Transition: a challenge for all

Transitioning back to school, whether a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior, presents its own challenges each year, according to the university counseling center.

Each student reacts differently to coming back to school. But Darci Nichols, the assistant director of the Wellness Counseling Center, said the overarching issue students face is anxiety. 

“There’s different challenges at different stages of college,” Darci said. “For freshmen, I think that some apprehension maybe, or anticipatory anxiety, is good, is normal. That says that you’re invested in doing well and engaged in academics and your campus life. Of course, there’s going to be some normal anxiety with something new.”

Nichols said sophomores may face the challenge of classes that have increased in difficulty.

“In my experience, some of my most challenging classes were sophomore year,” Nichols said. “You know, people kind of feel like you have the college life down, which you may or may not. Plus, you are really getting into heavier credit loads and challenging ‘weed out’ classes for majors.” 

By junior year, Nichols said students are hopefully establishing their major and taking classes they enjoy. But, managing living off campus and being independent can also be a challenge. Basically, college is stressful and there is not necessarily an “easier” year. Once senior year comes around, students start thinking about what the next step is after college.

According to an article by Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, some of the top issues college students face are homesickness, independence and experiencing more challenging courses. 

Nichols said the counseling center is expecting about 30 more clients during the first week of school, which she predicts are mostly freshmen. Most upperclassmen do not tend to make appointments until closer to midterms since they may not need support until their stress level builds.

There is a counselor on call whenever school is in session and the residence halls are open. A student can make contact by calling the University Police Department and asking to speak to the counselor on call. Then, the counselor can connect with the student and make arrangements for what the student needs.

Nichols said students come to school with expectations of what their classes or roommates are going to be like and some people try to reinvent themselves in college, but students should try to “manage” these expectations.

“I think it is important to keep (expectations) in the intermediate range,” Nichols said. “Everything is not going to be perfect or be what you thought it might. But you can figure out what is going well, what the challenges are and deal with those.”

Nichols said it is important to give it time. Another important factor is to reach out sooner rather than later if it’s not going well. If students are homesick, generally it means their needs aren’t being met. So, counselors help identify what those specific needs are. Early intervention can help students adjust better. Stress management is also key to a good transition.

“Dorm rooms take away alone time, so you have to be creative in thinking of a different way to relieve stress, which on one hand is good because it teaches how to be resilient and how to deal with all that,” Nichols said. “I think it’s good to have a variety of coping mechanisms that give you options.”

Nichols said it is best to have both an active and inactive way of relieving stress. 

“Physical activity definitely needs to be present. Whatever you like to do, get your heart rate up,” Nichols said. “Physically exert yourself until you get that endorphin rush and feel stress leaving your body.”

But Nichols said students also need something to help their mind “zone out.” This helps for the times that roommates are there.

“It can be Netflix, it can be going online, social media,” Nichols said. “But you need to manage how much time you are spending. There should be time for yourself every day at the end of the day to transition from class to an evening of studying. You can’t go directly from one to the other, usually you need to let brain transition.”

Though there can sometimes be a stigma associated with going to counseling, Nichols said she thinks the university has been embracing the topic of mental health awareness, especially through this year’s common read “Boy Meets Depression” by Kevin Breel.

All students can use the counseling center resources, but freshman also have the first-year advising center.

Matt Tollefson, a first-year academic adviser, said first-year academic advisers are assigned approximately 350 students, and they can see upwards of 100 students in the first week of school.

The advisers are there for more than just help with picking out classes, Tollefson said. They can discuss long-term goals, life, different opportunities on campus, internships, study abroad, finding a niche and “pretty much anything.” The first-year advising center advisers try to get freshmen connected on campus right away and to get them to know the people they are living with. 

“Sometimes certain questions might be embarrassing so we are definitely here to answer those questions,” Tollefson said. “If you’re really struggling and just want someone to talk to we can certainly do that.”

Tollefson said the common issues they see freshman having are a “career or major identity crisis” and being overwhelmed after syllabus week. It induces almost a panic about what they’re going to do. But that’s why the advisers are there to help out.

Tollefson recommends setting academic goals and writing them down as well as making a habit of going to every class.

“Once you start skipping it becomes easier and easier, and then you find excuses not to go,” Tollefson said. “When we’re talking about schedule grids, class time and study time, personal time should be in there. Going to yoga, going to shoot hoops in wellness center, going and checking Pokémon GO, whatever it is, get out there and make it a priority to go do.”