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  • Writer's pictureLiz Morrison, LCSW

Heading to College Soon? Here’s How to Adjust to College Life

Updated: Jan 10

Heading to College Soon? Here’s How to Adjust to College Life

Heading to college for the first time can feel exciting, scary, and full of unknowns. This mixture of feelings is normal for everyone who’s leaving home and moving onto a new campus. It makes sense to be nervous about it – there are so many questions you don’t have answers to yet. Questions like:

Will my roommate be cool?

What will my classes be like?

Who will my new friends be?

What if I get homesick?

What if I don’t like it?

These are all legitimate things to wonder about. At Liz Morrison Therapy, we help teens and young adults with anxiety and big life transitions. We’ve worked with lots of young folks who are worried about the unknowns of adjusting to college and campus life.

Here are 6 things you can do at your new school to help adjust to

college life.

1. Take responsibility for your physical, emotional, and mental health.

Learning how to effectively manage your time.

In college, you’re responsible for yourself in ways that you may never have been before. This comes with a learning curve, which can be pretty steep.

Many people transitioning to college don’t eat well or get enough sleep, and may find themselves falling behind in more rigorous classes. It’s normal to have anxiety about heading off to college, and there’s an adjustment period for almost everyone. If you’re worried about all the changes you’ll be facing in this new era of your life, you’re not alone. Many of your peers are worried about the same things.

It’s also okay if adjusting to college life takes some time to figure out. Taking care of your health while you’re in college requires building new skills and habits. And building skills and habits takes effort, practice, and time. Different people need different skills or habits in order to succeed. These can include skills like:

  • Learning how to effectively manage your time

  • Learning to cook or prepare nutritious foods

  • Staying on top of your sleep and study schedules

  • Balancing work and play

  • Carving out time for exercise

  • Figuring out stress management skills

One way to ease the stress of heading to college is to stay on top of any issues you’re having. Make sure to take care of yourself and your health as you go, rather than waiting until problems become overwhelming and harmful to your health.

For example, if your schedule is too demanding, work with your academic advisor or professor to decrease your course load or get tutoring help as soon as possible. If you’re having difficulty sleeping or eating, or find yourself depressed or anxious, talk to a campus doctor or a therapist right away. Don’t wait for these problems to “go away” on their own. Chances are, they’ll only get more difficult to deal with if you ignore them.

2. Balance work and play

Finding a healthy balance between your academic and social schedules is key to success at college.

Finding a healthy balance between your academic and social schedules is key to success at college. It’s okay if this takes a while for you to figure out – it’s harder than it may sound, especially when you’re adjusting to a brand new environment.

It’s easy to get swept up in the social aspects of college and disregard the academic aspects. It can be tempting to skip early morning classes because you stayed up too late with friends, for example. But if you skip class, you’re more likely to get behind in your schoolwork.

Try to balance fun, enjoyable activities with class and work obligations. Balancing school obligations with activities you enjoy helps with stress management and goes a long way in keeping you happier and more relaxed. Give yourself unscheduled free time to get outside, read a novel, or take a dance class with friends. On the flip side, give yourself plenty of structured time to work on homework, projects, and other academic pursuits.

3. Get involved on campus.

Get involved in college life.

One of the best parts about college? All the activities that are available to you!

Many young adults heading to college are nervous about whether they’ll be able to make friends. Getting involved in campus activities is one of the easiest ways to build new friendships and have a ton of fun in the process.

It can be scary to show up to new environments and new activities, but getting out of your comfort zone can help you feel more at home on your new campus.

Some options you might be interested in include:

  • Clubs

  • Team sports

  • Dorm activities, like game or movie night

  • Music or theatre

  • Something offered off-campus, such as a salsa dance class

Choose things that spark your interest, and know you don’t need to commit to anything you don’t end up liking. You can always change your mind. Remember that college is for exploring yourself and the world around you, and there are plenty of activities on campus that will help you do that.

4. Stay in touch with loved ones.

Stay in touch with loved one when away at college.

It’s easy to get lost in the whirlwind of college life, especially in the first year. You might find yourself wrapped up in all the excitement and newness and having a great time. Or you might find yourself homesick and sad, wishing things could go back to the way they were before you left for college.

If you’re in the latter camp, talking to a therapist can help you work through some of those tough feelings and figure out what to do about them. But no matter how you’re feeling as you adjust to college life, staying in touch with loved ones will help. Talking to friends and family can provide you with familiarity and emotional support during transitional periods of your life.

Luckily, technology makes it easy to stay in touch. Schedule an ongoing phone date with a sibling or parent, or set up a group friend video chat with your high school buddies once a month. Knowing you have trusted loved ones to talk through the ups and downs with can make a huge difference in your mental health.

5. Familiarize yourself with the resources available to you.

College campuses have a lot of amazing resources for students.

College campuses have a lot of amazing resources for students.

Take as much advantage of these resources as you can. The people who work in these positions are there to help you and they want you to succeed.

Here are a few that you may find at your school:

  • Therapy

  • Health services, including sexual health and reproduction

  • Tutoring

  • Academic advisors

  • Professor office hours

  • Resident Advisors, or RAs

Some of these may be free, like a professor’s office hours, certain campus health services, and talking to your RA or academic advisor. Some may require more financial investment.

You don’t have to wait until you’re falling behind to utilize these different resources, either. Getting regular health check-ups and visiting your professor’s office hours a few times a month can go a long way in keeping you healthy and in good academic standing.

And keep in mind that although many of these resources are on-campus, there may be some off-campus resources too. These might include religious services, a Planned Parenthood clinic, or counseling services, for example.

6. Ask for help.

 It’s normal to feel stretched by the new stresses of college, but you can always ask for help if it feels overwhelming.

As you know, adjusting to college and campus life will come with a lot of challenges. It’s normal to feel stretched by the new stresses of college, but you can always ask for help if it feels overwhelming.

Finding yourself in a completely new environment can be lonely, and you may feel homesick, anxious, or sad.

Whether you’re dealing with mental health challenges, or difficult social situations, or need extra support in one of your classes, many of the on-campus resources listed above are there to help you.

If your college experience feels overwhelmingly negative or you aren’t coping in healthy ways, ask for help from a campus health professional or consider working with a therapist. A counselor or therapist can help you navigate this new chapter in your life and figure out what is and isn’t working.

If You’re Asking Yourself “Why Is College So Hard?” Consider Therapy.

Adjusting to college is a scary experience for many young adults. You don’t have to go through such a big transition alone.

If you’re anxious about the changes you’re facing or college feels flat-out hard for you, we’re here to help. Together, we’ll work through the anxieties and worries you’re having, learn skills for a fun and healthy campus life, and help you navigate college with confidence and enthusiasm.

Feel free to contact us for a free 15-minute phone consultation. We can answer any questions you may have and see whether we’re a good fit.


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