ransitioning from high school to college is a shift unlike anything else, or at least unlike anything that most of us have experienced prior! Not only are you moving to a new place, surrounded by strangers in a novel environment, but your whole lifestyle changes.

Most people spend their childhood and teenage years with parents who help prepare meals, go grocery shopping, do laundry, and whatever else is needed. Even if you consider yourself independent and you can do a lot of those things for yourself -- if so, you’re already on the right track! -- it can still be a huge adjustment. You’re pretty much on your own, but don’t worry! You’ll get by with a little help from your new college friends.

And yes, you will make friends. It’s challenging at first, as is living on your own, managing your own time, and figuring out how to best learn in college classes that are often taught and structured much differently from high school ones. It’s really, really common to feel overwhelmed and out of place at the beginning of college, even for the first semester or whole first year -- or even longer! If you are feeling that way, you are not weird and you are not alone.

Anyone who says they adjusted to the college lifestyle right away is lying -- sorry to call these people out, but it’s true! You’re in this weird in-between where you’re not totally an adult yet, but you also have some freedoms that adults do have, and you might not know what to do with your newfound independence. It’s stressful, and everyone is in the same, anxiety-ridden boat. It’s normal to feel these feelings, and you shouldn’t be embarrassed about it.

But guess what? It DOES get better. It gets so much better! You’re probably wondering how, asking yourself, “When does it get better? What makes it better?” Read on to find out and calm your nerves about the future of your college experience.

You’ll Make Friends

a group of friends smiles for a photo together
Making friends is the best part of college, and though it can be challenging, it’s worth it and it gets easier. Put yourself out there! Image courtesy of Cosmopolitan.

Making friends is probably the number one reason why people get excited to go to college. Making new friends is exciting, but can also be very scary! Think back to how you made your closest friends at home -- probably by proximity and common interests, a.k.a they were people you went to school with, were in clubs with, and who lived near you. It feels different because you’ve known those people for so many years, maybe even since kindergarten. It feels like you’ve known them forever, though there was a point when you first met and had to forge a friendship. You’ll meet people in college the exact same way!

Once you get into classes for your major, you’ll be spending a lot of time with the same people, and asking to hang out, have dinner in the dining hall, or study together will feel natural. Another great way to make friends is by meeting people in your dorm. Always leave your door open so you can say hey to passersby and get to know your floormates!

Making friends in any of these situations can obviously be a bit awkward, but remember that most people are in the exact same position as you -- everyone wants to make new friends! If you’re struggling in that department, here are some ways you can put yourself out there and build relationships in a way that feels natural:

  • Attend orientation week events: College-organized events might seem lame, but they are NOT! The whole point is to meet people and get to know the campus, and you absolutely will if you attend events, especially during orientation week.
  • Join a club: Have something you are passionate about? There is almost definitely a club for it, whether it is a sports team, a book club, or even a study group.
  • Social media: It’s the forefront of everything these days. Feel free to ask your classmates and acquaintances to connect! There are also Facebook pages out there for getting to know people in your class before starting school -- you can post a little bit about yourself and your interests, and even message people you find things in common with.
two friends study together in the college library
A new friend can quickly become a study buddy, but a study buddy can also quickly become a close friend! Image courtesy of Social Pro Now.

It might seem like your classmates have all found their friend groups right away, but that’s likely not the case -- of course people are always posting on social media showing off the good times they are having, but it’s likely that they are in the same boat as you. It takes time, and when you come back for your sophomore year, the friendship area of your life will be much more settled, as you’ll already know some people from classes and clubs!

You’ll Get to Take Classes You Enjoy

a professor helps one of his students answer an exam question
Getting into your major classes is so exciting and encouraging. Image courtesy of ThoughtCo.

The first couple semesters of college, you will probably have to take a lot of general education requirements and spend time figuring out what you like and don’t like to determine your major. Even if you came into college pretty sure of what you wanted to do, that may change once you start discovering all that college has to offer, so be open minded!

When you do finally decide on a major and finish up your Gen Ed requirements, you’ll be fully immersed in a subject that you love! Once you get to this point, you’ll realize how much you and your classmates want to be there, as well as your professors. So many professors have other full-time jobs in the field they are teaching you about, and do this on the side because they love it. You will learn so much in this environment!

If your first couple semesters are boring you to tears -- many Gen Eds are in subjects you probably won’t be interested in -- don’t fret! Eventually, you’ll be surrounded by like-minded people, attending classes that you are so passionate about.

You’ll Get the Hang of Those Classes!

a class sits in a large lecture hall
Large lecture halls are often a new learning environment for students, which is why it can be difficult to adjust.

Speaking of classes, if you don’t do so well your first semester, don’t panic that it’s all downhill from there. Actually, it is quite the opposite. College classes are structured a little differently in that many of them -- especially introductory courses -- are huge lectures with hundreds of people. It can be shocking! The professor often just stands at the front of the class lecturing, and it’s more challenging to build a relationship with them and more intimidating to ask them questions.

After a while, though, you’ll get the hang of your classes and figure out how you learn best. Is it in those big lecture halls? Is it in smaller classes? Is it taking notes by hand, or do you find more success taking notes on your computer? Plus, there are so many opportunities during office hours to get to know your professors or ask questions -- as weird as it feels, it’s not! That’s what they’re there for!

two friends study together on campus
After a semester or two, you’ll not only learn which classes and subjects you enjoy, but what study methods work best for you! You’ll also get to know the campus and find your favorite places to study that make you the most productive.

As time goes on in college, you’ll also get earlier and earlier registration times, which means more freedom to choose the classes you want to take, the professors you will thrive with, and the class times at which you are your most productive self. Before you know it, you’ll be a pro at navigating even the most challenging classes.

If you don’t do so well freshman year, don’t sweat it. You can improve by setting goals for yourself each semester, prioritizing certain responsibilities to meet those goals, and monitoring your progress. A great way to monitor your progress is by meeting with your academic advisor (everyone is assigned one!) or another mentor -- even just keeping track of your goals and assignments in a planner is a huge step in the right direction.  

There’s often a lot of pressure to make college “the best years of your life,” because that’s what the media and adults in our lives tell us we should expect of these four years. If you aren’t feeling that way when college starts, don’t panic, because it will get better! Plus, let’s face it -- you’re going to have some amazing, unforgettable times in college, but the best years of your life will probably be when you are fully independent and financially stable.

Obviously everyone has their own, individual college experience, but it’s safe to say that generally, yes -- college does get better over time! Put yourself out there, work hard, do things you enjoy, and don’t take things too seriously -- except your classes, obviously. Everything will fall into place!

Jul 23, 2021