How to Cope with the Transition to College


Graduating high school and entering college is considered an exciting life milestone, but it also comes with a lot of stress. The first year of college is difficult for many young adults. Luckily, there are healthy ways to cope. Here are seven tips for transitioning to college:

  1. Let go of expectations
  2. Establish a new routine
  3. Connect with your peers
  4. Seek out campus resources
  5. Stay in touch with family and friends
  6. Maintain your physical and mental health
  7. Consider counseling

1. Let Go of Expectations

Our culture sets certain expectations for college. The common stereotype is this is a fun, carefree time full of independence and opportunities to meet new people. But having certain expectations for your college experience can put a lot of pressure on you to do things the “right” way. If college doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it to, you might feel disappointed.

Before you enter your first semester of college, make a conscious effort to let go of any expectations you have and just enjoy the present moment.

2. Establish a New Routine

Routine helps provide stability in our lives. Try to create a new routine within your first month on campus. Plan out times to study and complete assignments. Also make an effort to stick to regular meals and a consistent sleep schedule.

Many students struggle to establish a routine because college provides so much freedom and less guidance from parents and teachers. But taking the initiative to do so will relieve a lot of stress.

3. Connect with Your Peers

Some students are excited at the chance to meet so many new people, while others are more introverted and feel nervous about it. Regardless of what you’re feeling, it’s important to make meaningful connections with your fellow students. That will look different for each individual. You might enjoy attending parties and hanging out with a large group of friends. Or, you might prefer to have a small group of close friends and spend time with people one-on-one.

If you’re struggling to connect with people, here are some things to try:

  • Join a club that interests you or aligns with your hobbies
  • Attend on-campus events
  • Introduce yourself to the people living on your dorm floor
  • Form or join a study group for one of your classes
  • Host a game night or event in your dorm

4. Seek Out Campus Resources

Your school should have resources available to help you transition to college life. Stop by the counseling office or tutoring center to learn about the mental health and academic offerings. Talk to your Resident Assistant (RA) about dorm life. See your academic advisor for any questions about classes and scheduling. If you’re struggling in a class, don’t be afraid to ask the professor for help.

Colleges understand that it takes time to adjust to a new way of life. They want to help you succeed. Take advantage of any resources you need to thrive in this new setting.

5. Stay in Touch with Family and Friends

Just because you’re going away to college doesn’t mean you can’t remain in touch with family and old friends. Text, call, and video chat to maintain those old relationships. It’s comforting to talk with familiar people when so much has changed around you.

6. Maintain Your Physical and Mental Health

Many students mistakenly put all the emphasis on academic performance and social activities. They may even start to neglect their health. But no one can perform their best without adequate sleep, nutrition, and mental well-being. Make sure you’re eating regular and balanced meals, sleeping at least seven to nine hours each night, and taking time to de-stress.

7. Consider Counseling

Counseling is not just for those with a diagnosed mental health condition. It can be beneficial for anyone who is struggling to adjust to a big transition like college. Therapists offer an objective opinion and a new perspective on issues. They are empathetic, listening to you without judgment. Most importantly, they can help you develop healthy coping skills and a resilient attitude.

Your college likely offers free counseling that is included in the cost of tuition. If you find that you need more support, it may be beneficial to find a local therapist. For college students with a diagnosed mental health disorder, a higher level of care might be beneficial. This could include intensive outpatient group therapy (IOP).

Counseling for Young Adults from The Light Program

The Light Program offers mental health counseling for adults and teens. We are opening a young adult IOP group at our Center City Philadelphia location. Consider participating if you need mental health support in college. You can even participate virtually through our secure teletherapy platform. Learn more about our teletherapy offerings.

A Note About COVID-19 and College

Due to the recent outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), some college campuses are shifting to online classes. This can make the transition to college more challenging since you will not be able to meet with professors and fellow students in-person.

If you find yourself facing this situation, it’s important to focus on creating a routine and taking care of your health. Take advantage of any virtual resources that your school is offering to help you adjust to this different college experience.