Who will I sit with in the cafeteria? Will the classes be too hard? How soon will I make friends? For freshmen, the first weeks of college are filled with worries like these.
Whether faced with the terror of walking into a cafeteria full of new faces or the paralysis of not knowing the answer to a question the professor asks in class, new college students find a lot to feel nervous about during the first month of school.
To avoid facing their fears, freshmen commuters might stay away from campus and dorm students might take refuge in their rooms. “The first month, I spent a lot of time in the library,” says Shelagh Sweeney, 17, of her first year of college. Sweeney now a second year student at Ulster Community College in Stone Ridge, New York, says the most important thing for freshmen to keep in mind is that “all of the other incoming students are just as nervous as you are.” Once students realize this, it becomes easier to leave the dorm and venture onto campus to meet new people. Joining a club, taking a trip, volunteering for campus projects and attending events are all promising approaches to making friends.
“Friends form through a willingness and desire to be around each other,” explains Andrew Wile, 20, a student at Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, New York. Wile’s first college friends were fellow classmates in a music theory course during his first semester. Outside of class, Wile discovered that “study partners are amazing to have in college, especially when you can form lifelong friendships that can support you outside of the classroom.”
Some students find friends on day one, others take longer. “The speed that people make friends with other people differs with each individual,” Wiles says. Sometimes being in the right place at the right time can be all it takes to meet a friend.
“If you’re worried about making friends, it’s really hard to not make friends in college,” Sweeney says. “One day while waiting for class to start, a kid … asked if I wanted to play cards. It was totally unexpected. … We are now best friends.”
When Luke Messina, 18, enters Ulster Community College this fall he won’t have to worry as much about making new friends since many of his high school classmates will be attending as well. But Messina does have a worry: “math.”
Many students have a subject or subjects that they find challenging. This can make the classroom a scary place. Students like Messina, who have trouble with certain subjects will find many places on campus to get the help they need. “Help centers have several benefits,” says Jody Sterling, Associate Professor for the Department of English and Humanities at Dutchess Community College. “If a student goes to a help center, everyone there is focused on doing schoolwork. It is a quiet place to study… If a student has a question or needs help with his work, he can ask a tutor for assistance.” Even before the first day of class, Messina has arranged for help through the school. He will meet with a math tutor once a week.
Struggling students often overlook the most valuable resource on the college campus: the professor. Students may feel nervous about asking questions in class, but professors encourage it. “My smartest and most accomplished students are the ones who ask the most questions,” Sterling says.
Even the most confident students may encounter unexpected challenges in making the transition from high school to college. According to Samantha Bennett, who recently transferred from Dutchess Community College to Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York, “The greatest challenges for first years would have to be … adjusting to a new routine,” Bennett says. “The biggest lesson for me was time management. If you don’t know how to manage your time you will fall behind in everything.”
Linda Farina agrees. Farina, a Fieldwork Coordinator and Crisis Counselor at SUNY Ulster helps students deal with stress and anxiety in order to have a “successful college experience.” According to Farina, time management is vital. Farina encourages students to use their course syllabus, which lists upcoming due dates and assignments, to effectively plan their time.
Following the syllabus can help students stay on track with assignments and projects. “Don’t blow them off,” warns Wile, “or they will come to haunt you in the long run.”
With new free time between classes it can be tempting to put off starting assignments.
“That’s the thing that high school doesn’t prepare you for, what to do with all of the free time,” Wile says. “It’s very hard to motivate yourself to do work between classes. … I rewarded myself with music time after finishing all of my work.”
Whether the student’s concerns are academic, social, or finding a balance between the two, college is a new beginning. “Really take advantage of being in a new place with new people,” says Sweeney. “If you were shy in high school, no one here knows that. Nor do they ever have to.”