There are very few times in life when you truly get a fresh start. When suddenly, almost in the blink of an eye, all of your problems and insecurities just seem to slip away so that you can begin anew. To many people, that is the main appeal of college—to become someone that is no longer confined by the walls of their hometown or by the friends who have been there since childhood. For the first time, you get to go off and discover who you are on your own, no longer merely a product of circumstance.

What they don't tell you is while that process can feel blissful and freeing, it can also be isolating, lonely, and, at times, incredibly painful.

My freshman year move-in day was completely overwhelming. Suddenly, my entire life was being moved into a room the size of a shoebox, that I would be sharing with another person.  I slowly began to realize that this was the place I would now return to after a long day of classes, after a stressful exam day or after a fight with a friend. I would no longer have the comfort of two wagging tails greeting me at the door or a nice home-cooked meal waiting for me. Privacy would no longer exist. 

While everyone else seemed to be eagerly excited to meet the rest of their floormates and their future best friends, I wondered how I was supposed to deal with my whole world completely flipping upside down. I began to realize that even in a large group, you can still feel all alone. Although I often liked having my own space and time to myself, I soon discovered that there was a big difference between being alone and being lonely.

Besides the shift in living situations, my classes were another issue in and of themselves. Believe me, your high school teachers aren't kidding when they tell you everything will be a lot harder in college. Yes, you technically have a lot more free time, but your professors tend to take advantage of that and pile on the work (depending on your major, of course). Don't be fooled into thinking you have an entire week to complete an assignment. By the time the end of that week hits, you'll have two or three more projects from your other classes and an increasingly small amount of time to do it. As one of the biggest proponents of procrastination, I will tell you that while something can be done last minute, that doesn't mean it should. Getting four hours of sleep after staying up all night writing a lab report is 10/10 NOT recommended.

That being said, you have to remember to take care of your self. 

Dining hall food will start to wear on you. Remember to eat fresh fruit and vegetables whenever you can, and seek out the healthy options in your school cafeteria (yes, believe it or not, there are some). Sleep is VITAL. Take it from someone who once spent an entire day with a massive migraine due to lack of sleep. The time that you spent staying up doing work does not make up for the following day's lack of productivity when you are riddled with exhaustion. Sure, there will be times when you cannot help it—  late night gossip sessions with a friend, a party or just because you cannot fall asleep after one-too-many cups of coffee. Those will most likely turn into the best memories that you will always have, and you should not feel any guilt over that. But when it starts to happen every night, it can have a serious impact on your health and your grades. Don't be afraid to turn in early every once in a while. There is nothing wrong with being responsible. 

Mental health is equally as important. The stress of a new living situation and class schedule is overwhelming for everyone. But you know your own limits. If it gets to the point where it is seriously affecting your day-to-day life, don't be afraid to go ask for help. Most schools have a free counseling service where you can meet on a weekly basis with a licensed professional. Going to therapy doesn't mean that you are weak or incapable. It takes a lot of strength to recognize you have a problem that you can no longer handle on your own. It happens to more people than you may realize. Sometimes having a kind, unbiased person to talk with resources to help you can be just what you need. 

As a rising senior, I can honestly say that college is where I grew up.

 It's where I really began to discover who I was as a person because it was the first time I had to take care of myself. At times the stress was unbearable, but I got through it. It made me stronger than I ever thought I could be. Freshman year I would've wished it all away, but now I can say I am grateful for all of my experiences, both good and bad. I am who I am today because of everything I went through. Now that I have one more year left, I know that I will do everything I can to make it count. Four years goes by in the blink of an eye, and soon enough all of these experiences will just become precious memories (that, unfortunately, you will have to literally pay for).

So when the last of your boxes are packed, and you're ready to begin your journey, all I ask is for you to jump in with two feet. Don't look down. You'll figure out what to do, even if you don't think you're ready. It will be hard, exhausting and exhilarating all at once, but it will be worth it. I cannot tell you exactly what to expect or how to act, because the best knowledge is gained from experience. Some things you'll just have to figure out on your own. 

But what I can tell you is that although it may (or may not) seem like it now, the best is yet to come.

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