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Coping with Starting College

A well-known psychiatrist once said that much of life is about loss. So it is with starting college. The exhilaration, hope, and excitement you feel are sometimes more than tinged with sadness as you come to grips with what you are leaving behind. In addition to leaving friends and family, you are moving from a familiar setting where you have an identity and are probably secure with your knowledge of your community and how it works.

Leaving Home

You may have approached leaving home with a sense of relief and adventure, some anxiety and uncertainty, or most likely a mixture of these kinds of feelings.

Students often forget to remind themselves that these mixed feelings are normal. Other students around you are in all likelihood feeling something similar.

You have probably noticed this already, but sons and daughters leaving home can be tough on parents as well. Regardless of the structure of your family, things can be challenging. One coping strategy that has helped many freshmen is to arrange home-related things to look forward to every third weekend or so. These might include visits from families or trips to see friends on other campuses.

Leaving Friends

Leaving friends behind involves more than the disruption of friendships. Again, like much in life, it involves a mixture of loss and opportunity. The losses can include moving away from friends with whom you have shared experiences or moving away from romantic partners. You may be facing the challenges of a long-distance relationship. It is hard to leave people with whom you have a shared history.

It hurts to be separated from old friends. But starting college also offers you a lot of exciting opportunities. You can:

  • Make friends with a wider variety of people, people from large and small communities from all over the world, with widely varied interests.
  • Experiment with different parts of yourself, especially those parts you kept hidden because they weren't "cool."
  • Blend the old and new. Remind yourself of the pleasures of introducing new friends to your friends from home.
Leaving a Comfort Zone

You probably had a role in your high school community that was comfortable and helped you fit in. Moving to a large campus where others don't know you, your strengths and weaknesses, or your culture can be a mixed blessing.

It can be uncomfortable. You may experience:

  • Identity disruption. Example: "I thought I was special and unique, but the campus is full of people just like me. I don't feel I know who I am."
  • Belief challenge. Example: "I was absolutely certain that I knew exactly what I believed. I still am pretty sure of some basic things, but I have read and heard some fascinating ideas that have got my mind going."
Meeting the Challenge of Starting College

Here are three key steps for making a successful transition to college.

  • Be patient with yourself. It can take a while to adjust.
  • Try to balance the old and familiar with the new and challenging. Talking with friends and family can also be helpful. Be sure to reach out to others, too.
  • Challenge yourself. Try to have one new experience a week. See a play or a movie you wouldn't normally see. Go to a concert at the Jacobs School of Music. Visit a campus museum. Try a new sport.
  • Introduce yourself to someone from a different country, culture, or ethnic group.
Tips for Adjusting to the Classroom

College is supposed to be academically challenging. Here are some things you can do to make it easier.

  • Learn the names and phone numbers and/or the email addresses of at least two people in each of your classes. If you are sick or have to miss class, you know someone to contact to learn what you may have missed.
  • Try to form a small study group to help you prepare for your more difficult classes. Studying with a small group can help improve motivation and learning efficiency.
  • Take advantage of office hours. Your instructor sets these up to help you. They can keep little problems from becoming big ones.
Campus Resources

If your mood does not improve within a few weeks, schedule an appointment with a CAPS counselor. If you've paid the IU Health Fee, your first two sessions are free. Consider joining a student organization. Call the Student Activities Office. Take a workshop to improve your learning style at the Student Academic Center.