Making the Transition to College Life
Going to college can be a big transition. Dixie State University is a unique environment with its own rules, challenges, and opportunities. There are different expectations and requirements than in high school or the working world. There are many new social opportunities. You may be in a new living environment and learning to deal with roommates. You may have to cope with different weather and cultural environment. Some students even have to speak a new language.
These changes are part of an exciting new step in your life, but they can also be stressful. Learning to adapt to a new environment requires patience, perseverance, and, sometimes, even courage. Understanding some common stages that people go through when making this kind of a transition can help you recognize where you are on this path. It can also help to realize that you are not alone — many others around you are feeling the same way you are.
The first stage of a transition is typically excitement. Everything is new and interesting, and you relish the amazing opportunities in front of you. You focus on the advantages of your new situation and the ways it is better than what you were doing before. You are excited to be making progress toward your educational and career goals and enjoy the new level of independence. There is also some concern about making friends and living up to the expectations placed on you, but you generally feel that you will be able to succeed.
Soon enough, however, you get hit with a “what have I done?” feeling. Everything starts to seem overwhelming and difficult. You may miss your family and friends and long for the ease you felt in more familiar circumstances. You may feel depressed, discouraged, impatient, irritable, homesick, and disenchanted with college in general and DSU in particular. You focus on the problems you are having and criticize the university, your professors, and your roommates. You may find others to complain with, or you may feel isolated and alone. You may find yourself not wanting to go to class, sleeping in late, playing video games, eating a lot of junk food, or spending too much time texting or on Facebook with old friends. You may have trouble controlling your temper or feel like crying all the time. You may want to start making fun of things around you to make yourself feel better. You may even have physical symptoms like an upset stomach, headaches, etc.
After a while, you start to realize that things are not so bad. You make a few friends and solve some of the problems that you were having earlier. You realize that the things that were really bugging you before don’t seem like such a big deal now. You begin to be able to make more reasonable judgments, neither seeing things with rose-colored glasses or being overly critical. You have found a routine that feels comfortable. You start to find where you fit in.
One day you wake up and realize that you feel at home in college. You recognize there are reasons for the ways things are done. You have become reconciled to the things you don’t like, or see how to make a difference and change them. You know the ropes and have some skills and resources you can count on. You have learned a lot, risen to the challenges before you, and made some friends.
You feel adapted to college life and even reluctant for the semester to end. You realize that you have changed as a result of your college experience and wonder if you will be able to fit in again at home or still be able to relate to family, old friends, and co-workers. You realize you will have to start the process of transition over again once the year has ended.
Do you recognize these stages? Chances are, you’ve gone through them before without even realizing it. Knowing these stages and how to handle them can help minimize the discomfort of transitions.
What to do to make transitions easier
Everyone reacts to big transitions a bit differently. It is normal to switch back and forth between stages. However, you can make the most of your experience by rolling with the punches and knowing what to do during the different periods of transition.
While you’re in the excitement stage, use this positive energy to get a good start on your college experience. Start good habits like going to class every day, reviewing your notes afterwards, and getting started early on assignments. Be adventurous! Smile at everyone you meet, make an effort to be friendly to people in your classes, and do things that get you out and around. Dive in and solve whatever problems come your way.
When you hit the transition shock stage, realize what is happening. These feelings and reactions are normal, and if you just keep going, it will get better. Your emotions are real, but the cause is sometimes hidden; little things that upset you are often just an outlet for the stress you are feeling. How you deal with this stage can determine how long it lasts.
Here are some suggestions for dealing with the negative feelings that can come during the transition to college:
- Go to class! As soon as you stop going, you lose contact with your professor, other students, and the course material. You worry about what you missed and are afraid to go back and try to catch up. The more classes you miss, the bigger the problem becomes. The very time when you hate the class, hate the professor, and hate everything about it is the most important time to be there.
- Use campus resources to deal with problems. If you are struggling in a class, form a study group, talk to your professor, or go to the Tutoring Center or Writing Center for help. If you are having trouble with financial aid, go the Financial Aid office and get help to resolve it. If you just need to talk to someone, go to the Academic Advisement Center or the Health & Wellness Center — having someone else listen and help you figure out what to do can make all the difference.
- Use healthy strategies for dealing with stress. Get some fresh air, make exercise a daily part of your routine, eat healthy food rather than junk food, drink lots of water, and get the right amount of sleep. Try some relaxation or meditation exercises. For more ideas on this, see the chapter on Dealing with Stress in this book.
- Don’t let yourself get isolated. Build on the friendships you have. Don’t wallow in unhappiness so much that you don’t appreciate friendly gestures that others make toward you.
- Make small goals and celebrate your progress. Treat yourself to occasional breaks, including things that made you happy before you started college: a favorite food, a hobby, a TV show, etc.
- Don’t succumb to victim mode. If you find yourself in “complaining mode,” where your mind keeps running through a litany of all of the things that are going wrong, don’t let it take over! Break the cycle by taking action to deal with one of the things that is bothering you. Don’t succumb to thinking of yourself as the victim all the time — this kind of thinking can be addictive. It makes you feel a little better, but it doesn’t solve the problem, so you end up doing it more.
- Don’t quit! If you start thinking about quitting school, don’t take the easy way out without giving yourself more time. If you stick with it, the rewards will be significant! If you quit every time you try to do something difficult, you won’t get very far in life. Talk to an advisor in the Academic Advisement Center or the Health and Wellness Center to see if you can get some help to push forward instead.