Home article How to Survive Going Off to College

How to Survive Going Off to College

How to Survive Going Off to College

Countless articles and website have addressed how to parent so that teens are ready to leave home and go to college.  Even more articles have cautioned you to learn how to do your own laundry, cook, clean up after yourself, and even stick to a budget.  While all of these are important and quite necessary, let’s look and going off to college from a bit of a different angle.

Leaving home and going off to college is a huge accomplishment and a really big step.  On one hand, you’ve been waiting for this moment, literally counting down until you could leave home.  No parents barking orders at you; at last you will have the freedom you have so desperately been seeking.  On the other hand, though, it can be quite scary to go from the comforts of living at home and having your parents help you do everything, to being on your own for every single thing.

Being on your own for the first time is truly a big adjustment.  The farther away you’ve gone from home, the harder it can be.  Here are some of the most likely issues you might face when going off to college, as well as some tips about how to handle them.


  • ANXIETY  Anxiety is one of the most common problems faced by college students.  While a certain amount of anxiety is normal and to be expected, some people suffer from extreme and debilitating anxiety.  Either way, anxiety is a very uncomfortable feeling, and nobody enjoys feeling anxious. The best way to fend off anxiety is to avoid it in the first place.  You can often do this by planning and preparing.  Many people with anxiety find that the more they know about an upcoming event or situation, the less anxious they feel.  Get as much information as you can about where you will be living and dining, where your classes are and what supplies you need for them, and what activities and social opportunities exist. This should help minimize the anxiety.  You might still have some, but remember some anxiety and nervousness at a new situation is completely normal.
  • STRESS  Stress is not at all uncommon for college students these days.  Even in high school, you may have felt a lot of stress to do well so you could go to college, stress to get all A’s and meet your parents’ expectations, or just stress keeping up with all of the day to day tasks and pressures.  This is only exacerbated when you start college. A tremendous amount of weight is put on each midterm and final, and you might feel lost or overwhelmed by the material.  Add to that the stresses of waking up, eating, and getting to class all on your own. For some, it can seem unbearable.  If this happens to you, take a step back and a very slow, deep breath.  And then take another and yet another.Tell yourself what you might tell a friend in the same situation if they called you asking for help.  You’d tell them to just slow down, take a breath, and get organized.  Make a list of tasks that need to happen, and put numbers next to the items on the list to prioritize them  Remind yourself that you can only do one thing at a time.  Make a schedule for yourself based on how long you expect each task to take after you’ve decided which things need to get done first.

    Build in time to relax and take care of yourself.  That might look like coffee with a friend, taking a nap, going for a run, reading a magazine, or any number of other things that help you minimize your level of stress.

  • LONELINESS  It is easy to glamorize what it will be like to go off to college and live on your own.  While some make a lot of friends quickly and easily, it’s not always the case for everyone.  Many students report that it is harder than they realized to make new friends, and when you’re focusing on studying and doing well, you might not even feel like there is time to make your social life a priority. The problem is that loneliness can set in, and it can leave you feeling very sad and even depressed.  Having friends is a really important part of anyone’s well-being, so if you’re finding yourself struggling in this area, there are some things you can do.  Chances are your college has a student services center, student life tab on their website, or something similar.  Get a list of all the clubs, organizations, and activities that you could get involved in.  Pick even just one or two and give it a try.It’s easier to meet people in smaller groups and when you already know you will have something in common.  You could also look at religious groups on or near you campus, or even a campus job.  All of these are great ways to meet like-minded people without making a huge time commitment, allowing you to continue focusing on doing well.
  • DIFFICULTY WITH RESPONSIBILITY Alas, with independence comes a massive amount of responsibility.  It can truly be overwhelming when it’s all new to you.  Nobody is keeping your schedule or reminding you to get your work done.  Nobody is cleaning up after you, shopping for you, or making your appointments.  You’re on your own with laundry and getting prescriptions filled and communicating with your professors.  You need to visit the ATM to get cash and manage your own finances.  It really is a lot to do. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with responsibility, just slow down.  Make a list of all of your obligations, and plan some time into your schedule to do everything.  Much like you need to organize, plan, and prioritize your school work, the same is true for managing your day to day tasks.  Soon enough, you will become a master at fulfilling all of your responsibilities, and it won’t feel so cumbersome.  Once you get used to doing everything yourself, it becomes habitual, and I promise it gets easier.

Growing pains and adjustments are to be expected during any transition throughout your life. It’s okay if you struggle with that sometimes; it’s actually normal.  It’s not necessary to pretend that you can handle everything on your own and that everything is great.  Don’t be afraid to be honest, at least with your family and friends.

Reach out to them for support, and ask for help when you need it.  Nobody expects you to do this perfectly, especially not right away.  With honesty, love, and support, you will master this.  I have confidence in you.

Lori Freson Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.
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