. A home environment that makes you feel safe and that’s familiar can be very comforting, and may give you just what you need to make it through the end of a tough semester.

6. Take time to relax and enjoy yourself. Staying present and in the moment can help you appreciate and recognize what is going on around you. Slowing down and being mindful is important for you to stay healthy and create a successful college experience.

The start of your college experience can be complicated, but it’s also an opportunity to get your feet wet as you’re branching out into the adult world. Using healthy coping skills and building a support system will get you through the tough spots. As you become more familiar with your new life, being able to trust yourself to manage what’s ahead, and find enjoyment in it, will help this transition be a fun and successful one.

© Copyright 2010 by Danielle Organista, LMFT, therapist in Seal Beach, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Craig H

    Craig H

    March 12th, 2010 at 10:11 PM

    Oh and if you can find the time, kids, do some studying while you’re there too. It’ll make a nice change from all the partying. ;)

  • Keller

    Keller

    March 13th, 2010 at 6:58 AM

    This is so funny because my husband and I were just talking about this transition the other day. We were talking about how the coursework in college really is not all that difficult most of the time but that what most kids have trouble dealing with are the changes that they are going to experience on a personal level. College gives them this automatic level of independence that maybe for a lot of kids this age they are not ready to deal with yet. So then they go and do stupid stuff and forget what they are really in school to do- study, do well, and earn a degree. I think that you see this a lot in kids who have had to work for nothing in the past, have always had everything given to them, and now in many ways they have to fend for themselves and they don’t know yet how to do that without making a big mess.

  • thomas

    thomas

    March 13th, 2010 at 11:48 AM

    I completely agree with you when you say that the feeling is both terrifying as well as exciting, because that is exactly how I felt qwhen I entered college…On one side there was all the fun and wexcitment of doing what I had always wished for (getting a degree) and on the other side there was fear of college education and parents’ expectations…it has been a great journey though :)

  • Steve

    Steve

    March 14th, 2010 at 9:20 AM

    college is all about finding out who you really are- it may be about leaving some things behind but look at all of the exciting new things that there will be to discover. This is not a time to dwell on the past and what used to be but instead to look forward to what will be over the next four or five years and how much you can personally grow during that time. Parents and college students should all look forward to that and to how much they will have to contribute back to society at the completion of the college experience. I think that getting accustomed to college life can be tough for a while but well worth it in the end.

  • Dylan

    Dylan

    March 14th, 2010 at 1:41 PM

    College is a blast! Free at last. Just don’t latch on to the first person that approaches you as your best buddy for life. Give yourself time to meet several people before you decide who you’d like to hang out with. Beware the ones bearing brochures too that are not staff. They usually are crazy about one cause or another.

  • LaScala

    LaScala

    March 14th, 2010 at 9:32 PM

    I have another piece of advice: take contraception with you. Especially if you’re a girl. Even if you think you don’t want to or will never need it, take it with you. Just in case. Too many girls drop out because they get pregnant and thought it wouldn’t happen to them. And guys, you can be responsible in this respect too. Don’t just leave it to the girl.

  • Lilly

    Lilly

    March 15th, 2010 at 6:34 AM

    All the more reson for parents to teach their kids more responsibility while they are home.

  • GERRY MCREARY

    GERRY MCREARY

    March 15th, 2010 at 7:47 AM

    this is what the educationalists need to be explained…It really does take time for students to adjust to college! The semester and trimester policies just don’t allow them to breathe and thereby spoil their grades…at least the first semester/trimester needs to be a bit more relaxed!

  • Hannah George

    Hannah George

    March 16th, 2010 at 12:38 AM

    Many things change when a youngster moves from high school to college…he/she needs to cope with a lot more workload and needs to handle time really really well. Some are just not able to handle and fail to score well. What can be done to help such students is more interaction between them and counselors in their college…they can guide them into fitting into college much better and show them the way to cope with the new challenges.

  • Joyce

    Joyce

    March 17th, 2010 at 3:01 AM

    Can I add something? Remember why you’re there. If you don’t work, you won’t get your degree. And your student loan is not to be spent on shots at the bar. Lecture and finger wagging over. :)

  • Jimmy

    Jimmy

    March 17th, 2010 at 12:29 PM

    Good article, Danielle! Thanks for that. Do you think there are more pressures on kids going to college nowadays than there were a generation ago or is it easier? Kids appear vastly more mature at an earlier age now to me. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.

  • Frances W.

    Frances W.

    March 18th, 2010 at 9:54 AM

    When my oldest sister went to university she was very worried about how my parents would be without her. When she came home for a break to find her old room had been turned into a study, she stopped worrying about them pining for her too much. :)
    Seriously though, it was a big adjustment for them too.

  • Danielle

    Danielle

    March 18th, 2010 at 1:47 PM

    I really have enjoyed reading the comments on the article. Thank you for taking the time to read it.

    College is an interesting time because it can be done so many ways. I don’t know if college is easier now than a generation ago, but expenses continue to rise and other life circumstances play a role. I think there are some students that are more mature, but others will find they are not ready or prepared. College is not for everyone.

    I do think the way a peson is capable of attaching or has attached in the past, plays a part in how they find their niche and staying power in college.

  • Wendy

    Wendy

    March 20th, 2010 at 1:40 PM

    My mom was a nightmare when I went. She insisted on me calling her every night for the first three months so she’d know I was okay. After that it was cut down to every four days minimum. I was embarrassed until I saw how other kids didn’t get a call or letter or anything from home. First big realization of college: all she was doing was loving me and I was lucky to have that in my life.

  • Barbara

    Barbara

    July 7th, 2011 at 9:48 AM

    “Implement a routine of healthy habits. You can’t succeed if you don’t stay healthy! Tight budgets, new parties, a heavy caseload, and late night snacks, can wreak havoc on healthy habits. Preventing illness, and having a healthy routine can help you keep some balance in your new environment.”
    I especially like this tip to help college students cope to changes. Sometimes we forget to take care of ourselves when there seem to be more important things to worry about at the time. We have to put our wellbeing at the top of our priorities and stay healthy!!

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