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Ask A Therapist: Advice for a First Year College Student

Written by Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD | Nov 09, 2020 | Originally posted on Talkspace Blog

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Q: I’m in my first year of college and I hate it. I feel lost in classes, not getting along with my roommates, and just want to go home. I miss my friends and I miss my family. I’m thinking this isn’t for me, but my parents are so excited that I’m in school. What should I do?

Dear Reader,

I remember my first semester of college so vividly! Being away from home, navigating what felt like a massive campus, sorting out my place in a whole new world…it was just so much to take in. It felt like a massive shock to the system. The total loss of structure left me feeling ungrounded, lost, and unsure.

I wholeheartedly empathize with what you’re experiencing, but the fact is, you need to give it more time to sink in. You have just left everything you’ve ever known for the better part of 2 decades and have entered a whole new world. Of course you miss your friends and family. See that as a reflection of the strong, healthy relationships you’ve built rather than a sign that these new relationships aren’t working. Feeling sad is a normal reaction to this incredible transition in your life. Every single comfort of familiarity is gone. Factor in a pandemic, and you’ve just added more disorientation.

I know it feels scary since new chapters and change is painful. However, pain and fear are often signs of growth and development. I encourage you to open up the way that you’re thinking about what you’re feeling. So, what’s the best kept secret about having a successful college experience? Making the mental shift from finding room for yourself in the life given to you, to taking control and creating your own experience. If you can lean in, and take advantage of this new experience, you’ll start to notice that it’s a new opportunity for you. You can do this!

It’s unfortunate you’re not getting along with your roommates, but campuses are filled with so many different organizations, sports teams, and clubs. Look outside of your room for connection and new friends. There really is a group for everyone at most colleges, but it can take some time to find the right fit. Keep an eye out for a group or organization that’s interesting to you. This can be a great way to find a new group of friends, even while you are missing your friends from back home.

On that note: call your friends from back home! Check in on them. Set up a routine group chat and see how everyone is doing. My guess is that everyone is likely having their own set of anxieties AND excitements right now. Being physically apart doesn’t have to mean that you fall out of touch with one another. You can dive into this new chapter while keeping in touch with your roots. Keeping in touch with your family and friends from home will most likely help in feeling less alone right now, which will give you the strength and faith to keep taking risks and reaching out to new people in college.

And listen — college isn’t for everyone. It is absolutely okay if, after you’ve listed out the pros and cons, consulted friends and family, and after you’ve given it your all, you’ve concluded that you need to take a different direction. But you should give it time. If you still feel the same way in 6 months, make a decision then. This is your opportunity to find yourself, and wow! The journey to finding yourself is a long one and often accompanied with many challenges. And yet, this is one of the most exciting journeys because there really is no right or wrong answer in the discovery process.

The holidays are also coming up. I hope that you will be able to travel home to see your family. I remember driving home for my first Thanksgiving while in college. It felt SO good to pack up my car and take that 6-hour road trip. Having been away for a couple of months made going home even sweeter. I remember feeling relieved, just knowing that my family missed me and hadn’t forgotten about me while I was away. There is power and comfort in hearing the words, “I love and miss you,” power and comfort in being able to miss and be missed.

It was right at this crossroads of missing what was and looking onto what could be that I was able to make some of the most amazing friendships. In fact, I even ended up meeting my husband right around this time too — though neither of us knew that was going to be the case at the time!. I wish you nothing but the best on your journey, and congratulations on getting through the first few months! You are already doing huge things! Be patient with yourself, and be proud of yourself.



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