Attending college can be overwhelming for newcomers. For many students, it may be the first time they'll be living alone and away from their parents, making new friends, and earning a degree that will propel them into adulthood and the workforce. No pressure, though, right? Not so much. College brings about transition, and change can be uncomfortable. It is perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed and anxious, as you have no idea what to expect and how you'll fare. One of the first things you may do upon beginning this new experience is to examine your expectations. Having high expectations is great, but you may unknowingly set yourself up for disappointment if they are unrealistic. You can check out our previous article if you want more information on how to set healthy expectations.
Remember that there is no right way to transition from high school to college. It's important not to get caught up in that mindset. It's natural to think your first year has to be perfect, but be careful because when you set these high expectations, you don't allow yourself room to experiment. This brings us to our first- albeit counterintuitive, piece of advice: make mistakes. They provide you with an opportunity to grow, develop, and become more successful than if you hadn't ever made a mistake. You wouldn't be where you are today if you hadn't made mistakes in the past. Everything that happens leads you to where you are meant to be. Finally, the reminder that not everything works out perfectly is a way to foster humility.
Change your mind
College is also a time when you are expected to make many defining decisions regarding your future, and many can feel lost and unsure of the way to go. Interestingly, current scientific research suggests that the human brain doesn't fully develop until age twenty-five.  It also indicates that adolescent and adult brains work differently. Adults make much greater use of the prefrontal cortex, the mature decision-making part of the brain that responds to situations rationally and is aware of long-term consequences. Adolescents, however, seem to be making decisions primarily through the amygdala—the part of the brain responsible for emotions and survival reactions. In the brains of teenagers and emerging adults, the connections between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex are still very much under construction. This means society allows young people who are technically legal adults to make adult decisions without fully mature brains. This is another reminder that you are allowed to change your mind; it's fine to follow one path and figure out later that it doesn't align with your desires anymore and adjust your track accordingly. There is a lot of pressure to choose a major. It is easy to think that your major will determine your future career and the kind of life you will lead. Still, as important as college majors are, they don't necessarily carve your future employment or wages into stone. Many students get their undergraduate degrees in one field and progress to a master's degree in a different area. Also, consider meeting with your academic advisor to talk about your goals, and they can likely point you in the right direction; don't be afraid to ask questions if you're unsure of anything.
Ask for help
College is often synonymous with increased independence and personal responsibility. It is less structured than high school, and you become more self-reliant. The sudden transition to a life of independence and freedom is challenging for many. As you learn to navigate your new life, however, you can adjust to a pace that you find both comfortable and efficient. Again, there is no shame in asking for help; as independence does not equate to self-sufficiency. If you encounter setbacks during your first year of college, you can still get back on track. Reaching out for help marks a crucial step in this process. If you are feeling a lot of stress, anxiety, and pressure as a college freshman, it's a good idea to seek help from a therapist or counsellor. With counselling and therapy, you can discuss the sources of your stress and anxiety, find methods to cope with these feelings, and ensure that you get the care you need to succeed in your college career. Many colleges offer resources to help students navigate the initial transition to campus and cope with stress. Investigate campus resources for academic advising, study support, peer counselling, and student mental health. If you've been diagnosed with a mental health issue, such as an anxiety disorder, you may also want to find a mental health provider.
Tend to your schedule
One of the best keys to success in college is time management. All of a sudden, you find yourself thrust into a life with a more flexible and unpredictable schedule, and many struggle to manage their time to fit in their courses and other obligations such as clubs, sports, and part-time jobs. 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. When you write down everything you do and how much time it takes, you will get a more realistic view of how you can manage your time. Then you can begin to prioritize. As with everything else, nobody expects you to master it perfectly, and a plethora of resources are available to you, both online and in-person, to help you navigate your way through your new schedule.
Know your limits
A majority of first-year students always anticipate academic challenges. As the magnitude of the workload increases, it's easy to fear lagging and failing. As evident as it may sound, attending your lectures regularly, even the morning ones, and taking consistent notes can be vital in determining your success. If you still struggle with a specific class, you should reach out to your professor about it — and the sooner, the better. Many professors may grant extensions on due dates, provided they are requested early enough. Remember to also meet with or email academic advisors whenever you need help or advice. Study groups are another great way to hang out with friends while getting work done. You should know and accept your limits, however. While the purpose of a college education is to learn as much as you can, that doesn't mean studying all the time. It is essential to schedule time for fun and to take breaks to keep your mind fresh and clear. There's nothing wrong with aiming high and being ambitious. But it may be time to reevaluate if your course load is causing you to feel overwhelmed and anxious.
Only a few weeks into their first semester, many freshmen think they should feel more connected, have more friends or have the initial transitional challenges all figured out. It may appear otherwise, but making friends and adjusting to college life does not happen overnight. It takes time to find your groove, and you should know that you are not the only one who feels alone or anxious. Spoiler alert: everyone else probably has no idea what they're doing. If you are nervous about meeting other people, remember they are probably worried about the same things. One of the best ways to foster connections is by relating to one another and finding support in others. The sooner you can meet new people, put yourself out there, and make new connections, the quicker you'll have a new support system.
Remember that anxiety in college is expected. According to the American College Health Association Fall 2018 National College Health Assessment, 63% of college students in the US felt overwhelming anxiety in the past year. While it is important to validate your feelings and learn to accept uncomfortable emotions, it also provides an excellent opportunity to practice consistent self-care. Self-care looks different for everyone. It can involve anything that helps you feel your best — physically and emotionally — to better cope with life's stressors. It's important to remember that your mind and body are linked. It will be easier to navigate the struggles of university if you take better care of your body.
Start by assessing your ability to cope with stress by asking simple questions like: Do I have enough physical, mental, and emotional energy? For more physical energy, attend to your eating, sleep, exercise, and use of substances like alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine. Consider changes in your study habits and organization strategies for more mental energy. For more emotional energy, find ways to vent and increase your social support through friends, family, or your romantic partner.
A Word From O7 Therapy
College is an important transition in every student’s life. As challenging as it can be, it can also serve as ground for experimentation and growth. What you need to remember is that your experience is unique and the best way to get the most out of it is to share it with those around you.