Adjusting to College Life
Starting college is an adjustment for every student, whether you are going just 20 minutes from home or 20 hours. The same nervous feelings, anxiety and desire to fit in are felt universally. While there is no guaranteed path to happiness, here are a few steps that can ease your transition into higher education.
Reach out early
One of the first interactions you will have is with your roommate. In most situations your college or university will tell you who your roommate will be and provide some contact information. Whether through email, Facebook, Skype, telephone or another means, contact your roommate. This will help develop a relationship and make move in day easier. Start by getting to know each other at least a little bit. Roommates often try to plan out their room in the first interaction; this is a significantly easier process if you know a little about each other. Learn about the person you’re going to live with, then plan the room.
Take time to learn your new home
Spend some time taking a walk around campus, getting to know where buildings are. Do this both during the day and at night so that you become comfortable with your surroundings. Ask one of your classmates or someone in the residence hall to walk around campus with you. This allows you to spend time with someone new and learn about your surroundings. There is more to your campus than just the physical layout, colleges and universities expend immense resources to assist students. Some common areas to become familiar with are the dining area, the fitness center, the student union or lounge. Never be afraid to ask for help, Resident Directors or Resident Assistants are put in place to be a resource. It is also a good idea to look into where the academic support areas are, such as the writing center. It is much easier to ask for help if you know where to go.
Put yourself on display by communicating early and often
In an uncomfortable setting, the natural tendency is to withdraw into a shell. A language barrier can make this even more preferable; resist this urge as much as possible. Suppressing a portion of yourself provides a false impression to the people around you. While you should expect to compromise, this cannot be accomplished without communication. The key is to express yourself through communication, with your roommate, your classmates and your professors. If you need assistance with a class, there is no better solution than to stop by during a professor’s office hours to explain the difficulty you are experiencing.
Remember that conflict is a natural part of development
One impact of the digital age is that many students have difficulty handling disagreements in a face-to-face setting. During my time as a Resident Director, I encountered several situations that saw one roommate would consistently defer his/her own preference without discussion. After talking with both parties, this was consistently done to avoid conflict. One of the most critical lessons students learn outside of the classroom is how to work through a disagreement. Communication is the first step, both expressing yourself and listening to the position of another. Working through a conflict to find a mutually agreed upon solution often strengthens a bond between two people. Of course there will be times that an agreement is difficult to find, if that occurs, seek help.
Become involved, but be sure to push your boundaries
Becoming engaged in your college or university is a critical component to your success and more importantly your happiness. If there are areas that you know you enjoy, such as writing, talk with someone at the student newspaper about participating. If you enjoy sports as a leisure activity, look into playing intramural sports. Joining in activities that you already know you enjoy is the first step, but make sure you try new things. Colleges and Universities encourage variety more than just about any location that you will encounter. This variety encourages a person to try new things. This process develops a person as a whole, fostering the individual they will become. Embrace this opportunity, particularly early in your college career. Involvement is one aspect of college life that is stressed by residence life departments, but be weary of becoming over involved. After all, your academic performance has to be placed at premium. Pick two or three organizations to be involved in, then allow your time to dictate if you take on any additional commitments.
The final and likely most important thing to remember about college life is maintaining balance. This applies to every facet of college life. Academic performance should have a great deal of importance placed on it, but without taking time to develop interpersonal skills, the value of the collegiate experience will be lost. Moments of your life have a way of being magnified in college. One grade may feel like the most important thing in your life. If you’ve allowed yourself to become out of balance, the task may seem overwhelming or even debilitating, whereas if you’ve maintained balance of academics and personal development, the task of focusing on a specific task is manageable.
The final note of advice I gave to every student I worked with in 11 years in the field of Higher Education is to enjoy and own this opportunity. College is a unique and wonderful time to express yourself, reach potential, develop meaningful relationships and much more. Your college career is defined by your actions and your decisions. That gives you the opportunity to direct your life in any way you choose. My hope is that this becomes one of the most empowering notions you’ve experienced in your life. College is often referred to as the greatest time of your life. Whether it is a great time, the best time or a time to get through is up to you!