You have been thinking about this day for years. The moment when you walk across the stage to that age-old tune, get your diploma and are officially done with high school. This is it. The four years walking the same halls, seeing the same teachers, and spending time with familiar faces is over. There are mixed emotions that go along with this day- happiness, worry, and sometimes even sadness. The weeks leading up to graduation can bring upon an experience I affectionately like to call “graduation goggles.” The places that you once were tired of seeing on a daily basis become your favorite thing in the world. The people whom you may not have gotten along with you try and be kind to because you know you probably will never see them again. It is a common phenomenon when you are transitioning from a space of comfort to something completely new. You see the same things through a new set of eyes because you are soaking in the final moments of familiarity.
One of the things that I talk with clients at this stage of life about is the common theme of the unexpected. What will college be like? Will I make new friends easily? Will everyone think I’m super weird? School up to this point feels like the same experience just in a different building. You hear the bell to transition between classes, you follow the same schedule every day, and you know how to get from one point of the building to the other without even thinking about it.
Transitioning to college brings a lot of exciting new experiences but it also brings some challenges. For many of you in this place, this is the first time you may be living away from home. Some of you are moving to a completely different state that can be either a drive or plane flight away. It is completely normal to feel a wide variety of feelings coming up to one of the biggest changes in your life. To help prepare you for this experience, here are a few tips to make the transition to college a little smoother.
Don’t Take the People You Love for Granted
I know this sounds silly, but it is true. Especially for those of you who are moving both to college and out of state, you will not be able to see the people you cherish as much as you could before. The same goes for those of you who are staying home and commuting to school. Your friends may be moving away and will not be home as often as they used to be. Spend your summer before you start college making memories that you can hold on those days when you feel homesick. Take pictures and make a memory board to take with you to your dorm or apartment to look back on those happy times. I am not going to sugar coat the reality of homesickness, because it does happen. It will be tough to be away from friends that you were used to seeing every day, so creating a space to remind you of the things that make you happy can help ease the pangs of guilt for leaving them behind.
Trust Me, You Are Not Alone in Feeling Awkward
Day one of college is just like any first day of school. You feel super lost, super awkward, and do not know anyone. You are not alone. A great way to make sure you are not wandering around in circles is take advantage of your orientation days and buddy up with someone you know will be in a class with you. That way, you automatically have someone to look for on day one. The day that you are moving into your dorm is a great opportunity to spend time with other dorm mates who are all in similar states of mind as you are. Watch a movie together in your dorm, play a sport together in a common greenspace on campus, or go grab dinner as a big group after you finish unpacking. These friends you make on your first few days of school may become lifelong friends.
What You Want to Become Today May Change Someday
Picking your major can be simultaneously the most exciting and the scariest day of college. One of the conversations I have a lot with new college students is this worry of not knowing what you want to choose as a major. If you have always wanted to be a teacher from age 6, that may still be your reality today. However, speaking from personal experience, sometimes those dreams change. This is completely okay! College has a way of opening your eyes to new life experiences and this can cause you to find a new dream. Allow yourself space to explore and try new things you may not have even thought would be interesting to you. Join that club, take that class, and attend that workshop on future careers. It may be the difference between settling for what you thought you wanted and figuring out your true passion.
Allow Space to be Sad, But Then Get Excited
Transitions are a time where a lot of emotions can come out of nowhere. You can suddenly feel sad out of the blue and then you feel annoyed with someone that you loved yesterday. Find ways to channel those emotions in a healthy way, whether it is talking about it with someone you trust or expressing them through art, will help ensure that you do not dwell on the sadness of things you have left behind. At some point, work to refocus your thoughts on being excited about the opportunities ahead of you. Research possible clubs or sports you may want to join, look into opportunities in your new few years you may want to explore, plan out some electives you may want to take to expand your horizons, connect with incoming freshmen online to find those who are in your shoes to compare packing lists, the ideas are endless. Focusing on the sadness will turn what could be a fantastic experience into something you dread. This also goes for parents as well! Helping your children move to college and having them away from home for the first time can create mixed feelings. Allow yourself space to be sad, but then fill the time with things that bring you joy. Plan days to spend together, talk on the phone when you can, and get involved with those things you always said you would do.
I hope that these ideas can help make college less scary! If you are still feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or sad, do not hesitate to give LifeStance Health a call and we can set you up with a counselor who will support you through this transition.