My experience of college so far has been incredibly fun and rewarding. It’s also quite different from my life during high school and before, and when I first moved in, there were a lot of new things to wrap my head around. Here are a few tips I have found to be really useful for transitioning to the new experiences of college.
1. Know Your Support Network
When you move to college, everything seems new. New people, new classes, new food, new bed where you go to sleep at night. It can be scary, having so many new (and exciting) experiences without an established group of friends at college who can love and support you as you love and support them. As you go through college, you will develop close friendships with people that you can trust and rely on, but this won’t be the case on your very first day.
You already have a support network from home; don’t forget that they are there for you just because you are in a new place. Text your best friend from high school about what’s going on in your day-to-day. Don’t hesitate to call your mom (or dad, or other family member) if you need some advice or just want to talk to someone who you already know really well. You will gradually add more and more college friends to your support network, but don’t forget that you already have family and friends in place to offer you their love and support through your transition to college.
2. Know What You Need to Function at Your Best…
..and prioritize making it happen. You probably already know a lot about what things help you to be your happiest, healthiest self. As you are transitioning to college and setting up a new system for how you do daily life, make sure you build those things into it.
For me, this has meant making sure that I have some alone time. I love having my friends around all the time and being able to really do life with them. However, I am an introvert and I know that I am my best self if I make sure to have some time by myself. For you, this might mean continuing your habit of getting up early to go for a jog, or having a conversation with your roommate about when the lights go out if you need darkness to sleep well. Know what things you need to function at your best and give yourself permission to make them happen.
3. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help if You Need It
Not sure when the library opens? Confused about an assignment? Wondering what exactly makes curtains “fire retardant”? Wanting to audition for choir? Ask somebody, even if you’re not sure exactly who the right person to ask is. Ask your roommate or friend or RA, or maybe a professor, an upperclassman that you know, or someone who you think works in the right department. Even if they don’t know the answer they may be able to point you to someone who does.
The college has lots of resources available for things you might need, like a writing center for paper help, a technology help desk for computer woes, career advising for when it comes time to think about a job, counseling services, and others too numerous to list here. These departments are full of kind and helpful people who really want you to succeed. If you need help with something, be sure to make use of the help that’s available to you. (And if you’re not sure what resources there might be, that’s a good time to ask somebody.)
I read a lot during my first few months at college, and I got very little out of it. This was because I thought that I could process what I was reading just as well when I was with a group of friends as I could by myself. I was very wrong about that. Study groups sound like a great way to get work done and socialize at the same time, but in reality, they usually aren’t very successful at either goal. If you dedicate time to focusing completely on your homework—without the distractions of friends or your phone—you will get your work done much more quickly (and effectively). This means that you’ll then have more time to focus on having quality time with your friends, rather than only sort of being present with them while you all work on other things.
This isn’t to say that studying with someone else will never work. You will find those rare friends who you can quietly sit with and read for long periods of time. Cherish these people. If you are a math or science major, you may also need to work with your classmates to help each other brainstorm ideas or check each other’s work for silly arithmetic errors. Those are wonderful exceptions to this rule. But in general, when you sit down to work, be by yourself in a place where you can concentrate, put your phone out of reach and don’t check it, and don’t open a Facebook tab on your computer. You will thank yourself later.
5. Make Friends With Your Professors
Professors are amazing; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. They have a lot of knowledge and wisdom to share with you, and during a time in your life when you are mostly surrounded by people your own age, you may find your professors’ perspectives incredibly refreshing. I have, of course, learned so much from my Houghton professors in the classroom, but some of the lessons that I’ve valued the most have been in professors’ offices or homes, or right outside the classroom door where I lure them into conversation after class.
Remember tip #3 about asking for help? Professors are great people to ask for help. They know a lot about how to help you succeed, whether that means giving you advice on complex interpersonal situations, or explaining how to find peer-reviewed articles or format an MLA-style paper.
Besides the help that they can offer you, professors tend to be cool people with interesting lives and ideas, and talking to them can be really fun. Show up to class early and chat with them, or linger afterward and talk to them more about the material you covered in class. You will learn more about the class material this way, and you might also learn interesting things about theology from your math professor, or about chickens and interesting TV shows from your English professor. You don’t want to miss those opportunities.
6. Don’t Panic if Things Aren’t Exactly How You Want Right Away
Like most things in life, transitioning to college is a process. If things aren’t exactly how you want them to be right away, that’s okay. After all, college is all about learning and growing. If you get a bad grade on your first paper, don’t worry. You will learn how to write a paper that deserves an A, and feel all the more proud of yourself when you do. If you had it all figured out right away there would be no room for growth. And if you don’t have the amazing group of friends you want right away, don’t worry about that either.
It’s easy to feel like people are locked into their groups of friends and aren’t looking for more, while you’re still searching for the people who you want to be your lifelong friends. I know so many people who have felt this way, but luckily it’s not true. You will continue to make new friends throughout your college career. You may not even meet some of your closest friends until late sophomore or junior year. And that’s okay. It’s also okay if you’re not great at time management during your first semester, or even your first few years. You’ll learn how to work at your best with experience. You’ll learn how to be your best, kindest, most loving, hardworking, and godly self with experience. Enjoy the process; you’ll figure it out soon enough.
Ally is an English and mathematics major, and a member of the Class of 2021.