The Best Four Years of Your Life?

Surviving and Thriving in Today's College Environment

The Scoop on Freshman Year: What to Expect and How to Cope.

The Scoop on Freshman Year: What to Expect and How to Cope.

For students who are about to leave home for college for their freshman year, having mixed emotions is a common and normal experience. Many are excited for their freedom, lack of curfew and new ability to do anything without watchful parental eyes. Others are quite worried about the responsibilities that come with their new life of independence. Most are ambivalent: they are eager to be on their own, but nervous about the enormous amount of change to come. Here is a short list of typical issues that freshmen face, and tips on how to manage the problems that can arise.

1. Homesickness: Many first year college students are surprised to find themselves homesick. After all, they have been eagerly waiting to embark on adventures in a new place. However, there are reasons for homesickness: when you go off to college, you leave behind close friends and family, the familiarity of your neighborhood and your comfortable daily routine. One good way to combat homesickness is simply to stay connected. Be sure to stay in touch with your parents and high school buddies. Facebook is a great way to stay connected and updated on your friends' new lives.

2. Roommates: Take a large group of eighteen year olds, pair them with total strangers and have them cohabitate in a tiny room. It sounds like a demented social experiment. However, this is exactly what happens when you "room blind," or choose to be paired with an unknown fellow college student in a residence hall room. It is very helpful to establish boundaries and rules in the beginning of a roommate relationship. Discuss things like when both of you will typically sleep, expectations around cleanliness and limits around socializing in your shared room. Remember, your roommate does not have to be your best friend. As long as you can peacefully coexist, then you have a good roommate relationship.

3. Friends: Many freshmen feel anxious because of the pressure to make new friends. Most students must start fresh and create a new social group. This can feel stressful and awkward. To ease this process, consider getting involved on campus. Joining a fraternity/sorority can be an easy way to meet people with similar interests and personalities. If you do rush a house, know that rushing is time consuming and try to schedule courses with a lighter workload during the first semester. If Greek Life is not an interest for you, consider joining a student organization that matches your interests or passions to meet new people.

4. Dating: Some freshmen come to college with intentions of continuing a relationship that began in high school. Others have ended their relationships prior to leaving for college. Either way, this can be a painful point in your life. Relationships may have a forced and arbitrary ending, like a date in August when you move to different cities for college. On the other hand, long distance relationships can be difficult during freshman year. It can be challenging to stay connected to a long distance partner. Reflect on your needs for relationships at this point in your life. Try to make relationship decisions based on these reflections.

5. Preparing early for winter break: Many freshmen return to their parent's home for the extended break in December and January. By that point, they are accustomed to total freedom. For months, they have lived without a curfew. However, parents may still expect their kids to be home at a designated time. For this reason, it is not unusual for parents and freshmen to clash during winter break. Sometime during the first few months of freshman year, initiate an open discussion with your parents about their expectations for winter break. This may allow for time to compromise with one another, or at the very least, establish the ground rules.

6. Picking a major: While many other students may seem to know exactly what they want to study, plenty have not yet made that decision. If you have not yet picked a major, consider it an incredible opportunity to learn your passions. One of the best aspects of college is the chance to explore and discover your intellectual and career interests. Take advantage of this amazing opportunity and register for subjects that you find interesting.

7. Finding a balance between work and play: College coursework is an enormous amount of difficult material to learn. Students can react differently to this workload. Some become overly invested in achievement at the expense of having any free time; others skip classes and spend all their time with friends. Both of these extremes can lead to problems. For the overly invested, the pressure to achieve all "As" is severe and crushing. They overschedule themselves to the point of exhaustion and worsened functioning. For the under invested, their grades and self-confidence may suffer. Be careful to schedule in unstructured time to enjoy your college experience and structured time to study. Create this schedule with reasonable expectations for the amount of time needed to study for each course.

8. Know your counseling resources at your school: For all of these reasons and more, freshman year can be overwhelming. If you feel that your mood is changing or your functioning is worsening, look into the counseling and psychological services at your school. Counseling can help you to build skills and cope in better ways so you can truly enjoy freshman year.

 

 

 

Dr. Erica Berg is a licensed clinical psychologist and Asst. Director at Student Counseling Services at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

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