College is an exciting time where new experiences and challenges await. The transition to college is one of the biggest life adjustments that will start the journey out of adolescence and into adulthood. This transition goes smoothly for some, but for others there is more difficulty. Parents and high school graduates often feel both the pride of accomplishment as well as the anxiety about the unknown. Who will be my roommate? What classes should I choose? Will I make any friends? What if it’s too hard? How will I manage without my parents? What will it be like to be on my own?
One of the biggest tasks to accomplish at first is finding where you fit in. You might be leaving a high school social situation that was wonderful and you may worry that you won’t find something as great; or you may be glad about the social situation you are leaving and hope that there is a better niche for you in college. Regardless of where you are coming from, finding your place in a peer group at college is part of the fun and challenge of this new part of life. Developing a social network and learning how to negotiate new relationships with peers, in dating, and with teachers and authority figures is a big part of the maturing process of college.
Another big challenge of college is learning how to manage your time and cope with the academic demands of your university. You may be coming from a home where your parents reminded you of assignments and kept you on track, or you may already know how to keep up with your to-do list. In contrast to high school, college has much more unstructured time that can make it easier or harder to keep yourself motivated. Learning how to be successful in your academic life, working with your own strengths and weaknesses, and gaining confidence in your abilities are all part of maturing in the college setting.
Dealing with stress away from home is another challenge that college students must learn to face. Stress in college is something that everyone faces, whether it’s stress over a test, a paper, a relationship, or a family situation. Emotional awareness is a skill that can be difficult to learn. The first step is to recognize when you are feeling a negative emotion (whether that is anger, sadness, or anxiety) and then learn to express it in an effective way that ultimately is helpful to you. Learning what you need and how to get it is a life-long task.
Becoming independent of your parents is the ultimate goal of adulthood, but this can be a prolonged process in college. Most students are still tied to their parents financially to some degree, whether that is a car, tuition, or a home for the summer. The process of being on your own physically at college, but still needing your parents for support can feel frustrating. Parents can also have difficulty when they are the ones paying the bills but feel they do not have a say in what their college student is doing. This can cause family conflict that can be difficult with which to cope.
Dealing with other temptations in a less restrictive environment than home is also something that college students deal with. Examples are alcohol use, other substance use, sexual desires, and other peer pressures. Women often can fall into difficulty with comparing themselves to others and have self-esteem or body issues that can lead to disordered eating.
Ultimately, college is a place where young adults can explore ideas, experience new adventures, continue self-exploration, develop life choices, focus their goals, discover a purpose, and find a path to continue learning in the world.