Traversing the Unknown: Tips for the Transition into College

As we approach the final months of the summer holiday and edge closer to the first day of college classes, the emotions we initially thought we could put on hold come rushing to the forefront. It’s likely you feel apprehensive about being away from home for the first time. The very thought of having to balance your classes, job, social life, physical health, and mental well-being may be far too daunting. Perhaps the next four years—marked with uncertainty—are utterly frightening.

That’s perfectly okay! As someone who experienced the latter during my own transition into college, it is crucial to recognize that you are anything but alone. Here are some tips to help you prepare for your transition.

Manage your expectations of college

College won’t be the best four years of your life; it will simply be the next four years of your life. Remember to avoid getting caught up in your expectations of college; they can put a lot of unnecessary pressure on you to do things a certain way. Truthfully, there will be a plethora of good and bad experiences that will prove to be valuable learning opportunities in your later years. In the meantime, make sure to prioritize appreciation of the present moment over the expectations of the future.

Challenge negative automatic thoughts about college

In cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), thoughts that spontaneously occur are known as automatic thoughts. During transitionary periods in life, it can be far too easy to allow negative automatic thoughts to cloud your mind. A slightly daunting challenge can seemingly become a harbinger of doom. What if we were to challenge these thoughts—not with a hearty dose of positivity—but with objectivity and rationale? First, we must establish a firm distinction between our negative automatic thoughts and reality to recognize that our assumption of the future is not a prophecy. Then, we can begin to challenge these thoughts with a question like “what happened last time I had this thought?” When we challenge negative automatic thoughts with rationale, we can begin to consider things from a more balanced perspective instead of assuming our thoughts are the truth.

Remember to keep in touch with friends and family

Just because you are leaving for college does not mean you need to leave behind your relationships with friends and family; your transition into college is their transition into a period in which you are not present as much as you once were. For family, it’s likely they will miss you just as much as you miss them, so be sure to maintain your relationships with them. For friends, it’s likely their first-year college experience will be similar to yours; you can bond over shared triumphs and troubles. With the immense change of pace and environment that comes with college, the familiarity of friends and family will prove to be comforting.

Meet with fellow peers

It can be very intimidating to interact with all the unfamiliar faces in college, but those faces are also going through the same transition as you. It is likely that they are also missing home, getting lost on campus, and struggling to balance everything. Moreover, most of the people you meet in your first year of college will be very eager to make your acquaintance; connecting with your peers won’t be as difficult as you think. If you encounter difficulties connecting with your peers, your college should offer a plethora of clubs and events to facilitate the process.

Moderate alcohol and recreational drug use

You will likely encounter opportunities for alcohol and recreational drug use in college, however, it is important to recognize that these substances can alter cognitive activities (e.g., decision-making) and exacerbate the symptoms of depression and anxiety. While it is entirely within your discretion, we recommend moderating alcohol and recreational drug use for a smooth college transition.

With these tips in mind, hopefully your college transition goes a bit more smoothly than your worries may lead you to feel. The aforementioned tips are all steps you can take to ensure that your transition into college will be slightly smoother. Should you desire further help or encounter more persistent difficulties during your transition into college (e.g., a depressed mood that has lasted for at least 2 weeks), our therapists at Pacific CBT are here to help. Contact us today to schedule a free, 15-minute video consultation.

About The Author

Christian Wertman currently works as a behavior therapist in the field of applied behavior analysis. Christian received his Bachelor’s degree in psychology from San Francisco State University and has aspirations for a career in clinical psychology.