Welcome to the Jungle: 6 Tips to Share with your College Freshman

Two years ago, I made the drive. We loaded my son and half of Bed, Bath and Beyond into my husbands truck and dropped him off at college. I was a novice, a college-mom-virgin, a newbie at launching my child from the nest. I read books, read blogs, joined on-line parent groups, and talked to other moms who had kids away at school. I wanted to be prepared, ready for the change and able to send my son off with confidence and assurance that said, “You’ve got this kid”. And I did… mostly.  Along the way we have learned things I wish we had known but life is always the best teacher.  Sometimes, you must live it to learn it and the best lessons are often the most painful.

If you have a child launching to college in the fall, hold on tight. College is a journey, not a destination.   It’s a bumpy road because everyone’s journey is different.  Two students can go to the same school, take the exact same classes, live in the same dorm, and have two completely different experiences.  It’s not possible to be prepared completely for what lies ahead because the truth is, you never know what the future holds.  I have seen students that had academic success in high school struggle in college and I’ve send kids who academically struggled in high school soar in college.  I’ve seen popular kids in high school struggle socially and I’ve seen students who felt lost and unconnected in high school find their people or their place in college.  I’ve seen kids who couldn’t wait to leave, decide they want to come home and young people who were scared to leave not miss home they way they thought they would.  Predictions are impossible because variables are always changing.

College is about so much more than the academics. Simple things like a relationship with a roommate, meeting an inspiring professor or finding a friend group can dictate one’s entire first year experience. The college experience is one part educational, one part social and one part emotional. It’s on-the-job training, baptism by fire and Life Skills 101.   It’s a time of conflicting emotions and juggling all that early adulthood throws at you. It’s a new stage: an unknown and it’s scary.

Here are a few tips that may help your new college student have a positive and enjoyable first year at college.

  1. Aim to get along with your roommate, not be BFF’s. From a social media post, they looked like a perfect match, but in person you meet someone completely different. Don’t despair. Honestly, the best roommates are the ones you can tolerate but not have to hang out with all day. Having a civil, mutually respectful relationship with your roommate is the goal.  Thinking you will be lifelong besties is a set-up for disappointment. If it happens, lucky you but don’t bet your meal plan on it.  Reduce your expectations and be hopeful that they are someone you can stomach for nine months. Keep open communication, even if it seems they never take their earbuds out, and resist leaving passive aggressive sticky notes digging at each other or texting each other when you are in the same room.  Talking, if only for 2 or 3 minutes, is the best way to communicate your needs or boundaries. Be reflective of your own behaviors. Ask yourself: are you actually doing all the things you want them to do?  Approach the relationship with a chill attitude and remember, you might not always be a peach to live with yourself.  If you call them a friend after freshman year, consider it a success.

Note to self: Don’t try to force a relationship, accept it for what it is.  What messes with our mind the most, is the picture in our head of how it is supposed to be.

  1. Regardless of your high school class ranking, there will always be someone smarter than you. Let go of the pressure to be the smartest kid in the class. Find relief and comfort in doing your best and learning from those around you.  Draw inspiration, not comparison, from your classmates.  Effort, creativity, passion, grit, and social skills are more important to being successful than being book smart. Learn what your strengths are and be wise about how you use them.  Smart people can be very dumb if they lack balance in their life.

Note to self: There are many kinds of intelligence, gifts and life skills that take you a lot further than a high IQ.

  1. It’s okay to be homesick. Change is hard, and college is all about the transition between two worlds. We must remember that the first year of college does not just involve going away, it is also about leaving home.  It’s common for college bound students to say in August “Peace out. I’ll see you at Christmas”, only to decide much earlier than December they feel the pangs of missing home.  Once the novelty of all that is new and exciting wears off, you will miss your room.  And your dog, your bed, your siblings, (maybe your mom!!) and most definitely your own bathroom. No matter how excited you may be, even the most independent freshmen find themselves struck with homesickness and feeling uncomfortable or out of place.  Missing home is part of learning to live a new life and simply adjusting to change.  Don’t panic and think you are in the wrong place or you picked the wrong school—settle down and think of it like a swimming pool. When you first jump into a pool, it feels cold and you might think “I’m freezing and want to get out”. But if you hang in there, it starts to feel good. Why? Did someone change the water or warm up the temperature? No, we adjusted and what felt cold or uncomfortable suddenly becomes refreshing and invigorating. Trust the process and know that missing home is part of the journey in creating your new home.

