Adjusting to college life
Exciting. Anxiety-provoking. Feeling free. Feeling homesick. These are just a few words and phrases that might describe your experience as you transition to college life here at SF State, whether you are a freshman, transfer student, international student, or living on-campus for the first time. For some students, their expectations of college life have been met; for others, not so much. With any large change like a move to college or to living on-campus, there is going to be stress and various emotions like sadness, loneliness, and worry. These are common reactions and it is important if you’re having these to remind yourself that you are not going crazy! However, there are some helpful tips that can support you during this major life transition:
What changes are common when I come to SF State and live in the Res Life community?
- Experiencing a new environment and new relationships: Life on campus is different than living at home or off-campus. Residents have to adapt to a new and unfamiliar environment, different living arrangements, and new roommate relationships. You likely will have to adjust to roommates from various cultural backgrounds and who have different values around boundaries, privacy, and communication. Sometimes roommate relationships develop into friendships; other times they do not. What is true about all of these situations, however, is that you have a unique opportunity to learn about yourself and others, which can lead to personal growth and development.
- Feeling the sense of greater personal independence and freedom: Living on your own means you will have more opportunities to make your own decisions about many areas of your life. This can be exciting, and it can also be overwhelming. Whatever feeling this brings up for you, remember to be patient with yourself, as this is a learning process. You will make mistakes along the way; that is common. But you will also begin to take control over many aspects of your life, and that can be really satisfying.
- Feeling that you have more responsibility now than before: In addition to having more independence and freedom, residents also face a realization that they have more daily responsibilities to manage (such as eating regularly, getting enough sleep and maintaining their health, socializing when there is time, and participating in campus activities and clubs). They also realize that they often must take the initiative to address those responsibilities (like paying housing bills, monitoring their meal plans, scheduling classes, or asking RAs or Professional Staff in Res Life for help when it’s needed). This can feel empowering, and it can also feel overwhelming. Whatever your reaction is to having more responsibility, remember that there is help from Res Life staff. Just talk to your RA, Area Coordinator, or the Res Life Counselor. They’re all here to help you adjust during this transition.
- Experiencing changes in relationships: Residents often experience changes in relationships with family, friends, and partners who they have known before coming to live on campus. This can be unsettling, especially in light of new relationships that are forming since coming to college. Acknowledging and communicating your feelings about the changes in your relationships can be a starting point for making sure you don’t lose those important people in your life. Often this can mean making sure you keep in touch with people who are important to you, either through email, video chat, phone, or even the old-fashioned way: by writing a letter. Just remember: whether you’re feeling closer or more distant, sad or happier about the old and new relationships in your life, a wide range of reactions is common and you can deal with them. Talk to someone (your roommate, friend, RA or the Res Life counselor). They can provide support and some helpful guidance as you juggle these changing relationships in your life.
What stressors might I face when I come to SF State and live in the Res Life community?
- Time management issues: One of the most common challenges new residents experience involves managing time. With greater independence, freedom and responsibility, as well as old relationships shifting and new relationships forming, managing time between academic, personal and sometimes work-related obligations can be tricky. Even classes require more work often outside of rather then in class. (For example, you likely will spend less time in the classroom then studying in the library or your room). These changes require special attention in terms of how you manage your time. At times, you may even feel like you don’t have enough time for everything! This is common. Don’t freak out! Start with some basic strategies for time management: keep a planner that lists your daily, weekly, and semester obligations (test dates, paper deadlines, group project deadlines, etc.). Also, break larger tasks into smaller ones so that you’re consistently working towards your goal of finishing a task (whether it’s an academic or even work-related task). And reward yourself when you reach your goal.
- Academics: Probably one of the most common stressors for residents involves academics. And of course this makes sense! You are a student, after all, and you are working hard to learn a great amount of new information. By its very nature, college academic work is challenging. Some residents experience pressure within themselves and from their parents. While it is important to do the basic things like attending class regularly, keeping up with your reading, and doing your assignments as early as you can before they are due, you can also access campus support regarding your academics. Speak with your professors, seek out support at your department, contact a tutor, or even reach out to a program like the Student Success Program in HSS 254 for peer support.
- Roommate conflict: It's not unheard of for roommates to disagree or even not get along some of the time. You might have hoped that you and your roommate would turn out to be good friends, and that may not have turned out to be the case. Whatever the circumstance, there are some important tips that can be helpful to ease you and your roommates through conflicts. First, if possible, set up communication from the get-go: have a roommate meeting when you first move in together to discuss household issues like how late music can be played, who is responsible for cleaning the apartment, and guidelines for having guests over. Second, talk with each other on the best way to handle disagreements. That might include setting a monthly check-in meeting to see how things are going. Third, make a commitment to listen to each other when something isn’t working. Listening before responding is the key here. When we are not listening and simply responding, we are often perceived as being defensive, and that often does not lead to resolution. Fourth, address situations as they arise. Be respectful when you bring up concerns and choose your language wisely. Finally, learn how to compromise. We all have to compromise. Decide what you’re willing to give up, and what your absolute bottom line is. It has to be a give and take process for everyone to feel like their feelings were respected and heard.
What recommendations are there that could help me adjust to life at SF State and in the Res Life community?
- Be patient with yourself! Over time, many of these unsettling reactions will subside as you get used to the new environment, new relationships, and the greater independence and responsibility you are experiencing. Try to establish routines and rituals every day or week that give you a sense of structure to your time here. Also, reach out to resources on campus for support: your roommate, RA, the Res Life Counselor, even campus organizations and clubs. The more you put effort into establishing a new and broad social support system, the more stable you will feel.
- Get involved. When you start to feel down and see that you are beginning to isolate or withdraw, this is exactly the time to set a goal of reaching out to others: a new friend, roommate, or a campus organization or club. It can’t be stated enough: the more you put your time and energy into establishing a support system here, the less you will be focused on the unsettling feelings you have because you are not at home.
- Use the resources available to you. SF State has a vast array of resources. We are a community of over 30,000 students, staff and faculty. People are here to help when you’re feeling lost. See the list of resources at the start of this Health and Wellness section on the Res Life website. Any of them can be of assistance. Just give them a call, or stop by their office.
- Take care of yourself. This is perhaps one of the most important recommendations to follow. Remember to eat and sleep regularly, take care of your health, exercise regularly, and reach out to your social supports on-campus, off-campus, and at home. The more balance you have in your life, the easier it will be to manage those times when distressing feelings or situations arise. You will be ready to tackle those moments if you have taken care of yourself before those moments arise.
Last Updated: Rick Nizzardini – October, 2011