Another year of school will soon get underway as students head back to Iowa’s colleges and universities, many for the first time. Whether attending a smaller liberal arts college or a larger university, setting good habits and finding out as much as possible about their new school will put students on the path toward success. An increasing number of students cite stress, depression or other mental health issues as a reason for leaving college in their first year. We’ve compiled a list of 10 tips that will help students not only get acclimated to their school, but also help deal with some parts of college that can cause the stress that, when it compounds, can lead to larger problems.
1. Take advantage of orientation and Welcome Week events.
Students who think Welcome Week events are “cheesy” or “uncool” only rob themselves of one of the best opportunities to meet new people and learn more about their school. The more a student knows about their school, the more at ease they’ll feel. Welcome Week programs are created especially to get students out of their dorm rooms and meeting new people. These kinds of events are rare, so it’s important for students to seize the opportunity.
2. Start off on the right foot with a roommate.
Whether a student is used to sharing their room with a sibling for years or is dealing with the idea of someone sleeping in the same room for the first time, college roommates are an adjustment. Chances are roommates will end up being close friends, but there’s no need to force the relationship. Life will be easier if roommates have conversations early on to set ground rules over such common sticking points as cleaning, study times, noise levels, respect for space, sleeping habits and having friends visit. Discussing these things early on will save problems for roommates down the road.
3. It’s OK to be homesick, but don’t let it take over your life.
For some students, college is their first time away from home. It’s natural to be a little homesick. FaceTime and texting are great ways to check in with family members, but students shouldn’t let their connection with home keep them from exploring their campus and finding all the exciting activities and people that make college a new home of their own.
4. Get involved.
One of the best ways to adapt to a new school and overcome homesickness or other social issues is getting involved with groups. Often, schools offer as many activities as there are types of people. Campus events, Greek life, religious and philanthropic organizations, arts groups and more not only let students engage in something they enjoy, but also introduce them to new people who have common interests.
5. Take care of for yourself.
The saying “College is what you make of it” not only speaks to the possibilities college brings, but also reminds students to dictate their own path. Unlike high school, there are no teachers checking in on students every day. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t support groups for college students. But it does mean that students need to be able to speak up for themselves and reach out when they need help. Resident Advisors in dorms are a great starting point when students need an experienced ear. RA’s can assist students with everything from tips on adjusting to school to references to other support options should a student’s needs require it.
6. Get organized.
A great deal of stress for college students comes from the classroom and increased workload. Rather than wait for work to pile up, students who get organized early in classes will benefit from less stress. Instructors offer students a class syllabus at the start of each course and expect students to follow it without being constantly reminded. Having a calendar with important dates related to classes will not only help keep students organized, but keep them on track to success in their classes.
7. Find a good study spot.
Part of establishing a plan for classes is creating a strong study plan. Dorm rooms might seem the most convenient and libraries the most traditional, but both can offer unique distractions that can do more harm than good for studying. Students should find a place to study that works best for them and set a daily schedule that makes time for regular study.
8. Meet with instructors.
All instructors offer office hours where they are available to talk with students about class and offer additional help in understanding concepts. Rather than only visiting instructors when problems arise in class, though, students can benefit from visiting office hours as a way of getting to know their instructor. Instructors can offer unique insight into an area of study that might be of interest to a student and also help students network in opportunities both on and off campus. Students should make sure to attend any office hours for which they make appointments.
9. Get to know the academic advisor.
Just as with instructors, students might only visit their academic advisor when something is wrong. Since academic advisors work as student advocates, though, talking with academic advisors early on will help students build a relationship that benefits their time in college. Academic advisors can help students understand the big picture in their studies and can offer great insight should a student consider changing their major. Advisors can give students unique advice and help students see and deal with problems before they grow into large issues.
10. Have fun, but keep it balanced.
A good rule of thumb is that students should study harder than they party, but try to get their work done before they spend Saturday nights stuck in the library.