Tips for Adjusting to University Life
College can be exciting and difficult all at the same time. Students must learn to make lots of decisions and cope with changes regarding their social life, parents, academic standing, or future plans. So understand that if you’re feeling stressed, you’re not alone. Here are some tips to help you get adjusted, whether you are a freshman, transfer, commuter, or returning student.
Suddenly, perhaps for the first time in your life, you’re moving away from everything familiar to you and beginning to make your way as a young adult entirely surrounded by strangers. It’s a lot of changes all at once.
Feeling Homesick. Freshmen struggle with homesickness whether they are half an hour away from home or across the country. Keep in touch with your family and old friends, but make sure not to isolate yourself from making new friends at school. As time passes and campus feels more comfortable, your homesickness will lessen.
Getting Along With Your Roommates. Many freshmen have never had to share such a small space with someone before—let alone a perfect stranger! Living with someone can be challenging. Work through conflicts before they blow up. Regularly communicate with your roommate(s). And remember, you don’t have to be best friends. Often roommates get along best when they have different circles of friends.
Establishing Yourself. Four years in high school is a long time to establish and identify yourself as a talented individual, whether your talents may be sports, music, drama or academics. Freshmen may feel as if they are just another face in the crowd. As you get to know other students, keep in touch with your support network at home. They will assure you that you are unique!
Battling Perfectionism. Many students struggle with perfectionism as freshmen. Study habits that may have worked in high school most likely will need to be adapted to fit the different academic climate of college. In addition, grade expectations usually need to be realistically lowered with the increased challenge of a college-level education.
Managing Your Time. Only three hours of class a day? It can be hard to budget all your time to get assignments done, especially with added responsibilities such as jobs. Set aside a certain time each day to spend studying. Studying with other classmates can help you meet people and get better grades. And then enjoy your free time without guilt!
Transfer students, in a sense, are having the freshman experience for the second (or third) time around. In addition to the typical “freshmen” stressors, transfers must cope with some unique challenges.
Fighting Isolation. Many transfers feel isolated. Orientation groups are usually made up of other transfers, and it may be difficult to meet other students. Participate in on-campus activities or join extracurricular clubs.
Finding Support Networks. Transfers may not receive the same help and guidance that incoming freshmen receive. These students have been placed in a strange environment, but schools tend to focus more on freshmen’s needs. Talk with a CF, your academic advisor, or the campus counseling center (x4172) for answers to your questions.
Bonding With Other Students. Transfers may feel as if they “missed out” on the freshman bonding time at their new school. It may seem as if everyone else has established his or her group of friends. Give it time—good friendships aren’t made over night.
Off-campus living definitely has its advantages—an escape from a stressful academic environment, more freedom and personal space, and peace and quiet. But commuting students must make adjustments coming back to campus as well.
Building a Social Life. Commuters may find it hard to navigate the social waters of a university since they are usually absent on weekends. Make plans to meet up with friends or classmates for social activities on the weekends.
Participating in Campus Life. Commuters don’t experience some aspects of campus life, such as dorm living. Feel more connected by spending time on campus even when you don’t have class. Study at the library, and use university facilities such as the gym or dining hall instead of going off-campus.
Returning to campus after a summer away is an adjustment. Many students have gotten re-acquainted with the comforts of home, such as good food and old friends. In addition, returning students deal with:
Balancing Academic Loads. More upper-level classes might mean more studying and less free time. But this isn’t inevitable! With some time management and focused studying, you will be able to adjust to the increasing academic demands.
Deciding on the Next Step. Thinking about the future is a source of anxiety for many returning students, whether it’s choosing a major, thinking about studying abroad for a semester, or deciding on post-graduation plans. It can be especially distressing if you feel directionless. This is a common feeling. A visit to your career center may be able to give you some guidance.
The following are tips for students to help with the adjustment:
- The first few weeks on campus can be a lonely period. You may have concerns about forming friendships. It may seem that everyone else is self-confident and socially successful. The reality is that everyone is having the same concerns.
- If you allow sufficient time, you can usually find peers in the university to provide structure and valuable support. It’s important to remember to be yourself when meeting new people.
- Meaningful, new relationships should not be expected to develop overnight.
- Increased personal freedom can feel both wonderful and frightening. You can come and go without anyone “hassling” you. At the same time, things are no longer predictable. New kinds of procedures and people can create a sense of being on an emotional roller-coaster. This is normal and to be expected.
- Living with roommates can present special, sometimes intense problems. Negotiating respect of personal property, personal space, sleep, and relaxation needs can be a complex task. The complexity can increase when roommates are of different ethnic/cultural backgrounds with very different values. Communicating your needs calmly, listening with respect to your roommate’s concerns, and being willing to compromise to meet each other’s most important needs can promote resolution of issues.
- It’s unrealistic to expect that roommates will be your best friends. Roommates may work out mutually satisfying living arrangements, but the reality is that each may tend to have his or her own circle of friends. Strategies for Coping with Homesickness Leaving home to attend college is both exciting and challenging. For many students part of the challenge of college is dealing with feelings of homesickness.
Characteristics of Homesickness include:
- missing family and friends
- concentration problems
- preoccupation with returning home
Strategies for Coping with Homesickness:
- Remember that homesickness is a normal and common response, even for students who have previously spent time away from home.
- Understanding why these feeling develop can be helpful in dealing with them. Home is often a place where one feels accepted and secure. Support from parents, family and friends, familiarity with one’s surroundings and confidence in one’s ability to be successful and meet challenges all contribute to a sense of self-assurance and security.
- Remember that homesickness is a temporary feeling for most students. Give yourself some time to adjust to your new surroundings.
- Get involved with other students, classes and student activities.
- Call or write home but avoid getting into the habit of going home every weekend. This is especially important during the beginning of the school year.
- Talk out your feelings with a friend or residence hall counselor.
- If these feelings persist or become so intrusive as to impair your daily activities or class obligations, you may benefit from talking to a counselor with special training in helping students adjust to the college environment.
Coping with the Holidays
The holidays can represent a much needed break from classes, indulgence in home-cooked food; and at times, STRESS! Your expectations for the holiday break may differ significantly from your parents’. When a student leaves for college, the family dynamics often change. Adjusting to these changes can be challenging for students and their family.
Here are some tips for coping when going home:
- Let your family know about your plans before you arrive home. Your parents will have an idea of what you would like to do and are less likely to plan all of your time for you. If you will be splitting time with various family members, establish your plans ahead of time and inform everyone.
- Understand that you will have to make compromises with your time.
- Make certain your plans include your family in some way. This will help them feel included in your life and less likely that they will try to plan extra activities for you in order to get a chance to see you.
- Discuss the differing expectations you may have with your family regarding house rules. You cannot expect your parents to forget all the parental concerns they have been practicing for many years.
- Although you can negotiate new rules (e.g., curfew), you cannot expect your parents to grant all of your requests.
- Prepare your parents in advance if you will have less than stellar grades to report. There is no use in prolonging the inevitable. Be honest and take responsibility for your performance.
- If you do not feel comfortable going home, find a friend who is willing to adopt you or make your own special plans.
If you would like to speak with someone in more detail about conflict and stress, contact the SCU Counseling Center (554-4172) or Wellness Center (554-4409).
Source: Student Counseling Center, Tarleton College Modified: University Counseling & Consulting Services, 1998 University of Minnesota