Worrying that you’ll be alone for the rest of your life, second-guessing yourself for every single decision you’ve made to get here, feeling dwarfed in this sea of strangers that you’ve been so rudely thrown into—all common symptoms of the Pre-Undergrad Scaries. Whether it’s leaving for a new state, country, or simply trading out your bedroom for a dorm room, every move is a big move when it comes to college. But believe me when I say that the right kind of mental prep and realizing, “Hey, I’m not really alone, am I?” can make all the difference. In case you’re still not convinced, we asked 10 community members to reminisce on their first-day fears and how they overcame them to prove that this change, no matter how monumental, isn’t actually as intimidating as it seems.
Remember that Everyone Else is Probably Just as Scared as You
The best and most easily forgotten thing? A gazillion other strangers are going through it too. Chances are, you’re not going to be the only one who is late to class, because about seven other people couldn’t tell the difference between building A and B just like you. We might all be lost, but we’re lost together.
Jonnay Villaire, a junior at Hawaii Pacific University, shares her preconceptions. She says, “I realized that everyone was new, most of us didn’t know each other, and there were definitely other people who probably had the same fears as me.” University of Notre Dame student Sierra Mayhew adds, “The first day is the easiest so there isn’t much to be worried about! We’re all in the same boat trying to make new friends.”
But thanks to social media, there are a couple of ways we can get to know other people and start making friends before move-in is even in full swing. Abby Steinour of Temple University says, “Starting at a new school is always scary, but I was comforted by the fact that I had gotten to know a few people before the semester started thanks to Instagram. Having a public and active presence on social media encouraged fellow students to reach out to me, and even though we didn’t all become best friends, we still recognize each other on campus.” There’s a Facebook group for almost every class, so it doesn’t hurt to start looking and connecting with classmates ahead of time.
Focus on Yourself, Not What Others Think of You
It can be nerve-wracking when no one knows you yet and every move feels like it needs to be crafted into a perfectly planned first impression. But you have to look at it as a positive thing. High school is over—this is your chance to start off on a clean slate and maybe even be a new person if you want to.
When reflecting on her first year, Alyssa Dichoso, a junior at Columbia College Chicago, says, “I felt intimidated by others, especially going to an art school. I felt the environment was very competitive and quite judgmental at times. How I overcame that fear was by really focusing on myself and not caring about what others thought. I think if you focus on really looking within for your creative self and personal style you become more confident and can branch out to others!” When entering an unfamiliar environment, it always helps to keep yourself open to new ideas. Instead of letting yourself be intimidated by other people’s work, you can look at it as a new source of inspiration. Everyone works at their own pace, so who cares if you have a different skill set than your peers? Take the constructive comments and let them be your motivation to improve on your next critique.
Appreciate How Your Campus Differs From Home
For senior Jordan Rachel of ESLSCA Business School Paris, the transition to college was a little different when she decided to move across the world to France to study. But as anxious as she was about learning a new language and being away from family and friends, she has a special appreciation for how she’s grown as a person and in her culture, or, “Générale,” as they say in French.
She says, “I would say overcoming fears for me was just about taking the plunge and putting myself out there. I’m more of an introvert so this was hard at times, especially being in a totally different culture. Slowly but surely, I was forcing myself to get out there, socializing with locals, struggling through reading French books, making mistakes in French and just appreciating the differences for what they are—differences. It helped me immensely.” But as cool as it is to hop on a plane to another continent, Europe isn’t the only place where this golden rule can be applied. Your classmates are going to be coming from all sorts of places and cultures, and chances are, it’s even the same for you. College is one of the rare opportunities where you’ll be immersed in an extremely diverse group of people, so get to know them while you have the opportunity.
Take the Plunge and Put Yourself Out There
Like Jordan learned, sometimes you just have to take risks. As cliché as it sounds (eye roll), it’ll be completely worth it in the end. Kate Day, a junior at Loyola University in Chicago says, “During move-in and orientation, I made an effort to get to know my hall mates. By the time the first day of school rolled around, I had a group of people to go to lunch and the library with. Turns out, they’re still some of my best friends today.”
Welcome week festivities are the perfect opportunities to get to know some just-as-scared-as-you freshmen, so take advantage of them. Alanna Deeble from Kent State University in Ohio Says, “Entering college, I was scared of being on my own and remaining that way. But after the first week, I’d already met so many people who were awesome and I felt at home. Three years later, I’m still best friends with those people I met and even dating the guy I met the first week.” Build up the courage to start those small conversations, because you never know what they could lead to.
Venture Out Into the World that Isn’t Your Dorm Room
When you’re homesick during that first week, it’s an easy mistake to stay in your dorm room all day and avoid human interaction as much as possible. Junior Tammie Melton from Iowa State University, says, “I know everyone always says this (hey, at least we’re aware of our clichés), but stepping out of your comfort zone is key! Join Facebook or a GroupMe, and don’t be afraid to reach out to people you think you might connect with. Attend social events, join a club, or strike up a conversation with someone waiting for class to start.”
It’s easy to shut everyone out and lock yourself in your own little world as soon as you move in. Kate was super nervous about being states away from high school best friends. She says, “There were definitely moments during the first few days of college where I wished I could stay locked up in my dorm FaceTiming people from home instead of being social, but I knew it would be more beneficial if I put myself out there.” It helps to make conscious decisions like this that you know will help yourself in the long run.
Don’t Spread Yourself Too Thin
While you’re going all out being social butterflies and such during that first week, it’s also important to be mindful of yourself so you don’t burn out. Sometimes, that beginning-of-the-year-rush will make you want to take on more than you physically can, so take the time to think about what’s realistic and will work best for you.
Community Member Sarah Carrillo of Ithaca College reflects, “I didn’t want to miss any opportunity. I wanted any and all chances I could get to put things on my resume and help further my career. When I started my first semester, I wrote my name down to every club and organization there was. But after attending a few meetings, I knew I had to apply myself to fewer student orgs rather than spreading myself too thin. Choosing what direction you want to take yourself in college is a huge decision.” So go out there and make those next four years your own, because you never know what opportunities could come your way. Look into clubs, organizations, and internships that might interest you and take that curiosity to the next level—this is the time to explore what you really like to do.
What are your tips would you give your freshman-year self for surviving the first day of college? Let us know in the comments below!
Opening image by Ninah Caquias.