Leaping into the Post-Secondary Unknown
Whether your first day of college or university is looming, or you are deep within the trenches of your first year, remember this universal truth: It is scary for everyone. Yes, the reasons for this differ, including social anxiety, increased workload, and more adult-like responsibilities. Yes, some people will overcome their nervousness quicker than you will. For others, such as me and my own social anxiety and depression, university remains a challenge all the way to graduation. But with great challenges also come great opportunities, and focusing on the latter is the key to quelling those first-year jitters.
If your first classes are still on the horizon, it is a good idea to visit the campus as much as possible to take it all in. There will be far more students than your high school, varying in ages, and all going about in different directions. All you need to do for your first steps on the school grounds is absorb this environment. The only way past that initial shock is to dive right in, and that is much easier to do if you do not have to rush to class. Student orientations are invaluable, but so is a simple walk about campus.
I had an awful, confusing, lonely first semester. Yours may be occurring many kilometers from home, far from family and friends, with swirling thoughts of life for the next four years and beyond. You do not have to get comfortable, make friends, and figure things out right away. If anything, that period of confusion allows for introspection that will help you figure out who you are and what actions to take. This is the perfect chance to take baby steps and try different things – new groups, friends, study areas, activities, and more. It is so essential that you try, try, and try.
Start slow and commit to one or two of the following, and then gradually ramp up to more. Hang out in the cafeteria or common room by your dorm. Go to all the society and group meetings you can find at least once. Join every group that catches your eye. You will likely regularly attend only a fraction of all these, but you can only find the ones that click for you by giving as many as you can a try. Having trouble with schoolwork? Make appointments with your professors, teaching assistants, and counsellors. Socially anxious? Join online groups and Facebook pages for your school. Check out small parties and events; commit yourself to at least half an hour for each and only stay beyond that if you are comfortable.
The freedom of post-secondary life is at once liberating and terrifying for everyone. High school, for all of its milestones, is much closer to elementary life than colleges and universities. For many, they are a sudden thrust into adulthood, and the jolt is overwhelming. But it was your hard work and skills that earned you a place on campus. These same efforts and strengths can propel you into the wonderful opportunities that await and will help shape the adult you are becoming. Take a deep breath, take your time, and do not be afraid to be afraid.
Rennison, Joe. “My first day: student accounts of their first moments at university.” National Union of Students. https://www.nus.org.uk/en/advice/freshers-and-settling-in/my-first-day-student-accounts-of-their-first-moments-at-university/
Webster, Lucy. “Nervous freshers: don’t be scared. University has something for everyone.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/07/nervous-freshers-university-shy