The Collegiate View: How to Prepare for College, Learning from My Mistakes

By Alexandra Condren

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The Collegiate View is a reoccurring blog series highlighting mental and behavioral health issues affecting today’s young adults and college students. This series features original blog posts written and researched by current college students working towards a degree in psychology or a related field.

 

As I approached my freshman year of college, I knew that everything was changing. I hoped everything was going to change for the better, but I didn’t know. I could feel myself starting to panic. I am the oldest child, so everything that was happening was new to both my parents and me. I kept thinking that I should just be excited and embrace whatever change was going to come, but not knowing what the future held scared me more than I wanted it to.

Now that I am entering my senior year of college, I have the hindsight to look back and think about what I should have done to prepare myself. Here is a checklist that I wish someone had given to me the summer before I left for my freshman year of college.

1: What Are You Going to Take? What Are You Going to Leave?

Sit down and make a list with two columns. In the first column, list out all of your traits and habits that you want to keep. What makes you successful? What do you most value about yourself? In the second column, list out some things that you want to improve upon. Do you want to stay more organized? Do you want to be more confident? Now practice doing these things while you still have time to fail and try again.

In the summer before my freshman year, I was fixated on what I should pack for school. I did countless hours of research on what stuff people thought was essential for success in college. I spent all my time planning and none of my time thinking about who I wanted to be. If I could go back, I would have practiced “going with the flow.” Having to learn how to be less uptight in a brand-new environment was challenging. I eventually learned how to loosen up, but all of the time, it took me to learn this, I could have been having more fun.

2: Standards to Hold Yourself To

What standards are you going to hold yourself to? What is your comfort zone? Where do you draw the line? It’s ok to evolve and change your mind as you grow up, but what boundaries do you want to set? What are you going to say if someone tries to pressure you to cross your line?

Picture this: Before you move into college, you decide that you don’t want to drink. You have your reasons for wanting to maintain your sobriety, but you are not comfortable explaining these reasons to people you are just meeting. The first night of school you are at a party, and someone comes up to you and hands you a drink, you say no thank you, but they tell you to have fun because you’re in college. It’s ok to deflect and remove yourself from the situation/environment. You can tell them that you’re on an antibiotic that you can’t drink on, you have to wake up early the next morning, or simply that you don’t want to drink. Be ready to stand your ground.

On the other hand, if you do decide to participate in risky behavior such as binge drinking, try to think about why you are doing these things. Yes, it’s common in college, but are you drinking because you want to have fun and its within your comfort zone or is it to get drunk and go wild? Try to think about what your motivation behind taking that risk is.

3. Who do you Want to Surround Yourself With?

Another standard to think about setting for yourself is who you surround yourself with and devote time to. While being friendly and open to new relationships, be aware of the balance between being good to people, and being good to yourself?

When you first start college, you want to make friends. Most people find a group they feel like they could get along with and get really close to those people really fast. Think about what kind of people you want to surround yourself with. Do you want friends who are similar to you and share your values? Do you want friends that will challenge you and are different from you?

People try to put their best foot forward when they start college. This means that the friend you made on the first weekend of college may or may not be the same person three months in as they were early on. It’s ok to distance yourself from people who you discover to not fit into the type of people you want to keep close. If you sense that your friendship is not reciprocal, its ok to set boundaries, you are not your new friend’s therapist or parent; you should always give support to your friends while getting the same level of support back from them.

4: Communication

Sit down with your parents and/or loved ones and talk about how much contact you expect from each other. How much communication is too much when you are supposed to be gaining independence?

My first semester of college was so hectic between a less than optimal roommate situation and adjusting to my new schedule. I rarely made an effort to take time out of my day to call home. My parents had to get a hold of me and tell me they were hurt that I was barely in contact with them. I had been focused on surviving my first semester of college while they had been worried about me and wondering what was going on in my life. In addition to making your loved ones back at home feel connected to you while you’re away, it is really important to maintain your relationship with your family back home so that you have that support system to fall back on when you need it.

5: Money

Paying for college is huge on its own. What a lot of people don’t consider are the extras. Pizza after a late night, that unnecessary target run, and soda from the over-priced vending machine when you need a pick-me-up. All of these small purchases add up. It sucks, but you have to think about where this money is going to come from. It is important to sit down with your parents or loved ones and talk about how financially dependent or independent you are expected to be.

This is one thing that I did well before leaving for school. My parents have always been open with me when talking about money, and we had many ongoing conversations about what I would be responsible for paying for and what they would provide for me once I was out of the house. This eased a bit of my anxiety about school, probably because it was one small thing that I wasn’t going to be surprised about.

Entering college, unprepared was scary, but it forced me to learn about who I wanted to be, who I wanted to be around, and the values I wanted to hold myself to. College is about growing as a person and discovering who you are. Who I was when I had just turned 18 and was moving into college is a completely different person than who I am now entering my senior year. It’s ok to change your mind and evolve, but it’s so important to have a starting place so that you can look back on your experiences and see how far you have come.

 

Alexandra Condren is a summer intern at the O’Connor Professional Group (OPG) going into her senior year at Bryant University where she majors in psychology.  Alexandra’s personal experiences going into college highlight the difficulties of this transition and sparked a desire to help future students navigate the process. 

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