Liz Morrison, LCSW
4 Practical Tips to Deal with Pre-College Anxiety and Prepare for College
If you just graduated from high school and are preparing for college in the fall, you may be experiencing a multitude of different feelings: excitement, curiosity, apprehension, and anxiety, to name a few.
Going from high school to college is a huge life transition. There are a lot of big changes happening, and it’s okay to be nervous about them.
As therapists for teens, we’ve worked with many young adults who are transitioning from high school to college and are worried about what it will be like. You will probably face challenges as you embark on this new chapter in your life, but trust that you will also learn and grow as you go. To help you prepare, here are four tips to ensure a smooth transition from high school to college.
1. Acknowledge pre-college anxiety
Heading to college often comes with a lot of changes, and these changes can result in increased anxiety for many students.
In college you’re expected to take full responsibility for your own well-being. And if you’re moving to a new city or town, you may be on your own for the first time. Being on your own comes with many new opportunities and challenges.
Heading to college can feel freeing. You’re making all your own decisions, and there is no one to give you a curfew or dictate how you spend your time.
On the other hand, there are new anxieties to deal with, like navigating a new environment, new classes, and new friendships.
If you’re nervous about any of this, it’s okay.
You’re not alone, and there’s nothing wrong with you for feeling anxious about the changes college will bring.
Acknowledging your feelings will help you process your experience in a healthy manner.
There are lots of ways to work through the anxieties and feelings that are coming up for you. Practice stress management skills like yoga, getting outside, meditation, breathing exercises, or journaling. You can also talk to a loved one or seek support from a therapist.
2. Connect with others
Building a support network is a key part of navigating tough transitions.
Connecting with others is a great way to get emotional support and manage stress during a big life change.
Do you have other friends who are also heading to college in the fall? This is a perfect opportunity to discuss shared excitements and fears with them.
Your friends are probably having similar feelings about transitioning to college. Being open with one another about what you’re worried about and looking forward to can help you feel more confident and less alone.
If you have any family members who have recently left for college, talk to them about their experiences as well. Ask them what they wish they’d known going in, and their favorite and least favorite parts of college. No one’s college experiences are going to be exactly like yours, but talking to people who have already been through this transition can help demystify it.
You can even get in touch with advisors, professors, or current students at the school you’re going to. This is a great way to ask specific questions you may have. Familiarizing yourself with other people at your college can help the transition feel less intimidating.
Maintaining your connections and support network with loved ones will help ease your transition when you go. Make a plan to stay in touch with friends and family after you leave. Set up a regular weekly group chat that you can stick to. Or, if you’re tired of technology, send each other fun snail mail or care packages while you’re away.
3. Prepare for campus life
For many high school graduates, the anticipation of college – specifically, not knowing what to expect – can be nerve-wracking.
If you feel this way, know you’re not alone. To ease some of these anxieties, spend some time planning and preparing for college.
If your college is nearby, take time to get to know the area. Request a campus tour if you haven’t gotten one already, or stroll around by yourself or with a friend.
If you’re going to be moving far away when you leave for college, do some online research. Many schools have virtual tours you can take. If you’re living on campus, check out photos of the dorm or area you’ll be in.
Here are some other ways to prepare for campus life:
Look into courses you want to enroll in. Maybe you already know which major you want to choose, and maybe you don’t. Either way is okay! Take time to explore classes you’re interested in. And remember, you don’t need to plan your whole college career out ahead of time. You can work with an academic advisor to help you nail down the details of your major when you’re at school, and you can always change your mind.
Research clubs and activities to be involved with on campus. College is all about learning more about yourself and the world around you. A great way to make your high school to college transition smoother is to immerse yourself in campus life when you get there. Finding clubs and activities that interest you can go a long way in finding like-minded new friends and community.
Check your school’s website for a job board if you’ll be working during the school year. There are often internships available, as well as full and part-time jobs for students. Many professors also hire students as research assistants to help them with ongoing academic projects on campus. If you do plan on getting a job, take extra steps to ensure you’re getting enough sleep and not falling behind in your studies.
Shop for and pack dorm room and school supplies you like. Having mementos and cozy decor for your housing can help an otherwise plain dorm room feel homey and comfortable.
Sign up for any orientation or meet-and-greet activities that may be happening close to the start of the school year. This is a great way to meet other new students and get to know the campus.
Even though you can’t possibly plan for everything before you arrive at college, doing some legwork ahead of time can help you know what to expect. This preparation can make your transition smoother and less stressful.
4. Let go of perfection
The transition to college is going to be filled with brand-new experiences. After all, you have to learn how to live on your own, take responsibility for yourself as an adult, immerse yourself in new classes and a new environment, meet new friends, and learn new skills.
The truth is, you probably won’t be an expert at any of these experiences or skills right away.
And that’s okay.
Even though there are plenty of things you can do to prepare and plan, know that you won’t be able to plan for every little thing.
Let go of the expectation to be perfect and to have it all figured out. Give yourself credit for taking this leap, and try not to be hard on yourself if you’re struggling with anxiety or fear. Give yourself permission to experience all of the very human feelings you’re having.
Not having all the answers can feel very anxiety-inducing, but the truth is nobody knows all the answers. Exploring, learning, and growing are all an integral part of the college experience, and you’re allowed to take your time to figure it out. You’re allowed to make mistakes and change your mind.
You Don’t Have to Navigate the Transition from High School to College on Your Own
Just because you’re heading out on your own soon doesn’t mean you have to deal with all the challenges by yourself.
Seeking support – whether it’s talking to friends, family members, or working with a therapist – is crucial in having a successful high school to college transition.
If you’d like support in navigating the changes you’re facing, we’re here to help. Together we can process this big shift, work through any anxieties that may be present for you, and help you figure out how to successfully move forward from high school to college.
Feel free to get in touch with us for a free 15-minute phone consultation. We’ll get to know each other a little bit, answer any questions you may have, and see whether we’re a good fit.