This is the season for back to school, and back to college. Freshmen are moving into their first dorms, freaking out about leaving their friends behind, and perpetuating freshmen rituals. (Like the time some friends from high school and I all agreed to howl on our first night in our dorms, or the freshmen at AU jumping in cars with strangers for rides to frat parties – don’t do that one). As a freshman, I know I needed a lot of advice. I’m betting you do too.
You have incredible resources available, use them if you need them.
At most universities there is a counseling center, a medical center, and a wellness center. These resources are kept confidential. At my undergrad the medical center charged, but the others didn’t; for the first ten visits the counseling center was completely free of charge, and the wellness center was always free. If you’re struggling, go and see these people. A lot of students, especially freshmen, struggle with stress, homesickness, and loneliness. College age is also the age when a lot of mental illnesses first manifest, and getting help early is the key to mental health.
Record your thoughts and feelings.
This is a time you’ll want to remember. You could go the traditional route and get yourself a journal. (I like this one). Maybe get a sketchbook and make an art journal. You could even start a blog! In five years you’ll want to remember just what freshman year was like. Plus, this way you can look back in times of stress to previous times of stress and know that you got through them. (Related to the previous piece, if you think you’re having any kind of mental illness symptoms or you’re concerned about your reactions to stressors, keeping a record can help your doctor or counselor in the future).
Remember that you are young.
I know a lot of people say these are the best years of your life, but they’re not. Life always gets better, there is always going to be a better time in the future. What this is, though, is a time to make mistakes and not take yourself too seriously. You’re never going to be this free again in your life. Try out all the new things you haven’t done before. Visit different cities, eat different foods, experiment with different religious groups, take classes in every department. This one also applies to dating, you’re in college, you don’t need to settle down, get married, and have kids. Dating moves really quickly in college, but keep in mind that you’re young and you have plenty of time to decide what you want.
Imagine others complexly.
It’s easy to think your professors are out to get you, that your friends secretly hate you, or that you have a nemesis (who’s really just that weird kid in your religion class who says everything you want to say before you get the chance). But when you start feeling persecuted, remember that you are not nearly as important to everyone else as you are to yourself. They’re probably not thinking about you when they do anything. That kid in class is just on the same wavelength as you. Your professors are just grading how they see fit. They might be tough graders, but they’re not out to hurt you with their grades. Imagine others complexly, and you’ll have a lot better time.
Be the change you wish to see in the world.
A lot of us go to college and have our eyes opened to the world’s pains. Whether that’s through classes, tumblr, volunteering, classmates, or a protest on the quad, you’re going to discover some pain in the world you never knew about. And then you’ll get angry. And then you’ll feel stupid and useless because you can’t change it. Maybe you can’t. But maybe you can. If the injustice that’s lighting your fire is something that affects you, then start by changing your behaviour. Talk to other people. Write a blog. If it doesn’t affect you, there are still plenty of ways to help people a world away. Research the problem, and write a blog post about it to educate others. Create a roundup of ways to help those who are there. Go on a volunteer trip during a break. You could even create a charitable organization of your own. Helping others makes you feel great, but more importantly it makes the world a better place. Walking around angry about the way the world works won’t change it. You have to be the change.
Take it from someone who’s been there before, you’re about to have a great four years. It may not be the best four years of your life, but they will be great years. And if they’re not? You can always transfer, and you will always have a better future ahead. Good luck.
(For more tips, see my video coming soon!)