Senior year of high school, you were on top of the world. You’d come a long way since freshman year: your class ruled the school, and you grew confident in who you were within your community. By the end, everyone was ready to graduate and move on. College is a significant chapter in anyone’s life. Turning the page from high school to college can be a little daunting – no matter how ready you were to leave. The college years are often described as the best time of your life, and you want to make the most of them.
Adapting to any new environment and living up to this ideal can cause some anxiety. Here are nine common fears freshmen face going into college, and tips on dealing with them.
1. Finding friends.
At orientation, this was the #1 fear I heard students express: they were worried they wouldn’t find any friends, that they wouldn’t fit in, or that people wouldn’t like them.
How to handle it: Think back to how you were your freshman year of high school: how you acted, what you looked like, etc. Once you’re done mentally cringing, think about all the friends you had at graduation. Even starting out the way you were, you still managed to have amazing friendships. Now you’re equipped with all of those improvements since freshman year, and you’re headed to a school with a lot more people that can be potential friends. Get involved, and you’re bound to find cool people that share the same interests as you.
2. The first day of classes.
You’ve experienced a lot of first days of school, but never like this. Now you’re an adult in unfamiliar territory. It’s exciting and a little scary at the same time. These aren’t all the classmates you’ve gone to school with since first grade. These aren’t the teachers you got to hear the upperclassmen tell you about before you started class. Your classes probably aren’t all in the same building like you’re used to, and you have to learn how to navigate your way around campus. Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life.
How to handle it: Take a deep breath. No one is going to judge you for not getting a handle on things right away. For everyone else you see on your first day, either they are going through the exact same thing, or they remember what it was like. When you move in, take time to walk through your course schedule to gain familiarity with where your classes are, dining halls and restaurants along the way, and other necessities. You chose this campus as your home, and you have four years to figure it out and get comfortable.
3. Fitting the "college student stereotype."
Stereotypes can be dangerous. In high school, it might have been The Cheerleader or The Jock that you looked out for in the hallway. For college students, you hear about drinking, partying, wild fraternities and cliquey sororities. Some students look forward to these things coming into college, feeling that one needs to have one or all of these experiences to truly live the life of the college student. This feeling can pressure people into doing things that they don’t want to do, simply because they want to fit in and go with the flow.
How to handle it: College is where you truly start to find your independence. Don’t let stereotypes or other people determine how you spend your time. Have fun and explore what you’re into, of course, but never feel like others expect you to be anything other than who you are.
4. Your roommate(s).
Whether you’re rooming with your best friend or a complete stranger, living with someone else can be a rough adjustment. Sharing a living space with someone you’ve never met can be scary; we’ve all heard a horror story or two about a crazy roommate. It’s understandable to be a little anxious. What if you don’t get along? What if they only dress in pastels? What if their morning alarm is the Sesame Street theme song? What if they don’t like Beyoncé?!
How to handle it: In actuality, most college roommates are fairly normal. You might not agree on everything, but make sure you communicate openly to dissolve any tension. Establish clear rules and boundaries in regards to guests, study hours, and sharing personal belongings. Before your first day of classes, discuss how many alarms you need to wake up in the morning. Hitting snooze ten times might have worked in your own room, but no roommate should have to go through that. You and your roommate might not become the very best of friends, but he/she may help make your college transition go more smoothly. Any extreme issues can be worked out with the RA.
5. Newfound responsibility.
Your parents aren’t around anymore, and it’s time for you to take care of yourself. No one is going to make you wake up and go to class, do your homework, study, or even do laundry. It falls on you to have the self-motivation to do what you need to do. Even if you’re ok with being independent and shouldering responsibility, college is an entirely new experience you have to adapt to. Carrying this weight is more intimidating for some people than others.
How to handle it: Be prepared and stay organized. A college education isn’t cheap; make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck and passing classes. Make a daily schedule of classes, study time, meals, chores, and some empty spaces for time with friends if you need to.
6. Maintaining your high school grades throughout.
It seems like almost every parent and high school teacher lectures on how college is so much more difficult. They stress how much you really have to buckle down and study, and while studying is important, this advice can also freak people out, especially if you’ve always been obsessed with maintaining a 4.0 GPA. Or perhaps the fear stems from a self-doubt that you can succeed academically at a university. Stressing how hard the classes are and then stressing how important it is to make good grades could make any student cave.
How to handle it: Remember that this college chose you. After all the effort you put into the application process, people at the university looked at your application and saw that you have what it takes to succeed there. They might even have offered you a scholarship enticing you to make them your institution of choice. If you couldn’t do well, you wouldn’t be there. Attend class, pay attention and study hard. A passing grade is something you have to earn, not something you are rewarded.
Being away from family, pets, friends and significant others can be extremely emotionally difficult for a lot of students. A lot of people worry about losing touch and growing apart from the people they love.
How to handle it: There are so many ways to stay in touch with people these days: text, Snapchat, Skype and every form of social media. But the most important way to catch up with someone is to give them a call. Call home regularly, and make time to call the friends you miss. I’m taking envelopes and stamps with me so I can write letters to my far away friends.
8. Financial fears.
College is expensive. Between tuition, room and board, meal plan, the numerous fees, textbooks and personal expenses, some people start looking up how much they can sell one of their kidneys for. These expenses can put a real burden on you and/or your family.
How to handle it: Double and triple check that you are always meeting your requirements to keep any scholarships you’ve been offered. Seek out other means of financial aid that you can apply for throughout the year. Find a job on campus; employers through the university are usually very flexible and understand that school comes first. If you need to pull out loans, make sure you have a plan on how to pay them back in a timely manner.
9. Figuring it all out.
While you might still have to take credits in other courses, college allows you the freedom to choose a major and focus your studies on what you want to make a career out of. Some feel like this means you have to go into college knowing what you want to do figuring that out is a stressful process.
How to handle it: You don’t have to set any career aspirations in stone your first day of college, or even the first month or the first year. Explore different kinds of classes or organizations, find what you like to do, and see if you can make a career out of it. Changing your mind is okay. A lot of students change majors from the one they started out with, it’s perfectly normal. You’re allowed to change your mind. And once you think you have it figured out, seek out opportunities like internships or co-ops to help advance your knowledge and experience.
College is exciting and amazing, but even the best of us can feel a little nervous going in. In the words of my favorite animated fish: just keep swimming!