"This is the best time of your life."
It’s a comment tossed off by well-meaning older folks, and one that’s usually accompanied by a sigh of nostalgia. Most people look back fondly on their college days, and want to impart that sense of freedom and possibility to the students they know and love. But it isn’t really that simple, is it? Being young and being in college doesn’t automatically generate a carefree sense of wonderment about the world – it’s just that after a few decades, most people tend to forget the tough stuff that went along with all those “best times.”
Along with fun electives and Frisbee on the quad, college brings some significant stresses. Busy schedules, making new friends, the pressures of grades and class rank, decisions about life looming just beyond graduation dates. On top of that, the average college student has to worry about student loan debt, and about positioning correctly for a career that will generate enough income to handle that debt! How about that, grown-ups? Still sound easy-breezy?
The thing is, it is possible to be happy in college, and for those years to be some of the very best. But it requires some work: some attention to mental health, some organization and responsibility, and importantly – some reaching out when the going gets tough.
That freshman 15 everyone talks about has absolutely nothing to do with a change in metabolism. It’s the combined effects of eating junk, sleeping too little, and failing to exercise – factors that high school students often have help managing. Without teachers, coaches, and parents around to ensure that students maintain a regular routine, plenty of newly-released freshmen go off the rails. Making a conscious decision to treat yourself right will go a long way towards maintaining good mental health, too. Speaking of mental health...
Know your resources
College faculty and staff are more than adept at helping students to manage their stress, and are willing to step in – but you have to ask! Your school probably offers free counseling services, a health clinic, academic advisors and tutors who can help with academic issues, and organized peer support around every corner. Feeling down because you’re far from home? Concerned about your roommate’s behavior? Need a tetanus shot? Falling behind in a class? Your school is a community built on a supportive, reliable foundation. You are not in this alone, so don’t hole yourself up in your room and tough it out.
You’re free! Get excited!
Your new independence is something to celebrate. Go out with your new friends. Haven’t made any? Ask the other quiet folks in your hall if they’d like to have dinner in the commons or coffee after class. Chances are, they’ve been waiting for you. Your social life is yours now, so make the most of it! Stay out late (but don't miss class the next day. Trust us, it's never worth it). Sleep in on the weekends. Sleep the whole weekend. Wear that shirt your parents hate. Making good choices, on your own, is as much a part of the experience as the courses you take and the diploma you'll earn. So make them, and revel in that freedom.
…and the people who love you. Do not hesitate to take a trip to a foreign country if you have the chance and the cash. Volunteer somewhere that makes you really, really think. Make friends with people that don’t look or act like your friends from home. Do something that makes your dad roll his eyes. Take a class way, way outside of your curriculum. You will never regret a single one of these things. Come home, every break, with a story for your younger siblings or high school friends that makes them smile.
No, every day of college isn’t going to be a walk in the park. But if you take care of yourself, work to be brave, and make deliberate choices, these years are going to be – yeah, we’re gonna say it – the best years of your life.
Need some help with college planning? Book a free one-on-one appointment with an experienced college planning counselor.