Despite the clichés about college being the best years of one's life, many first-year college students are surprised to find themselves feeling stressed and even overwhelmed as they attempt to adjust to life at college.

With so many changes (even welcomed changes)—new freedoms, routines, and responsibilities, as well as distinct academic and social adjustments—it's no wonder that so many first-year students make at least one tearful call home early in their college careers. In fact, in recent years colleges and universities nationwide have noted that increasingly, students are arriving at college with mental health issues that are more difficult than those reported by college freshmen from past generations. While the precise reasons for this phenomenon are unclear, many speculate that advances in psychotherapeutic and pharmacological treatments have enabled many adolescents with mental health issues not only to function, but also to thrive academically and socially, in spite of these issues. Presumably, many adolescents have succeeded in high school and aspire to succeed in college thanks at least in part to effective mental health treatment.

Although it's not unusual for first year college students to want to use the transition to college as a unique opportunity for a "fresh start/clean slate/chance to make it on my own," it is wise for students as well as their families to prepare for some of the potential challenges and adjustments in store for them. A certain amount of stress is simply inevitable as a part of life. However, a little advanced preparation, combined with utilization of available resources, can help students and their families cope much more effectively with the transitions in store for them. This is especially important for college-bound students who have struggled with some of the issues we frequently encounter in our work at the Counseling Center.

Normalizing the Adjustment

  • Mixed feelings for parents and students is normal as college looms in the near future
  • Eagerness one day and anxiety (even dread) another day is quite normal
  • Even at college, students still may need support and guidance
    • Arrange regular calls, texts, e-mails, or Skype conversations
    • Expect the frequency of contact to change over time

Fostering Self-Reliance

  • Self-motivation, personal responsibility for classes and self-care are expected
  • Students recommended to study 2-3 hours/week for every hour spent in class
  • Time management and establishing regular routines are essential to limit stress and the need to "cram" right before exams
  • If struggling in class, students should utilize available resources sooner vs. later
    • Study groups, tutoring meeting with instructor or teaching assistant
    • The Center for Academic Success has many resources designed to help students reach their academic goals

Getting Involved

  • New students may benefit from taking advantage of campus life opportunities
    • Informal opportunities to study
    • Going to meals with peers
    • Socializing with new friends and acquaintances
    • Residence hall activities
    • Organized campus events and group outings
  • Even shy students will meet new people and feel connected, although this may be uncomfortable at first
  • There are several recognized CUA student groups on campus and many "meet up" group options off campus

Support for Students on Campus

To help new students deal with stress and difficulties with adjustment, at CUA there are informal as well as formal support networks.