Dear freshmen: College is overwhelming. It’s okay to take time to adjust
Before my first year at Washington University in the summer of 2020, I was devastated to learn that, due to COVID-19, we would no longer be able to have roommates. I felt like I was missing out on a classic college experience, and I was also afraid of living alone in an unfamiliar place. But after a semester of learning how to adjust to being away from home in a new city and new school, I realized something important about myself – I love living in my own room. I needed that space to have alone time, study for my classes, and unwind from stressful days. Turns out, I’m more introverted than I thought. Especially with COVID-19, much of my anxiety was lessened by being able to feel safer in my own living space.
This year, with a mostly vaccinated campus, circumstances have changed. Freshmen once again have roommates; large lecture halls are back in full capacity; students can travel outdoors without masks. While these developments are cause for celebration, for many students, these changes may feel overwhelming. Something as simple as getting food at the DUC – which, last year, was always practically empty – made my anxiety skyrocket as I made my way through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd during the lunchtime rush. Sitting in a lecture hall with people in the seats directly to the left and right of me was a stark shift from my distanced, hybrid classes last semester.
For freshmen transitioning from a fully online senior year of high school to a much more in-person first year of college, sitting in a college lecture hall – an already unfamiliar, overwhelming experience – is even more of a shift, considering the fact that many have not been in a classroom setting since March 2020. Even current freshmen that were able to return to some in-person school before college may still be affected by the change from half-capacity high school classrooms to packed 200-person lecture halls.
So, to the freshmen class: Are you feeling overwhelmed? Good news – that’s normal! What’s important is that you allow yourself time to adjust to this new lifestyle, especially due to COVID-19, and embrace the change while also understanding your limits.
Yes, college is about branching out, messaging a new friend, trying a niche class or joining an unexpected club. At the same time, college shouldn’t be about stretching yourself thin in your social and academic life to the point where you feel constantly overwhelmed. Be open to learning more about yourself – how much alone time you need to unwind, how much social activity you enjoy, what gets on your nerves or what time of the day you study best. Freshman year is meant for figuring out those details about yourself, and that doesn’t end after two semesters. As a sophomore coming off of a partially virtual first year of college, I’m still adjusting, too.
This year, it’s okay to not finish everything on that “classic college experience” checklist. For me, living alone last year and other COVID-19 adjustments that strayed from that first-year checklist didn’t ruin my experience as I thought they would; instead, I learned more about myself and improved my ability to adjust to change. For current freshmen, choosing to have a night in doesn’t mean you are missing out on that college experience. COVID-19 is still here, and anxiety surrounding the pandemic is valid. Give yourself time to adjust to in person classes. Embrace your social life while also understanding your own limits. And remember that as alone as you may feel during all of this change, all students – not just freshmen – are constantly making new adjustments.
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