As a high school senior, college can seem like an impending doom that's somehow a thousand years away and tomorrow at the same time. It can also seem exciting, like the end goal, where you're free to go out at all hours and can sleep in (depending on your classes!). Regardless of what your idea of college looks like, one thing is for sure – it's a lot different from high school. For many people, it's a culture shock – the idea of waking up for classes in a schedule that isn't necessarily consistent from day to day, sharing space with someone who may or may not be a complete stranger, having to block out time just for walking between classes and a ton of other things.
Feeling anxious? Don't worry, the freshmen I interviewed were sitting in your position not too long ago and are now ready to share the ways to best transition from high school to college.
1. Start using a planner.
Jess, a freshman at a New York college said, "If you haven't already started using a planner go buy one from Target or Staples as soon as possible. It's really helpful to block out your schedule and to be able to see it right in front of you. Over-budgeting your time happens in college a lot, where we think we have time to finish both of those assignments, hang out with friends and still make it to that 5:00 p.m. class. Start writing down your assignments, keeping a to-do list and your schedule for a few weeks at a time."
Utilizing a planner is something that many college students do to visually see how much time they have during the day to complete assignments, hang out with friends or attend clubs. "In high school," she said, "it's a structured day where you come in, complete all your classes, then go home by around 2:30 p.m., but in college your classes are all over the place and your schedule may not be the same two days in a row. The schedules may seem crazy overwhelming, but if you can see the time you have and take a second to say 'okay, I have free time here and here', it'll help a lot."
2. Figure out you.
College is a huge step for many people. Leaving home, friends and your life structure behind to go somewhere that may be far away can be difficult. "You'll be introducing yourself A LOT, especially the first few weeks. Figure out the kind of first impressions you want to make on people. College is about being who you want to be, and if that means re-inventing yourself, do it! You don't have to lie about who you are, but if you want to be seen as someone who's more outgoing than you were at home, take that step."
A second freshman, Kate, added, "no one here is going to know who you were back there. All they see now is who you make yourself out to be. Take senior year to figure yourself out so that when you get here, you can just introduce yourself the way you want to be seen. It'll make that whole introduction process much easier." The tip for transitioning boils down to this: It's easier to introduce yourself in the first few weeks of school when you know who it is you're introducing. If you still haven't figured yourself out, that's okay, but having a better sense of who you are can help you find like-minded people and can make that "Hi, my name is..." process much easier.
3. Join clubs.
"Remember that scene in Pitch Perfect where Becca is walking around the club fair? A lot of schools have events like that," adds Erin, a student at a large Philadelphia school. "A ton of schools will set up a club fair with food and music and flyers to get you involved. It's really helpful to find a club you really like, or at least to go to the fair itself. You can see what kind of people like the same things you do, and being around other people all starting to get involved in a club can make you feel so much less alone if you haven't really made a lot of friends yet. We had one of those at our school not too long ago, and it was really great to meet other people who were looking at some of the clubs I was."
One of the most major transitions in college is the social aspect. The stage has been reset, and you're all strangers at a new school. Getting involved can not only get you into the feel of the school itself, but can also help you to meet people that you may have just passed by otherwise. If you're going to a large school being involved in a club can make it feel much smaller, as you're working more closely with the school. It can help you find your way around and can help get you adjusted to the feel of the campus.
"Get comfortable with your surroundings," Julia, a freshman at a New York City School, advised. "It's a dramatic change, and walking from the dorms to class every day can be somewhat daunting. If you're at a bigger school you have to cross a lot of space to get from class to class and you might even get lost trying to find a lecture hall. If you're in the city you might have to walk several blocks to get to school and some schools have multiple buildings several blocks apart." She added, "urban schools like The New School and Pace University in Manhattan have several buildings that are more than a few blocks apart. You have to learn where all of them are in a space that doesn't just belong to the school, but the rest of New York."
Alex from a Pennsylvania State school explains, "If you're going to a big state school, the campus is HUGE. You have to get used to sprinting across lawns to find the building you're going to." As well as that, one of the biggest parts of exploring the space is making sure you have somewhere to relax and hang out with friends after a long day of classes. Explore the area and figure out the best places to study or grab a snack. Doing this gives you a better sense of the area and can make you feel more at home.
5. Keep in touch.
Moving away from home can be a huge sense of freedom for some people, but can be a huge sense of anxiety for others. "Make sure people know where to send care packages or letters," advises Jess. "Having your own mailbox makes you feel like such an adult and getting letters from home or from friends can make you feel much more settled in. Ask people to send you care packages. Getting fun things from home makes it feel much more like your space, as opposed to a weird trip away from home."
It's also important to make sure you know where you can send letters or care packages to a friend at a different college. There's nothing as exciting as getting a hand-written letter or a box full of those snacks you've been craving but can't seem to find at any of the local stores. It helps with the adjustment in that you have an address and a new home where people can reach you and can make sure that your needs are met by means of a surprise box or a sweet letter.
As a freshman, college can seem like you've entered the Twilight Zone, where everything is oddly stressful and nothing feels quite like home yet. It's a huge transition for pretty much every freshman, but you'll make it just fine, especially with the advice these freshmen have to give.
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