You did it! You finished your final exams, probably went to senior prom, and walked across the stage to collect your diploma. Now it’s time for college. Exciting, right?
Well, sort of. You might be freaking out right now. What will your roommate be like? Even though you’ve met online, will you like her person? Will you enjoy your classes? Did you choose the right ones? Will they be too hard? Too much work? Will you miss your high school friends? (OK, will you miss your parents?) Being anxious is perfectly normal.
It’s not an easy time to be college-bound. College is a wonderful experience, but it’s also very difficult — especially for young women.
Recently, http://www.usatoday shared the surprising findings of a study conducted at Boston College highlighting that women often leave college with lower self-esteem than when they started. Don’t let that be you: I want you to take charge of your experience and make it great.
You need a roadmap for navigating this transition. As the mom of two teenagers— one in college and one on her way, and as a therapist and coach who works with teen girls, I know that young women need specific, honest advice at this crucial time. So I went to the “experts”— upperclasswomen who’ve been there, done that, to help you along.
From peer pressure to friendships to the “freshman 15,” here are some of their best tips.
Learn your tolerance early—and respect it.
Only experiment with close friends in a familiar environment.
Don’t try to keep pace with others.
Know you have the freedom to choose NOT to drink.
You’re not missing out if you stay in! You don’t have to go to every party.
Don’t get sucked into “FOMO” (or fear of missing out).
Don’t put your drink down or take a drink unless you are sure what’s in it.
Stay with the friends you came with and leave together.
ON HOOKING UP
The “hook-up culture” is different at each school, so proceed with caution.
Stick to freshmen boys in the beginning.
Understand that hooking up with an upperclassman who’s been in a relationship with other upperclasswomen can be a major faux pas.
Know your intentions before hooking up.
Prepare yourself: No matter how much you convince yourself that you won’t get attached, it hurts to see him or her hook up with another girl.
Remember that “private” hook-ups usually don’t stay “private.”
Beware: Getting a bad reputation freshman year can follow you for a long time.
Know that a double standard (still!) exists. Girls get a bad reputation more than guys do.
Don’t expect your roommate to be your best friend.
Set aside time to connect early on and touch base regularly.
Leave little notes to ask her how her day was, and ask specific questions related to things you know are important to her.
Don’t wait too long to talk about any issues or concerns, as they just build up.
Be respectful in your communication and behavior.
If you have different schedules or criteria for neatness, discuss strategies to make sure that you both are respectful of each other’s needs.
Discuss how to navigate having friends or guys sleep over.
Write a contract for cleaning so that expectations are clear. Post it where everyone can see it.
Talk to your RA about changing your rooming situation if the relationship becomes unbearable.
ON DEALING WITH DIFFICULT EMOTIONS
Talk to others when you feel overwhelmed. Everyone has been there.
Get help from the counseling department if you need it.
Learn to identify what makes you anxious, frustrated, or sad, and then problem-solve ways to handle them in a healthy way.
Do one small thing outside your comfort zone every day.
Set goals for yourself. Go to every dining hall at least once, meet everyone on your hall, meet with each professor in the beginning of the semester, smile at one new person every day.
Remember, only you can change your reality.
If you can, visit home before Thanksgiving break.
Decide early on how often to talk to your parents. Talking a lot can make you (more) homesick.
Try to identify what triggers your homesickness and figure out strategies to cope: Is it when you’re alone in your room? At meals?
Keep in touch regularly with friends from home.
Don’t let missing your high school boyfriend keep you from meeting new people or exploring new opportunities.
Form a private Facebook group with high school friends.
Use parents as a resource. Don’t be afraid to let them know how you feel.
ON FEELING OVERWHELMED
Everyone feels nervous and unsettled at first.
Accept that change is inevitable (and may even be good).
Learn to sit with the painful feelings.
Look for ways to create a routine that works for you.
Stay focused on the present so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
Remember that college is a great opportunity to “reinvent” yourself.
ON HAVING A SOBER SOCIAL LIFE
Realize that you have the freedom to choose your limits.
Explore your new city or town.
Go to the movies, play a sport, go to a play.
Remember: People respect you a lot more when you have the strength to socialize without needing to drink. It shows you’re confident, and that’s always a cool thing.
ON MEETING NEW PEOPLE
Get involved in activities that you’re interested in, even if you’ve never done them before.
Don’t limit yourself to just one group of people or one activity.
Find a job.
Say “hi” to one new person every day.
Get to know the people on your floor.
Join a club or intramural team.
Manage a sports team.
Try to rush a sorority, even if you’re not sure about joining.
ON THE DREADED FRESHMAN 15
Take longer routes to classes to increase your daily exercise.
Find a gym buddy to increase your chances of actually going.
Try not to eat after 8:00 p.m.
Stock healthy dorm snacks so you’re less apt to reach for unhealthy options.
Drink lots of water.
Limit your alcohol consumption.
ON ASKING FOR HELP
Go to the counseling office and find a counselor that you can talk to regularly until you feel settled.
Hire a coach who can work with you at a distance via Skype or Facetime.
Don’t isolate yourself.
Don’t look to social media to help you feel better. It will only make you feel like you’re the only one not having fun—which isn’t true.
ON WANTING TO TRANSFER
Don’t let one bad experience early on ruin your outlook.
Go in with a positive attitude.
Look into changing your major if you feel stuck.
Finish out the year and consider transferring the following year if you’re still unhappy with the situation.
Don’t give up right away.