I’m guest blogging today with my friend and colleague Alyse Levine, Founder and CEO of Premium Prep College Counseling. This topic of transitioning to college is near and dear to me as we are sending our first child off to college this fall! Alyse and I share tips for making that transition to college one that is healthy, happy and organized!
Phew! You’ve made it. No more SATs or ACTs, no more college essays, and no more anxiety about getting in. Breathe a sigh of relief, and give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve crossed the college-admissions finish line – CONGRATULATIONS! Of course, this is really only the beginning, the start of a crucial phase of your life–what all that work and anxiety was for. As you look forward and picture yourself at college, excitement will surely grow, and rightly so. But, be prepared to confront some fresh concerns–things you didn’t focus much on while applying to schools–as you turn your attention from admissions to attending. The sense of relief at being done with your application process often comes with a new stressor: the transition to college.
Popular culture romanticizes the college years as the best and most fun of your life. While amazing things certainly lie ahead, the transition to college sometimes takes time and requires adjustments, and there will inevitably be some bumps–an inconsiderate roommate, a demanding professor, the challenges of living in a new environment–along the way. I don’t mean to be a downer here, but the truth is that some have difficulty with this transition, and the assumption that it’s all wonderful and easy is based more on myth than reality. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than 80% of college students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do in the past year, and 45% felt that things were hopeless. 11% of college students have been treated for or diagnosed with anxiety disorders and 10% have been diagnosed with or treated for depression. College is not always all fun and games.
Again, this is not to say that college won’t be exciting, mind-expanding, extremely fulfilling, and, yes, fun. I have spent my career helping students find the right match for them–the place where each will thrive–and I know of countless success stories. But every student experiences college differently, and some struggle with the pressures, particularly at the beginning, when everything is strange and new and there’s so much to figure out–academically, socially, and otherwise. Having a plan and some concrete systems for tackling these challenges can make all the difference.
The complicated, less-often discussed truth is that college is hard. It’s difficult to leave home–homesickness is a real and distressing condition, and the loss of a consistent support network can exacerbate general college stress. Along with the pressure to make friends, find a new campus community, and manage your new life, college academics can be much more rigorous than you’ve experienced in high school, something that can catch even the typically high-achieving and confident student off guard. And college comes with an increase in personal responsibility and the need for self-discipline. Papers grow longer; assignments become more independent; classes are often larger; professors are not there to hold hands. All these changes can be challenging for anyone. The need to implement organizational systems become ever more crucial.
With this in mind, I’d like to introduce my good friend and special guest blogger, the organizational expert Perri Kersh! Perri owns and runs the successful consulting company Neat Freak Professional Organizing, and she has graciously offered to share some important advice on how to make the most of this exciting transition. And, in addition to being an advocate for the profound power of organized space, tasks, and time, she is herself the mother of a rising first year college student. Here are Perri’s words of wisdom:
Transitioning to College: A Professional Organizer’s Perspective
If you’re like most young adults today, an overscheduled life is your status quo. However, chances are good that you had other people helping to manage that schedule throughout high school. As you transition to college, those days are over, and you will now be responsible for your own time. You may be thinking “finally, I can do whatever I want with my time!”, but this transition to independence comes with potential risks. Increase the odds of having a successful academic career, as well as plenty of time for fun and self-care, by putting good time management strategies to use now–and perhaps even practicing them this summer before you leave for college.
Here are some suggestions for making the most of your time in college so you can be successful, stay healthy, and have fun:
- Learn to prioritize. Recognize that you can’t say yes to everything (and trust me, so many shiny objects will tempt you to do so!). Think of school as your job and your number one priority. You won’t be in class all day every day, but you have the opportunity to use those day time hours between classes to get work done, freeing up your late afternoons and evenings for fun.
- Get enough sleep. I know… I sound like your mother! But if you aren’t taking care of this fundamental need, your work, your grades and your mental health will suffer. Do your best to create a regular sleep schedule during the week and stick to it.
- Recognize your peak learning times and use that to your advantage. If you’re an early bird, use that morning time to take more challenging classes or study for subjects that require the most focus and attention. If you’re more of a night owl, use those later hours for more intense work. Pay attention to your attention and use that to your advantage.
- Find a place to study that truly works for you. If your roommate loves to play Drake all night long, you’re going to need to find another quiet place to focus. Carve out a spot that is conducive to concentration, is distraction free and signals “I mean business” when there. Maybe keep it a secret from your friends!
- Consider how you will juggle the things you need to take care of that were (possibly) taken care of by others while at home: laundry, cleaning your room/bathroom, meal planning, grocery shopping, etc. All of this will require good time management skills. The more you practice this independent time management over the summer, the better!
- Learn how to live with less structure. In high school, you were likely in class from 8am until 4pm–and maybe you played a sport after school or held down a part time job. While this left you with less free time, you had more structure to your day. Now it will be up to you to impose this structure on yourself, and that can be a challenge that requires discipline, self-motivation and trial and error. Think about the best way to impose your own structure on your day so procrastination doesn’t win.
- College is expensive—no doubt about it! Take this financial investment you’re making in yourself seriously and apply your time wisely.
- Accept help. If your school offers resources related to time management such as a learning assistance program or a counseling center that teaches study skills, consider attending workshops they offer or get individualized help with time management. Your school wants you to succeed and it’s totally worth it to take advantage of the resources they provide.
- Use a planner…even if you’ve never really needed one before. This can be a simple academic paper planner or your favorite calendar app on your phone. Don’t expect to remember every assignment and deadline. Use trusted tools to help you remember what is due and when.
I have seen so many students minimize the confusion and disorder of the college transition by implementing these kinds of organizational techniques. That said, please don’t despair if Perri’s tips don’t immediately placate your feelings of loneliness or disorientation. Remind yourself that college is different for everyone and that the pressure to experience college in a particular way shouldn’t impact your individual progress. Most of all, take a deep breath, smile, and enjoy the ride! For all the warnings about societal pressure, college really is supposed to be fun and fresh and enlightening. You’ll pursue your interests and passions, become more self-aware, take risks, make mistakes (and learn valuable lessons from them), and become an independent adult and critical thinker ready to take on the world in your own way.
Congrats, again. Now go get ‘em!