First Semester Survival Guide: Adjusting to Life in College

Starting college is a daunting time for anyone. Having to move away from home, make new friends in a new place, and adjust to a new routine are all reasons that students often feel isolated and lonely in their first semester of college. While some people grow into themselves quickly, others aren’t so lucky. For many, their first semester is a very challenging time. Even if you were excited for college, getting started can make you rethinking everything. Worry not – anyone can adjust to life in college and flourish in their time there.

How do I know?

Believe me, I felt like I was living in a nightmare when I embarked on my first semester of college. As a life-long introvert suffering from undiagnosed social anxiety, the transition felt impossible for me. Even though I was very excited to start college, once I got there I suddenly felt very out of place.

For me the typical advice of putting myself out there, making friends, and enrolling in clubs only made me feel worse. Not everyone is a social butterfly that’s going to want to socialize when they feel like they are drowning in their new environment. Here is my guide on what helped me adjust to college. If you are introverted or struggle to make friends, this advice is for you.

Let yourself feel

I still vividly remember walking my boxes of stuff up seven flights of stairs on my first day of freshman year. For the next four months, I would live in a semi-detached state as I trod the water of despair. I counted down the days to the end of the semester when I could go home. I went home for a weekend a cried upon seeing my house because it felt so good to be home.

Tell yourself that getting used to anything is a process. Don’t put pressure on yourself to just “get over it.” Allowing yourself some time with your emotions is vital to being able to understand them. Realizing that it is okay to feel sad and stuck where you are will help alleviate feelings of guilt or failure. It’s ok to not adjust as quickly as your peers. It’s ok to miss home. It’s ok to not be ok.

Get into a healthy routine

Getting yourself into a healthy routine is key to making college feel less foreign and make sure that you are setting yourself up to thrive.

Eat properly

Be sure to eat at least two meals a day. I knew a lot of students that didn’t eat much during their first semester in school. For some, it was because they were too depressed to feel like eating and for others, it was a fear of going to the dining hall. Forcing yourself to go to the dining hall or prepare a few full, healthy meals a day will ensure that you aren’t making yourself feel worse by denying your body of nutrients. If you’re worried about the dining hall, making that one of your first stops of the semester will get you in the habit of going in no time.

Stick to a hygiene routine

Stick to a proper hygiene routine. Many freshmen share a communal bathroom, which can make freshening up feel like more of a chore. If sharing a bathroom makes you uncomfortable, find the quietest times to go. Keeping up with yourself will help you stay confident through these trying times.

Get moving

Get some exercise. It can get tempting to hide away in your dorm room, but that won’t help make college feel more do-able. Many colleges have free-to-use workout rooms. These can be a great addition to a healthy routine. However, not everyone likes to go to the gym. If you aren’t a gym rat, try doing yoga or stretching in your dorm room. Walking around campus is a great way to get exercise, be a part of the community, and get yourself familiar with the campus.

Commit yourself to your studies

While there are many opportunities to have once-in-a-lifetime experiences in college, pressuring yourself in your first semester to get out can make college life feel even more daunting. While enjoying the many non-academic aspects of college is important, it need not be the first thing you try to do first semester.

Remember, you’re not there to party. As long as you make it through your four years with decent grades you will get a diploma. Get excited about your courses. Do all your work on time. Work hard and diligently. Academics gives you something positive to focus on. Not only will it distract you while you adjust, but it will set you up with a good routine for getting work done when you are busy with extracurriculars and hanging out with friends.

Find hobbies you enjoy

I rode horses all throughout my childhood. Going to college meant I had to put riding on pause. This contributed greatly to my feelings of sadness in college. I felt lost without being able to partake in an activity that had been such a huge part of my life. However, this allowed me to rediscover a passion of mine I forgot about—drawing.

Once I got back into drawing, I became excited to wake up every day. When I wasn’t doing schoolwork, I was drawing. Back when I lived at home, I didn’t have the time to draw, but in college I did. Suddenly, I was able to find my identity in my new circumstance.

Find something you can do while you’re in college. Having something to focus on that you love will put a sense of purpose in your life. It will help you define yourself outside of classes and give you something to fill your idle time. Eventually, you will find people with the same interests as you.

Trust the process

The first night I ever spent in college, we were shown a videotape of recent graduates telling us how nervous they were when they first started and how everything turned out ok. One, in particular, stood out to me. He said, “By the time you leave, PSU will feel like home.” I didn’t believe him. In fact, I was mad at him for what he said and mad that he got to feel that way. I knew this place would never feel like home.

But I was wrong.

Four years later, when I graduated, I bawled my eyes out at the thought of leaving. My college really did feel like home to me.

Even if you feel scared now, and like college isn’t for you and you’ll never adjust, remember it’s a process. Just because college feels impossible now, doesn’t mean that you can’t own your experience. Four years is a long time but, trust me, it won’t be long enough.


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