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A Crash Course in Transitioning to College

By June 19, 2018November 20th, 2018Dr. Beatriz Mann, Teen Counseling

Going to college can be one of the most exciting times in someone’s life.  It can also be one of the most stressful.

You are likely experiencing more transitions then you have ever gone through, all at the same time!  Not only are you at a new school with new buildings, new classes, new teachers, and new friends, you may be in a new city or state!

You likely have gone from living with your parents to living on your own.  You are entering the world of “adulting,” in which you are expected to tackle scheduling, planning, problem-solving mostly on your own. 


Transitioning into College

Transitioning into College

Here are some things to consider or try that could help make your transition into college go smoothly:

Do a dry run.

Try walking from your dorm to your classes, the cafeteria, etc.  This will help you get more familiar with campus and can help reduce first day jitters about where you are going and how long it takes to get there.  The more you can take off of your plate in the beginning, the more likely you will be more effective at coping with any stress or anxiety you have in the first week.

You are not the only one alone.  Everyone is!

While that headline may read as upsetting, the idea is that you are not the only one transitioning.  So is everyone else! This is SO different from moving from middle to high school, were either a lot of your classmates moved with you or you went to a new high school where everyone already knew each other.  Chances are, no one really “knows” anyone yet at college. Everyone is starting from scratch, so you are not fitting against established groups or cliches.  

Baby Steps – college style.

If you find you are having a hard time getting motivated to go to class or are getting overwhelmed by the class, the work, or the social scene, try taking baby steps.  When we think about how overwhelming or stressful things could be, we end up making even harder to go!  Try thinking of the first step to going to class, like waking up.  Then think of the next step, like brushing your teeth. Breaking things down into small, measurable steps reduced that sense of helplessness or feeling overwhelmed. This makes it easier to acknowledge what you have accomplished.

Makes sure you eat.

Sure, you may have cooked for yourself every now and again in high school, but now your meals are entirely your choice. Make sure you are eating when you are hungry.  It can be really easy to get carried away with your day, only to realize its 6:00 pm and you never ate lunch. So whether it is specifically setting aside time to eat a meal, or stocking up on easy on-the-go snacks, fueling your body is essential. Not only to help your brain focus on the task at hand but also because it is very hard to regulate your emotions when you are hungry (aka getting hangry!).

Don’t underestimate the power of sleep.

Be aware that the college lifestyle does not lend itself to “regular” sleep hours.  You may be used to waking up at 6:30 am to get to high school, but you’d be surprised how difficult it can be to make it to a 9:00 am class that’s 5 minutes from your dorm. College is prime for late night parties or study sessions.

You are likely going to be sharing a room with someone that may or may not share similar sleep habits. It is probably worth investing in a sleep mask, earplugs, or even blackout curtains! Sleep is another area that if impacted can significantly impact your mood. If you find you are getting overly emotional or are snapping at people more frequently, consider taking a look at your sleep schedule.  You generally want about 7-9 hours of sleep. If you are getting way less or way more, chances are sleep may be the main culprit.

Talk to your professors.

Every professor is different. For the most part, professors tend to be understanding and flexible if you talk to them.  Deadlines may not be that harsh or severe if you’ve taken the time to develop even a superficial working relationship with your professor, should you find yourself getting emotionally or academically overwhelmed.

Be kind to yourself.

You are taking on a lot!  There is rarely another point in life when you will experience this many changes all at once.  You may feel inclined to sign up for everything and do everything. If you notice you are feeling tired or are just not feeling it, take a moment and engage in some self-care. Remind yourself that with all transitions, it takes time for that “transition” to become your “new normal.”  You can’t speed time alone. The best thing is to be mindful of your experience as you go through it. Take breaks when you need to and participate when want to!

If you’ve struggled in the past, get connected for a “check-in” session.

If you have struggled with anxiety or depression in the past, it might be worth setting up an initial session with a therapist at your college’s counseling center.  Even if you don’t need it, having something to do, that is structured and built in can help you feel anchored amidst the changing environment. If you do need, it already set up, making that much easier to get the support you need!

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Dr. Mann is a licensed psychologist that specializes in healthy coping, college adjustment, anxiety, personal identity, balance, and mindfulness.

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