Freshman Year: It’s One Of The Biggest Emotional Transitions You Can Make
When working with college students in my NYC therapy practice, freshman year is one of the biggest transitions one can make. While a ton of time is spent gearing up for college in late high school, we often forget just how hard the move to freshman year hits emotionally. There is frequently pressure to be happy and enjoy this new experience and yet, there are naturally highs and lows in this transitional time. As a freshman, you are often in a new location and at a new status in life, merging into adulthood, while still being a teen. You are no longer at home or if you are, you are now an adult living there. This can be a tough change for you, your parents and your high school friends, as well as your new peers at school.
Of course, most college kids and their parents are aware that this moment is a big one. It’s why both parents and students have orientations. There is also tons of advice out there on how to enjoy your first year, decorate your dorm room, get along with your roommate, avoid the freshman 15, etc. But, as an NYC therapist, I think freshman should go into their first year with some emotional prep too, which is why I’ve highlighted eight emotional survival tips for freshman:
1. Feeling Isolated? You’re Not Alone: Socialize The Loneliness
Being a freshman can feel isolating. It’s a big step that we do for the first time without our family. On one hand, this is a good thing–it means you’re becoming an adult. But without being checked-in on or having a family member looking out for you, the college world can seem lonely and as a freshman, you may not immediately know how to organize yourself out of isolation.
It’s important to name that you’re feeling lonely and socialize this process. Basically, your entire freshman class is going through this same transition with you. You’re all having your own experiences, but most often, you are experiencing similar things. Thinking others have it all figured out is not only frequently wrong, but can be harmful. Usually they don’t or if they do, you could use their help. Get off social media and your phone, and go down to the communal space. Say, “I’m feeling lonely–Can we do something?” Naming that you’re feeling lonely will not only help you connect with yourself, but also help connect with others, getting out and around people in a more active way.
2. Connect To A Community To Combat Social Anxiety
Many freshman experience social anxiety, which is to be expected when everything is new. You don’t yet know the social rules or have a group of people who are your people at school. There’s often a lot of pressure involved, particularly from social media, to have the time of your life in college, not to mention the pressure of grades.
Connection and community can be the antidote to this social anxiety. Finding and planting your roots at your school is key. Work to build friendships. For example, think of the people you are curious about in your dorm and get to know them. Don’t automatically assume they are busy or have friends already. It’s also important to go to student life and join something–anything–until you find an organization that hits home for you, whether it’s Greek life, activism, a tech program, religious life, environmentalism, music clubs, LGBTQ+ clubs, etc. Also look for community in your city, including open mics or community service organizations like local community and meal programs. Or if there isn’t an organization at your school that you’d like to see offered, work to build your own.
3. Yes, Maybe Your Roommate IS The Crazy One: Find Ways To Make It Better Or Safer
For many freshman, the transition to college means living with new people. Some roommates will be ideal new people in your life and others, well, will not. The reality is you have to work through these new relationships and figure out how to live with crazy roommates, messy ones and/or competitive ones (or make moves to change your living situation). Some freshmen endure a lot because they assume a crazy/messy/bad roommate is what it is. Instead, find ways to make the situation better and safer. If you’re not in an ideal living situation, it’s important to verbalize exactly what is going on and what isn’t working to friends, family or people you trust. Then, try talking to the roommate and reshaping boundaries, or name what is going on to see if they may be willing to work with you. If they aren’t, hang out with your friend in their room a lot, go to the dean of student life or ask for a transfer (a hardcore decision). Or tell your roommate flat out what is not okay and what you won’t live with.
4. Hook Up With Dating Consciously And Safely
While you may have dated in high school, the move to college means there’s even more to navigate in terms of dating, from casual hook-ups to talking about consent and asking about STDs to knowing how to acquire birth control, plan B or an STD test on campus or in a new city. In the past few years with the #MeToo movement, awareness is on the rise about being a conscious dater, meaning you’re present when you’re dating and you’re tuned into your partner, as well as yourself. Dating consciously means basically being your own safety guide. Ask yourself: Is my partner being safe with me? Will they respect my sexual needs and boundaries? Check in with yourself too: Am I dating because I’m lonely? Horny? Trying to figure stuff out? Does my friend know I’m going on this Tinder or Bumble date? Will they check in with me after the date?
5. Know Your Sexual Assault Resources On And Off Campus
With the increased discussion about the #MeToo movement and sexual assaults and rapes on campus, your school hopefully already has a line of communication about rape and sexual assault that is respectful and sensitive. Knowing where to go for help in case something unsafe happens before something unsafe happens is a crucial move for both safety and feeling more secure. Know who and where your student health, nurse, campus security, or sexual reporting person is at your school. It’s also critical to know where the closest ER is. This way, if something does happen and you are sexually assaulted, you know to call your friend, mom, aunt, therapist, etc. that night and let them know. You can go to your local ER to get the assault documented and talk to campus police. I will also note that sometimes (but not all the time) these folks may or may not be helpful. If they aren’t, go with plan B–approach a trusted friend, call your therapist and get some emotional support to help to get you through this experience.
6. Find Ways To Be Supported (Rather Than Handheld) By Your Parents
While being a freshman is a big change for you, it’s also a huge adjustment for your parents. Your parents might be freaking out by these changes and want to solve challenges for you, hand holding because they’re uncomfortable and don’t want you to be uncomfortable. In the beginning when moving to college, you might need a lot of hand holding, but eventually, you need to shift to being supported by your parents so that you have space to fail, learn, create and mess up on your own. Hand holding can be infantilizing when you’re having someone walk you through challenges (maybe even doing things for you), but being supported means that, while you are guided or talked through situations, you are the one to act. This way you are able to build the muscle of independence, growth and active development yourself. Admittedly, it can be stressful to set these boundaries, especially with your parents. But it’s important to learn how to guide your parents to support by stopping them from talking and helping them listen. Set limits with your parents when they try to push in and ask for the space of support rather than having them do things for you.
7. Own That You Have A Lot To Learn And Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
College kids can get themselves into some tricky spots and the key is to ask for help before the spot gets too tricky. Sometimes freshman just assume it will get better, you’ll eventually figure it out, or it’s not as bad as it seems (or you ignore your gut) because you don’t want to feel embarrassed or singled out. But, when we ask for help and find a good helper, who can listen and talk, it deescalates some of the fear and anxiety, and helps people get closer.
Freshmen are the best people to ask for help–from professors, peers, deans, therapists and others on campus. As a freshman, you’re not expected to know anything and this is great at this particular time. There is a lot to learn so own it. Say yes to help and direction, and build trust with helpers. Sometimes helpers also need a push. Often in the world right now, we’re told to go it alone. For example, your professor might think, “Oh, it’s new. You’ll get it eventually.” But, raise your hand and say, “I don’t get it.” Use your professors’ office hours and admit what you don’t know or are struggling with.
8. Therapy Is A Place To Figure It Out With Someone Not In School Or Your Family
Freshman year means figuring out who you are in the world and therapy can be a place to ask for help from a third party. In my NYC therapy practice, I’ve had a lot of college kids come into therapy because they want to figure things out with someone who isn’t a part of their family or the school. A therapist can help unpack this experience without social pressure that might happen in school. When working with college students, both the student and I usually come out knowing more about who they are, how they are dealing with the separation from their family, and how to move forward in dealing with this unique transitional period of freshman year. Freshman year is a process of coming of age–of sexuality, identity, newfound politics, relationships, etc. And this process is emotional. While you might know a lot and learn from campus resources, you are also discovering so so much, which can be scary and sometimes, you can get lost. With the closeness and trust built with the therapist, therapy can help you feel less alone as you move through this time.