By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Starting fresh: Moving into the real world of freshman life
Placeholder Image

This is what Teryon Lowery, an incoming college freshman at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, believes every freshman faces as they step into a new stage of life.

Fear of making new friends, fear of figuring out where everything is on campus, fear of stepping out of their comfort zone, fear of fitting in, Lowery said.

In every stage of life people have a desire to fit in. And though the transition into college may be one of the most standard examples of wanting to fit in, it is only one of many challenges students face.

Knowing how to maneuver the world of no curfew, time between classes, choosing a major, personal finances and grocery shopping are all part of the new lifestyle these students take on. Parents and administrators at the college can all play important roles in helping these students prepare emotionally, as well as physically, as they pack up their rooms to move from home and embrace adulthood.

Here are some things for freshmen, parents and administrators to know in helping new students not just survive, but thrive in college:

Ask for help

Many experts and administrators believe asking for help could be exactly what a new student needs for success in college.

"That's part of not being afraid of things asking for help when you need it," Lowery said.

Learning how to navigate campus and classes and living places are essential for success in college, said Paynter. He wishes that students wouldn't wander around trying to figure things out for themselves.

"It's OK to ask for help. There is nothing wrong with saying 'I don't know how to do this,' 'I don't know how to schedule my time,' 'I don't know where the dining hall is,'" Paynter said.

Know the resources campus has to offer tutor and counseling centers, professors and their office hours and don't wait until the last minute to seek help, is Martinez's simple advice.

Time management

Time management is key for success in college as students balance work, extracurricular activities and study time.

Many administrators find students manage time better when they are involved in sports or campus organizations because it forces them to learn to manage the limited time they do have, said Jill Krebs, academic programs coordinator at McDaniel College.

Using technology and phones often helps many students tackle remembering all of their assignments, readings and responsibilities, Krebs said.

However, college is a time to dive into what a student is passionate about, and trying to do too much with limited time can result in nothing done very well, said Tara Fischer, associate dean of academic advising and college at Dickinson College.

"Tetris is a game we've all played you sometimes had to be creative in the way you fit things in," Fischer said. "Think of it like college and how you fit things in seeing chunks of time and fitting that together in a way that is efficient and to get things done."

Majors and job prep

Perhaps one of the most stressful aspects heading into college for new students is feeling obligated to know what to study and become when they grow up. According to UCLA's Freshman Survey in 2014, 86 percent of incoming freshmen had already explored different topics in high school, but that doesn't mean each student has to know what they will do on the first day of school.

Coming into college with a sense of direction is essential for every student, but "college is more for handling the questions of life than getting a job," said Carney Strange, a professor emeritus at Bowling Green University. "It's becoming more difficult to convince people of that. Exploring is very important."

It's OK for new students to use the first year to explore, and to reach out to resources on campus that can help with figuring out interests and potentially good majors, said Erika Martinez, a licensed psychologist in Miami.

Parents should encourage their students to take a college aptitude test to help see what majors may be the best fit for them, as well as classes they can take to help make that decision, Martinez said.

Let family still support

A common misconception in families sending children off to college is that they are no longer a parent's problem or responsibility, said Alan Paynter, assistant director of admissions at Dickinson University. Students need their family support, especially when they are trying to navigate the independent life of an adult.

"I know we have a ton of resources as colleges, but getting student access to those resources is a little bit more difficult. Having a parent at home saying, 'Go seek out your adviser or coach or RA (residential adviser) if you're having trouble with a roommate. I think it's often a parent they need to hear that from," Paynter said.

At the same time, parents should foster an attitude of self-advocating as they encourage students to reach out to resident assistants, coaches and professors when in need of academic or social help, Krebs said.

When parents make sure their children know they are "still thought about and missed and nothing's changed," it's a support to help them keep going in their busy, jam-packed lives, said Kiara Smith, founder and independent consultant at Year O.N.E. College Consulting.

Talk and think finance

Smith's financial advice for those incoming freshmen and their parents is simple: start conversations about money before they head to school.

"They really need to plan early anything they are doing now will drastically change once in college and out of the house," Smith said. "Once they get into the real world and make financial mistakes, it's hard to correct it and it just snowballs. I would stress that parents really have those conversations before they go off to college."

Learning that there is always a trade-off when money is spent can really help college students in monitoring spending, Fischer said. When a student decides to splurge on a pizza night with friends, they need to understand that means they can't spend that money on something else, if they want to stay in a budget.

"There are a lot of workshops and sessions colleges run on budgeting, and taking advantage of those" can really help students, as well as websites and numerous smartphone apps, for managing money, Fischer said.

Be OK on imperfect days

McKinley Estime, a junior and student leader at Dickinson College, said the best advice he could give new students is being realistic about what they are doing in college and to remember why they are doing it.

"It's a great deal of fun and it's easy to get caught up in that fun and let things go," Estime said. "But it's not too late to pull together grades and life."

Administrators also believe it is important for student to have realistic expectations for themselves.

"For a lot of first-year students it can be disappointing when it's not a perfect day or perfect semester. Oftentimes, prospective students are looking for the perfect school and they get there and realize there is no perfect school," said Fischer.

It's about not expecting perfection, but learning how to thrive even in a situation that may be less than ideal, Fischer said. These are opportunities for students to grow and improve.
Sign up for our E-Newsletters