With back-to-school season here, many students face anxieties and stressors about the upcoming school year. This is especially true for young adults transitioning to college. While college is an exciting new chapter of life filled with personal, academic, and social growth, it can be a scary and highly stressful adjustment for many. Let’s delve into why college is so challenging during that first semester and how to manage those very valid stressors…
What makes college stressful for new students?
- Social pressures – Being in a new environment with new people can cause anyone to worry about fitting in, making friends, and finding a community. For young adults, going to college may be the first time they are made to branch out from the circle of friends they grew up with. If they don’t feel like they’re fitting in socially in the new environment right away, it can result in loneliness, depression, and self-isolation.
- Academic pressures – The stress of keeping up with rigorous college classwork can also be a big stressor for new college students. College classes tend to demand more work than new students are used to and the ability to balance school with other obligations can sometimes be difficult for them. College students are often required to keep a certain GPA to keep scholarships or participate in different organizations, which can cause even more stress.
- Independence – For many new college students, leaving home can be very scary. Going to college is usually the first time a student is on their own without their family. They have to be responsible with finances, time management, hygiene, and much more. This push into adult responsibilities without familial support is usually overwhelming for adolescents transforming into adulthood and can lead to homesickness and overwhelm.
- Uncertainty about the future – As a kid enters college, they are choosing to focus on their future. They are taking classes, joining organizations, and internships to help their future. While making these decisions, they can become overwhelmed and anxious. Fears about not making the right decisions or knowing what the future holds can cause students to worry and become anxious.
- Finances – Going to college is a big financial decision for young adults. Many students have to worry about student debt, obtaining scholarships, and working jobs while in college. Even if college is fully or partially funded by family and grants, there is still money needed for going out with friends, sporting events, etc. This financial burden can cause high anxiety, imposter syndrome, trauma, and be VERY difficult to manage with a full course load and other responsibilities.
- Lack of privacy – Most college kids will live in the dorms which can be a hard adjustment. New students usually share bedrooms, bathrooms, dining areas, and study spaces. This lack of privacy can be difficult during such an important adjustment period. Many of these new students are used to growing up with their own space to decompress and mentally and emotionally recharge. It can be hard to find moments of solitude and peace when entering college. Not getting along with a roommate can also cause a lot of frustration – and potentially isolation if the roommate is a bully or interferes with the ability to form other close friendships.
It is important for college students struggling with these stressors to know they are not alone. It is a period of BIG adjustment that usually takes time to get used to. It is also important that they know there are things they can do and resources available to help make the adjustment to college easier.
What can help make the first year in college a bit easier?
- Staying organized – Making lists and keeping calendars are just some of the ways to eliminate being overwhelmed by time management. Setting regular and consistent reminders can help a student stay on top of their assignments and responsibilities and can greatly reduce procrastination anxiety. Having a daily routine that is effective for the individual and sticking to it can also keep the student on track and help with feelings of stress. Keeping personal spaces clean and free of clutter can also help clear the mind and make daily tasks easier and more efficient. All of these tools can help promote productivity which helps ease feelings of anxiety and boosts confidence.
- Self-care – Ensuring students are taking time for activities and practices they enjoy is also very important. It is important that a student prioritizes their physical, mental, and emotional health during such a big period of change. Things like exercise, meditation, journaling, art, music, crafts, and fresh air can all be things that can help someone calm down and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Finding a class for credit that is also enjoyable is a win/win, but off-campus classes just for fun can be a great option as well.
- Setting goals – Setting achievable short-term and long-term goals can provide a sense of accomplishment for a student. Having things to achieve, no matter the category, can be motivating and inspiring. It can also help reduce anxiety related to uncertainty.
- Staying connected with home – Especially on the bad days, it can be helpful to talk on the phone or video chat with family or childhood friends. Stuffed animals and other childhood momentums that remind a student of home can also be comforting to have at college during moments of homesickness and stress. Sharing the good moments with loved ones back home can be rewarding and validating too – sometimes even more so!
- Finding support – Because a kid going to college is leaving their family and friends, it is important they find support at school. Joining clubs and organizations can help someone find other students with similar interests and goals which can promote positive personal connections. Joining study groups can promote friendships and help with the stress of classes. Many colleges also host fun and casual events on campus to help students bond. Starting or continuing work with a private therapist is also a great idea – especially if there are challenges fitting in with the peer groups.
- Seeking help – It’s OK to ask for help when struggling with stress and anxiety – or a variety of other concerns that college life can pile on. Colleges are full of resources to help students succeed and feel secure. Colleges have counseling services that students can reach out to if they want to talk to a licensed therapist. Tutoring services are also available to help students with school-related stress. The dorms also have RAs that kids can go to if they need help or someone to talk to. If a student is in an immediate mental health crisis, calling 988 and other school-specified hotlines can and should be used to connect with crisis workers who can provide appropriate resources and assistance.
College can be a stressful and anxious adjustment for young adults. However, with the right information and tools, and a lot of persistence and patience, college can be a positive experience full of growth and rewarding new adventures.
~ Written Exclusively for True Therapy by Grace Fioriti, BSW