For many first-year college students, the initial excitement of starting college and living in the dorms quickly gives way to feeling overwhelmed by the culture shock of it all. Between the new locale and the new way of doing things, going off to college may as well be shipping off to a foreign country for some people.
It would be easy to say all college students get used to it eventually, but that simply isn’t true.
Some students find themselves overcome with confusion and anxiety and never quite get over it until they’re out of college. Some may even drop out to get it over with faster. Still more think they get the hang of it, but never quite learn the ropes correctly, and their entire college experience is tarnished because of it.
We don’t want that to happen to you. Here are some tips for making the adjustment to college life quicker, easier, and better.
Know Who Can Help
You’re not going to be the only one trying to figure it out. Be on the lookout for other first-year students who are also trying to make the adjustment; your freshman orientation class would be a good place to start. Connect with them and you can solve more of your shared problems when you put your heads together.
Also, don’t be strangers with your resident adviser. They’re called advisers for a reason, and if they’re doing their jobs correctly, they can be important resources for figuring out what you’re supposed to be doing and how to do that.
Your adviser is there to talk about anything from classes and professors to how to live on your own. Of course, you probably won’t be living completely on your own…
Be on Good Terms with Your Roommate
You and your dorm roommate(s) might not wind up being best friends, but it’s important to get along with them because you’re going to be spending a lot of time with them.
Furthermore, you can’t just expect and demand they fit your idea of a good roommate; you need to put the effort in toward being a good roommate yourself.
Be friendly but firm with them about how you expect to coexist in your dorm. Discuss with them who will be responsible for which duties and what stuff belongs to who. Talk about expectations for behavior. Clarify your expectations of your roommate, but also clarify what they can expect of you, but don’t come across as though you think you’re the one in charge. Make it clear you know you’re equally in this together.
Even after all of this, you and your roommate still might not quite click personality-wise, but a slightly awkward environment is still preferable to a hostile one. Remember, when two people are in conflict, both can be doing something better, and that usually includes learning how to better communicate what they want to say.
Manage Yourself Well
You’re completely free for probably the first time in your life, but as you may have heard, with great power comes great responsibility. You need to monitor yourself efficiently, because nobody else will.
Yes, that seems like a daunting task. That’s why we propose an idea: write everything down. When you can’t keep all your thoughts in your head, write them down where they can’t escape.
Start with managing your time. You have to juggle class, homework, outside-of-home work, housekeeping, socializing, professional networking, adulting, and – if you should be so fortunate – sleep.
Quite frankly, not everybody succeeds in getting all those things in college. But if you start parsing out your time, you’ll have a much better chance of getting your act together and keeping it together. Start by writing down how you’re currently spending your time, then write out how you want to be spending your time and make a plan to make the transition.
Secondly, put your budget down on paper. Even if you’ve been handling your own finances for years, the shock of a new environment can skew anybody’s judgment.
For example, the myth of the “freshman 15” isn’t just a cautionary tale about poor eating habits in stressful times; it’s also a warning about compulsively buying all that unnecessary food in the first place. In the cafeteria and around town, don’t just look for healthy options, but also look for options that will keep you within your budget.
Also, try to make shrewd purchases for necessities. You need textbooks and everyone knows they’re expensive. You don’t have to buy them brand new from a college bookstore when you can probably find them used and cheap online.
The only risk here is you have to wait for your books to be shipped to you. In that case, find out who your professors are before classes start and ask them for a book list ahead of time. After all, it might be good to show that kind of initiative.
Know Why You’re There
College can be a fun time, but that’s supposed to be the cherry on top. You’re in school to learn first and foremost. In a world where many people associate college with wild parties, some people legitimately don’t realize school comes first, and many more simply forget.
Put your classes and your studies first and partake in “recreational activities” only when you have time for them. This will be the ultimate test of your ability to work toward a goal; you don’t want to be in a tough spot as an adult because you didn’t take your education seriously enough.
Do you need help maintaining focus? Talk to your RAs about it, but also talk to your professors. A good professor would not only help you with the coursework, but they may be an invaluable resource going forward. This is especially true if you’re planning on going into graduate school or any other program that would need a letter or recommendation from someone of high esteem.
The Big Picture
Really, the biggest lesson you can learn when you first enter college is how to adjust to radically new environments in general because it may not be the last time it happens to you. College is a learning experience, but not just for what you learn in the lecture halls; you also learn how to live.