Adjusting to the college environment during my freshman year of undergrad was difficult, to say the least. Namely, I began to struggle in the worst ways with undiagnosed depression and anxiety among other things. What’s more, there were many times I thought I wasn’t going to finish my degree because the pressures of adulthood became too overwhelming.
However, throughout college, I clumsily learned many important lessons regarding how to effectively manage my mental health, how to navigate friendships, course work, and deadlines as well as why it’s important to trust your intuition during such a critical time in your early adulthood.
The lessons I learned throughout my college career helped shape me into the person I am now. So, here are the 10 things I wish I could’ve known before my freshman year of college:
1. Prioritize your mental health
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), over 40% of college students stated anxiety as their biggest concern. In addition, 75% of adults with anxiety disorder started showing symptoms by the age of 22.
With such high statistics of anxiety amongst college students, it’s important to regularly check in on yourself to make sure you’re okay. Making your mental health a top priority will also aid in ensuring other college duties can be properly taken care of.
2. You don’t have to have all the answers right away
It’s perfectly okay to not know what to do with your degree after graduation, when you will graduate, or what you want to major in. Instead, appreciate the process of learning from others, learning about yourself, and learning about what you desire to take away from your college experience.
3. It’s never too late to explore your options
Don’t let the pressure of having an unwavering plan stop you from pursuing another avenue later in your college journey. Understand, so much can change within 4+ years.
As a college freshman, keep an open mind to the possibilities that will come from the experience of navigating higher education all while coming of age. Don’t shut yourself off from any opportunities that may arise in your later college years, for it’s never too late to act on a different plan.
4. Explore outside of your comfort zone
This step is admittedly difficult. I know because I’m an anxious, introverted person who has had a hard time even leaving my house or my dorm room at times. But as we all know, “you don’t grow in your comfort zone.”
Sometimes, new experiences take some courage. However, taking the occasional dip outside of your comfort zone will help you learn so many important lessons surrounding incredible things you didn’t know you were capable of.
5. Don’t compare yourself to others
To put it simply, your college journey is your own. At times it may seem other students are having an easier, more fun, and exciting college experience than you are. However, it’s likely you’re not directly seeing the possible stress, emotional breakdowns, and mental health struggles others are experiencing. Just focus on your journey and your health because that’s ultimately what matters the most.
6. Build relationships outside of making job connections
Human beings contain more value than just being beneficial for monetary gain. Build relationships with like-minded people simply for the sake of having friends in your corner when you’re having a bad day and need a reliable shoulder to cry on. Or maybe you meet people and start a book club or activist group to spread positive messages of equality, kindness, empathy, and action.
Whatever the case, don’t let all your connections with people in college simply be for job or networking purposes. It will quickly come across as disingenuous and won’t benefit you as much as you might think in the long run.
7. Find a mentor
Whether a professor, counselor, or fellow peer, mentors make adjusting to college much easier. Mentors will act as a guide through a difficult transition and offer necessary life and career advice that you’ll be able to utilize years after you’ve graduated.
8. Take mistakes on the chin
Trust me, mistakes are an inherent part of the college experience, especially your freshman year. Again, this is easier said than done, but simply take those mistakes on the chin. You’re human. Stuff happens. Take it easy on yourself, learn from mistakes as they come, and swiftly move on.
9. Seek help when needed
As previously mentioned, it’s imperative to put your mental health first. A necessary step in ensuring your mental health is taken care of, is seeking help when you need it. At the first sign of a decline in your mental health, don’t be ashamed to reach out to a counselor or trusted individual for assistance. Remember: you matter more than any assignment(s), exam(s), and deadline(s).
10. Trust your intuition
Initially going into college, you may feel you don’t know much. In reality, you know way more than you think. College is a great opportunity to discover important revelations about yourself. However, it’s easy to get caught up in the advice from outside sources: mentors, parents, professors, etc. Do consider advice from others but also remember to trust that you know what’s best for yourself. Balance is key here!
Adjusting to college is difficult. I know from experience. Always remember: take each day, each lesson, and each opportunity as it comes. Always prioritize your mental health, and trust yourself above all else. You got this!
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