You've likely looked forward to college for years! Arriving on campus is a big deal…a huge milestone that represents adulthood and independence…things you've been aiming for throughout your adolescence. But now that you're here, it can feel a bit overwhelming. From navigating your schedule to learning how to actually study to adjusting to life with a roommate-there is a lot of new territory to cover. No one want to bomb college, but how do you make your way through these uncharted waters with ease? How can you ensure that your launch into "real life" is a success?
- Find a Routine. College is a blast, and there are always fun opportunities around every turn, pulling at your time. While it's great to jump in with both feet and experience all the college life has to offer, it's also important you establish some healthy habits for yourself. Set a wake-up time and bedtime and commit to sticking with it. Discipline yourself to get dressed decently every day (studies have shown). Establish a work space in your room and dedicate certain blocks of time each day to productive, undistracted study. Make sure to schedule in some breaks so you don't get tunnel vision staring at your computer! Build in simple rewards for yourself (like ten minutes of "phone time" for every assignment you complete). We know almost intuitively healthy habits improve mental health. But sometimes they are easier to talk about than carry out. The discipline it takes to set up some reasonable boundaries around your basic needs will set you up for a better college experience overall. Of course it's great to allow yourself spontaneity and room to enjoy social events and downtime; all of this keeps life rewarding. But without a routine, it's easy to get distracted from what you're even trying to accomplish, so find one that works for you. The pay-off will be rich.
- Stay Flexible. Even with a routine in place, recognize that changes will be inevitable. The freshman level Biology class you signed up for may end up requiring more outside study time than you accounted for. You may realize mid-semester you're behind on sleep, and may need to make a mid-course correction in order to survive your demanding schedule, even if it means blocking out time for a nap one or two afternoons a week. Your major may end up being totally different than you expected, and though that's disappointing, it doesn't have to be the end of the world. Plenty of students end up changing their major, so if it happens to you, it's OK. Be prepared to feel your way through college with gracious maneuverability and pivot as needed.
- Stay Connected. For the past number of years, around 65% of college students have reported feeling of loneliness at some point. Staying engaged with relationships matters and human connection is important. We are wired with social and emotional needs, so don't ignore them. Yes, it's important you study hard, but in order to thrive in college you need to be well-rounded, which means keeping tabs on your mental and spiritual health. (stat on spirituality)?? These aspects of your personality will only stay healthy with some intentional effort. Allow yourself to "feel all the feels" and if you find yourself missing home or unexplainably burned out or discouraged, reach out to a family member or an old friend with an old-fashioned phone call or Facetime. Don't stay lonely! Join a book club; find a gym buddy. Invite someone on your floor to an impromptu study session. Grab coffee with a friend (even if it means reaching out to someone you just met). It will feel better than you think! And finally, if you find yourself struggling emotionally, don't hesitate to reach out to a school counselor. Sometimes you just need a listening ear to help boost you out of a slump and help you frame your circumstances with a more positive perspective. Remember: it's smart and courageous to reach out for support when you need it.
More could be said about setting yourself up for success in college, but these three basic principles will undoubtedly serve you well. Aiming for health in these areas should keep you in a balanced place. And if at first you don't succeed, make some tweaks and adjustments. College is a steep learning curve, but with steady perseverance and give-and-take, you will come out on top!