We are in the midst of high school graduation season and I thought it would be good to share some tips that could help someone you know have a smoother transition to college.
Of paramount concern is the data showing that depression and anxiety have been on the rise on college campuses. Reports indicate that more than a quarter of undergraduate students are suffering from mental health issues.
Through research-based interventions, it may be possible to reduce symptoms associated with many of the issues facing today’s college students, from depression and anxiety to feelings of not belonging and a lack of resilience.
4 STRATEGIES FOR FRESHMEN TO ADJUST MORE EASILY
1. GET INVOLVED RIGHT AWAY
As a parent, I was concerned about my child adjusting to college and thought it would be better if they waited to join clubs, activities, and Greek life. I was wrong. One of the greatest sources of stress for new college students is the feeling that they don't belong. Being involved provides the opportunity for a group of people with a common interest to come together and create a sense of community.
By way of example, when my son started at UT Austin, fraternity pledging began immediately. I thought it was a terrible idea. How would he have a chance to adjust to being in college if he was busy with the fraternity? In hindsight (he just finished sophomore year), this was a blessing. With 50,000 undergrads, UT Austin is a huge school. Pledging a fraternity enabled him to immediately be part of a small brotherhood where he was able to create close friendships.
2. MAKE SLEEP A PRIORITY
Many freshmen find themselves regularly staying up until the wee hours of the morning. Operating on too little sleep reduces cognitive function and may result in lower grade point averages, impaired mood, and increased risk of depression. It also reduces self-regulation which makes you more prone to making poor choices.
Poor sleep hygiene - in particular, constant use of screens that emit blue light - contributes to sleep deficiency by suppressing the release of melatonin, the hormone which signals the body that it’s time to sleep. If you must use screens at night, there are special glasses that can be worn to reduce the effect of blue light. Many find this more palatable than adjusting the computer screen, which is also an option. The glasses are very affordable and can be found on Amazon.
3. BUILD AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
One of the easiest and most effective interventions supported by scientific research, is a gratitude practice. Writing down three things daily for which you are grateful or a weekly journal where you identify five things that went well, helps to create and reinforce neural pathways of positivity.
There is considerable evidence that gratitude is a predictor of well-being, leads to higher levels of perceived social support, and can substantially reduce depressive symptoms.
Those who keep a gratitude journal are more optimistic, feel better about their lives, and are more connected with others. Gratitude is also related to many aspects of better sleep quality.
Perhaps this is a practice high school students can start in advance so that it becomes routine before they head off to college.
4. SEEK SUPPORT
Today’s students, particularly those in Generation Z, may be coming from homes where parents have been overly involved. “Helicopter parenting” has been correlated with lower psychological well-being and less autonomy. To build resilience and independence, today’s college students may benefit from developing multiple supportive relationships with adults who can provide guidance and advice without being overly directive.
Parents would do well to give their soon-to-be-college freshmen more space. This could include more privilege and more responsibility - as a show of confidence.
Once your student arrives on campus, their Academic Advisors, Professors, and Resident Advisors are wonderful resources to help transition and guide them through possible hardship and adversity. Beyond their own training and experience, these adults are knowledgeable about other campus resources and can point a student in the right direction.
These are only four of many strategies that can help students adjust to college. I intend to share them with my son who graduates high school in a few weeks. My hope is that he will begin the next chapter of his life with the confidence to jump right in, a good dose of gratitude, and the wisdom to take care of himself by getting enough sleep and seeking help when he needs it.
If you're interested in learning more, take a look at "From Surviving to Thriving: How Colleges Can Use the Science of Positive Psychology to Enhance Student Well-Being." The paper references a lot of research that has been done related to student well-being. It also provides insights into what has changed over the past decades and why college seems to be more stressful for students than ever before.
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