Yes, going off to college is exciting. It is full of new adventures and possibilities. It is an opportunity to have exhilarating experiences and to meet new people. But, it can also be a bit scary. For many students, college is the first time they have lived away from home. Nowhere are the people, places and things that provide comfort and reassurance. It’s the first time they have the freedom to make their own decisions – and have to deal with the consequences of those decisions. Here’s a newsflash: this roller coaster of feelings is completely normal. Almost every student experiences them in some way or another. The key to successfully managing the ride is to (1) be aware of what to expect and (2) have a plan to deal with each phase as it arises. Here’s a break down of the freshman roller coaster of feelings:
Excitement Phase: The day you receive your letter of admission to the day you move into your dorm, is a period of sheer excitement. You buy the school sweatshirt, correspond with your roommate and plan your dorm décor. You dream about frat parties and study abroad and FREEDOM from parents and teachers. You are a college student now. Bring it on! You are ready!
Honeymoon Phase: The first few weeks of college are designed to help you make friends, and bond h your new college community. Orientation activities, mixers, free food and college swag woo you to cement your loyalty and your belief that there is no place on earth you would rather be.
Shock Phase: After the elation of getting in and the romance of orientation subsides, shock ensues. Papers pile up, exams loom overhead and you realize that you aren’t quite the superstar in college that you may have been in high school. For some, this might be the first time earning a C or below on an assignment or test. You question why you are there. Were you the admissions mistake? Can you make it through?
Depression Phase: The initial shock will inevitably lead to some sadness or mild depression. You miss your friends and family. You have probably put on your fair share of the freshman 15. Overindulging in pizza and burgers may have caused you to break out and feel sluggish. Being in such close proximity to so many other students means you have probably caught your fair share of colds. Identifying that these feelings are normal – and having a plan to feel better – is a critical factor that determines which students transition successfully and which don’t. So, grab your roommate (or bandmate or teammate or that nice kid who shares your struggle in Calculus) and go to a movie. Hit the gym. Devise a better eating plan. Make use of the academic resources to help you with your papers and quant classes. And, if you need to, go to health services and get some professional help from a therapist. They are used to helping students navigate through this big life change.
Recovery Phase: The successful student manages to get through the Depression phase and into Recovery as quickly as possible. Time in the Recovery phase is not perfect. It is not always happy and will probably never match the euphoria of the Excitement or the Honeymoon phases. It is a new equilibrium where you have learned how to better manage your classes, your time and your personal needs. You have realized that everyone else in your class is facing the same challenges you are (some, a lot more) and you have developed resources and a support network – at college – to help you manage the inevitable stresses.
Transition to college is a life transition and, with it, brings the joys and stresses of any significant change. Successful students anticipate what they will experience, develop a plan and identify resources to help them manage through it. It’s just one of the many ways that going off to college prepares them for life.
To maximize the likeliness that your college-bound student will be successful, be sure to explore the other parts of The Complete Candidate’s College Transition Playbook: