Being a freshman in college is stressful for many reasons. The challenge of succeeding academically is exacerbated by the difficulty of being in a brand new social environment as well as the prospect of living away from home for the first time. Balancing classes, work, and a social life can seem overwhelming at times. However, there are a few solid strategies that can make adjusting to college life much easier.
1. If you must work, work on campus.
The fact is, college freshmen who choose to work off campus have much lower average GPA’s than college freshmen who don’t work. On the other hand, students with on-campus jobs actually have higher grades on average than students who don’t work at all! An on-campus job minimizes problems with transportation, which helps with time management. On-campus employers are also more likely to be understanding of the fact that your education comes first.
2. Live on campus.
Dormitories, or “residence halls,” if you prefer, aren’t what they used to be. Most on-campus housing now has amenities like wireless Internet, access to recreation facilities, and cable TV. Living on campus will make it easier to get together with classmates to study, stay involved in campus clubs and organizations, and use college resources such as the library or gym. On average, freshmen who live on campus add a full grade point to their GPAs. While grades certainly aren’t everything, it seems reasonable to assume that the increase in grade point average is due to an overall positive effect on wellbeing. On campus living simply makes college less stressful.
3. Take it slowly.
Don’t feel pressured to enroll in the maximum number of hours. Most college students take more courses than they can really handle and end up dropping or failing a class. By taking too many classes, you increase your tuition cost, cause your stress levels to skyrocket, sabotage your academic success, and do nothing to help speed up your progress. If anything, play it safe and take fewer classes than you think you can handle.
If you find that you took too few hours and are bored, then use your time wisely by picking up extra hours at work, studying for future courses, or adding an online class mid-semester. Finding additional, productive activities to add to your schedule is never difficult, but backing out of commitments is. Never be tempted to over-extend yourself!
4. Get involved.
Finding a group of like-minded friends can help ease the social transition from high school to college. Try finding a club or organization related to your interests. Most universities have organizations related to hobbies like crafts or video games, religious organizations, political groups, and academic clubs. Getting involved in an organization that genuinely interests you can be a great way to make friends as well as a good resume builder.
5. Remember that grades matter very little.
Earning high grades means nothing when compared to the real reason you are in college; developing competence. An engineering student related an anecdote worth repeating: Several engineering students took a C++ programming course. A particular group of grade-obsessed students broke the instructor’s rules and got together to complete there individual projects. They all earned A’s in the course. Another student completed the projects by himself and earned a C. When these students graduated and began looking for jobs, the first student to land a high-paying job in engineering was the C student who had worked the projects by himself. This is because in an interview, he was able to explain how to code applications. The other students, not having put in the individual effort he did, had not learned as much and were unable to answer questions in interviews.
Employers want competent employees who genuinely understand the topics relevant to their fields. They also want committed, passionate people who value the work that they do more than they value what others think of them. If you are taking a class and you find that you care more about what grade you earn than you do about learning the material, then you should not be thinking about a career in that field.
Also note that once you have a few years work experience, grades will not matter at all; employers will instead look at what you accomplished at your last job.
Striving for academic success is admirable, but an obsession with grades is unhealthy and will only lead to stress-related illness.
6. Make use of on-campus resources.
Most colleges and universities have programs that provide services for students they consider to be “at risk.” If you are low-income, a first-generation college student, or ethnic minority, then you may quality for one of these programs. You could be receiving free tutoring, assistance finding an on-campus job, and maybe even a scholarship.
Even if you do not fall into one of the categories listed above, your school may have resources to help you. Many colleges and universities have drop-in math tutoring as well as free help with writing papers. If you don’t know what resources are available, try looking at your campus web page or asking your instructors.
7. Choose a course of study you genuinely enjoy.
Many college students choose a major in order to follow in a parents’ footsteps or land a high-paying job after graduation. However, having a degree will do you no good if you are unhappy working in the field in which you earned your degree. Making a career change later in life is possible, but very expensive and difficult. Instead of waiting to do what you love, be honest with yourself now and choose a career you can live with. Not only will this help make college less stressful, but it will also set you on the right track to a low-stress life.