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Adjustment Issues

Adjustment Issues

The impact of college on the student

College provides a time of socially recognized independence from parental rules and restrictions. Although the legal age of adulthood varies for such things as voting and drinking, going to college is an obvious sanctioned move towards independence. However, independence is not conferred automatically at a certain age or in a specific place. It is achieved by practicing how to think for oneself and take responsibility for one's actions. College students can feel invincible and able to take risks. But both the opportunities and the consequences can be high. The college freshman will be confronted with abundant pressures related to social situations — sex, drugs and alcohol. With respect to academics, students today are feeling increasing pressure to know what they want to do, pick a career path and plan for their futures. This pressure may cause substance abuse, anxiety, depression or other concerns.

Challenges for the college student

Fitting in
It can be daunting to leave the security of family and friends. When going to college, students often must leave, or give up, one group (of family and friends) then accommodate and learn about a new group. It can be stressful to analyze new social norms, learn a new set of behaviors, and consider adopting a particular identity and group affiliation. The opportunities can be exhilarating, but the choices should not be made hastily.

Balancing socializing and working
College offers an assortment of opportunities for advancement and distraction — there are so many potential friends, parties, courses, things to do and places to go. Not knowing what direction is best and not wanting to miss out on anything, students often try to be included in everything.

Knowing when help is needed
Students often doubt their ability to handle their course work and may be bothered by new and unexpected feelings, precipitating a downward spiral. There is also an increased risk of certain disorders in the teen and young adult years (e.g. depression, bipolar and anorexia). Students may find themselves seeking out a mental health professional for the first time. The right help at the right time can prevent problems from snowballing.

What can students do

  • Explore new interests, discover new place, and meet new people. These experiences contribute to college life, but getting an education should remain the student's foremost purpose.
  • Before committing to any one group or trend, students should take their time getting to know other students, investigating different activities and deciding what makes them feel most comfortable. Affiliations change a great deal over the course of the first year as students become more knowledgeable and confident.
  • Participate and prioritize. No one can do everything. When students narrow their focus they often feel less overwhelmed. Finding a passion is one of the most exciting aspects of the college experience.
  • Personalize the experience. It's easy for students to feel lost in the crowd. Students who take responsibility for their education by seeking out particular adults often have the best experience. Getting to know professors will personalize college and help the student feel connected to an institution that may seem impersonal.
  • Be patient. It takes time to understand the rhythm of a new academic life and for students to develop a personal learning/studying style. Over the first semester it becomes easier to understand the flow of work and realize how to accommodate different teachers' standards and course requirements.
  • Evaluate the fit. Assessing how expectations meet reality during the first year is a necessary process. Some disappointment or surprises are not unusual and may require some fine tuning, such as adjusting one's course load, changing majors and/or rethinking involvement in activities. Sometimes a school turns out to be different from what was anticipated or students learn more about what will truly suit their needs. Students should get guidance and explore options and certainly consider changing schools if that's what seems best.
  • Never ignore a problem. Both academic and emotional challenges are most successfully managed early when small.
  • Know where to turn for help. Almost all institutions of higher learning provide a school counseling and/or wellness center where students can seek confidential guidance and advice from a variety of sources. Ask about the services that are offered and make use of them. Sometimes simply talking about a problem can make it more manageable, especially if the conversation is with an individual who is removed from the situation — be it a college counselor, academic advisor, religious counselor or clergy member, team coach, primary care practitioner, resident advisor, house master, sorority mom, etc.

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Advice for students

Expect ups and downs
One minute college students are the models of independence, the next they call in tears. Parents may also try too hard to advise from afar. This back and forth is natural and expected, as both students and parents become more comfortable and confident in the ability of students to handle situations on their own.

Stay connected
Little things do count. There can be some truth to "absence makes the heart grow fonder," but parents may worry that "out of sight means out of mind." So parents and students need to determine ways to stay involved in each other's lives and remember to say and do the little things that remind someone of their love. Cards sent home, care packages sent to school, pictures of events that were missed, and e-mail provide a way to stay connected and involved.

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Note: The above-information was written by Jess P. Shatkin, MD, MPH and the staff of the NYU Child Study Center. Please see the original resource at this link

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