Maria Yagoda graduated from Yale in 2012. Her work has appeared in Jezebel, The New York Times online, Al Jazeera America, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Will I make friends? Will I succeed academically? Will I gain 15 pounds? How did I forget to pack underwear? These are just a few of the perfectly valid concerns that may be messing with your mind, whether you’re new to campus or returning. Transition angst is common—and unpleasant.
Those first few days
In the transition from summer to school, just about everything is in flux: your schedule, your social scene, maybe even your time zone. On my fourth (and last) first day of school, I found myself still nervous. My summer had been slow, easy, and fun. Back on campus, the old anxieties were waiting for me. “What had I been doing for the past three months?” I asked myself, as my friend showed me photos from her internship at the United Nations. I barely had time to unpack before my astrophysics lecture (sure, I’d put off my math requirement until my final year). I was trying to understand dark energy while dealing with dark energy of my own.
Those people who don’t seem anxious? They’re anxious
Most students are overwhelmed by this influx of academic and social obligations. (Even a lot of the people who seem to have it together. Trust me.) I found that the best way to deal with it was to get outside of my own head.
Finding someone even more anxious than you
This I knew for sure: A new student would be feeling at least as unsettled as I was. So I sat down next to a girl who was eating alone in the dining hall. She was reading a book and eating cereal, just as I had done before I had friends to hang out with. We chatted for an hour about our campus town, our classes, and all the amazing cereal options, and then I took her to our local ice cream shop. I wasn’t so nervous anymore, and neither was she.
From carefree to overwhelming manageable
The transition between summer and school doesn’t have to be a dramatic leap from Carefree to Overwhelming. It took me a while to learn this. As a freshman, I’d signed up for 15 clubs and an ambitious course load, partied routinely, and burned out quickly.
By my fourth year, my transition strategy looked like this:
- Do something fun off campus once a week. Especially in those early days before midterms and term papers, hike in the park, find a new restaurant, or enjoy local theater.
- Study a little every day, even if the big test isn’t close.
- Eat ice cream every other day.
That was my plan. What’s yours?
Peter Welch, MA, is a wellness educator and counselor at the University of New Hampshire Health Services. He manages his own stress by getting outdoors and painting in watercolor.
Summer is over. Your mind may be reeling with what just happened (summer job or internship, time with family and friends, relaxation and fun) versus what’s coming now: gearing up for classes, getting into the study mindset, finding a balance between school, work, and play, adjusting to new living arrangements, and your college social life. You’re in transition, and it can feel daunting.
Reorient and redefine yourself
Transition involves an inner reorientation and self-redefinition that enables you to handle change, says William Bridges, author of Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes (2004). For most college students, it’s important to actively and intentionally commit to this process.
Here’s what that looks like:
Remember, you are not alone
Many of your peers are also trying to find their way. Help each other.
Maria Yagoda (see previous page) reached out to a new student, showing empathy and self-awareness. Both of them were reorienting and redefining themselves. Maria’s actions and good intentions were successful for both students.
Transition tends to involve anxiety. Giving voice to how you feel helps you better understand your own experience. Talking with a trusted friend or family member will help you feel connected and understood.
Ask yourself what is challenging, then listen and look for the answers. Keeping a journal can give you valuable insights.
Look after yourself
For many students, self-care is difficult. It means paying attention to your needs and then finding some activity or experience that helps you feel better—like taking a nap, exercising, getting outdoors, enjoying a meal with friends, or reading your favorite book.
Befriend your resources
If you are feeling overwhelmed, this is a good time to reach out to your college counseling center or health center. They get it, and they have resources to help you.
Most importantly, give yourself time to reorient to your new world. Redefining yourself is a process—and an integral, recurring component of a full life.
Being proactive in identifying and accessing other campus resources may help you take charge and get connected.
More Transition strategies
- During the first week of classes, introduce yourself to your professors. This will make it easier to ask for help later on.
- Talk with your roommate(s) about what each of you needs for successful co-habitation. Start with what’s working (e.g., hanging out after a long day) and what may be a deal-breaker (e.g., being the only one who cleans the bathroom).
- Visit campus offices that support your academic success, like the writing center, study skills, tutorial assistance, and your career office. Locating them now means you’ll access them more easily down the line. Think of this as academic insurance.
- Join a student organization on an issue or topic that you are passionate about or wanted to learn about. You’ll meet like-minded peers and perhaps develop friendships.
Get help or find out more
Managing stress: A guide for college students: University of Georgia