Note to self: Set up a plan to help you make new connections at college.  Cast a wider net. Keep yourself busy. Make new school rituals. Create something that feels familiar. Explore your new surroundings. Talk about your feelings with others that may be feeling the same. Leave your dorm room. Find a cool coffee shop. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed by how you feel. 

  1. Use your resources to help you be successful.  A good support system goes a long way and smart students take full advantage of all that their campus has to offer.  Colleges offer an abundance of resources to make students’ lives happier and healthier. You may not need them right away or never need some of them, but they are there to help you succeed and get help if you need it.
  • No matter what you’ve decided to major in, you’ll be required to write. For those who aren’t strong writers the writing center is there to help.
  • It is the rare student who can manage four years on a campus without becoming sick or injured at some point. Usually a professional counseling center is located near the health center and many have a variety of professionals including counselors and psychologists. Find out early where the campus health center is so when you need it, you know exactly where to go.
  • None of us can grasp every concept about every subject in every class which is why professors set up office hours. By going to office hours, not only are getting help with the material and getting your questions answered, you are getting to know your professor as they get to know you. Having strong professional connections with your professors — especially those teaching in a field you plan to pursue as a career — can be beneficial to your future.
  • Though it may be tempting to study in your room, under the covers (and with Netflix on) try the Don’t ignore the best resource on campus- the library. Many libraries offer physical spaces for students to study individually or in groups and course reserves and Interlibrary Loan services will give you access to resources for your classes. Befriending a college librarian might be your smartest move yet.
  • College can overwhelm you with classes and homework, and make you feel stressed due to a lack of time. Where do you fit time in to be social and how do you get your exercise plan in action? Intermural sports provide fun, teamwork, stress relief, community, laughter, and a great way to meet new people. Intramural sports help students maintain balance with health and wellness while managing stress.
  • Struggling academically?  Seek help from the tutoring services. Don’t wait until it’s too late to drop by for help.  Be proactive.  Early work with a tutor helps you grasp foundational concepts on which more difficult work may be build.  Getting the basic building blocks early can prevent difficulty later in the semester.
  • Many students trust the website ratemyprofessors.com to determine what professors to avoid or embrace. While you may gain insight into the class or hear first-hand opinions from your peers, be cautious of hinging your entire schedule around the advice of others. Remember, every student is different and our learning styles are different as well. Picking a professor you might love or hate is all a matter of luck and personal opinion, but you will never be able to form your own opinion unless you give that professor a shot.

Note to Self: You may be living on your own for the first time when you go to college — but that doesn’t mean you’re alone.  Reach out, speak up and do your research. Use the resources that are put in place to help you succeed.

  1. Failure is not fatal. As painful as it is to go through failure, it happens to everyone. If you fail a test or a class, it’s not the end of the world. Making mistakes is part of life and allows us to discover who we are. Failure makes you dig deeper and reach new understandings on where you want to go. Don’t let a failure cripple you and don’t let a fear of failure stop you from trying something new. If things don’t go as planned, adjust. Learn from it and move on to the next challenge. The only limitations you have are the ones you put on yourself.

Note to self: It’s okay to fail. It’s not okay to quit. The only real failure we can experience is the one from which we learn nothing.

  1. You are going to be okay.  Going off to college expands your mind and paves the way to your future. It is a time to learn, grow, explore, stretch your mind, pursue new passions, make good choices, practice your social skills, and take responsibility for your actions and your results.   It might be the shortest four years you experience. Enjoy your days as a collegiate. Savor that Cup-o-Noodles.  Be glad that everything you own fits in a 12×12 room.  An empty wallet doesn’t mean an empty life.  Celebrate the two best words: free and canceled.  Get to know yourself. Learn to do your own laundry. Find your inner reader.  Lean into the days ahead and find your place in the world. Roadtrip.  Be sure to hydrate with water, not beer.  Stop and savor the moment and be proud of where you are and where you are headed.

You’re off to Great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting so…. Get on your way!!! Enjoy this voyage of discovery.  Bon voyage.

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