It’s been a lovely summer. I’m living in my favorite city in the world, writing at The Frisky, living with my boyfriend, and relaxing in the Berkshires on the weekends. All is fine, dandy, and I’m as easy and breezy as a cover girl…until I see a new email in my inbox. As soon as I open it, the walls around my perfect summer start to crumble: The season is ending and I’m about to begin graduate school. In Scotland. Cue multiple panic attacks.
Do I know anybody? Nope. Have I any clue where I am going and what am I doing? Eh, no. Will I be smart enough? Will I make any friends? What if people don’t like me? What if I’m not good enough? But wait, I’ve thought all of this before. Truth be told, I have variations of these thoughts all the time, but I’ve had this specific anxiety attack before. In fact, it was the summer before my freshman year of college. If you feel similarly, follow the jump for your coping strategy.Despite four years of college and a bit of life experience, I’m just as scared to go away to grad school as I was to college. In theory I should be more mature and have a secure sense of self by now. And yet! The only difference between my 18-year-old self and its 23-year-old incarnation is that I now know that despite how real my fears are, they only exist in my head. Not that it helps much.
There’s nothing I or anyone can say to eradicate all your concerns, but there are some things you can do to ease your frenzied brain. For all of the college freshman out there, or anyone about to embark on a similar journey, I’ve created this summer survival guide. It’s intended to help you prepare for the exciting, frightening and unknown road ahead. You will be fine. You will be amazing, but I know you won’t believe this until you begin. I’m terrified too, but here are ways to minimize the fear or at least know that you are by no means alone.
- Do Your Homework: Just kidding, you probably don’t have any real homework yet (though your professor might send you a reading list, so keep your eyes open), but it’s not a bad idea–or too nerdy–to peruse your college guidebook. You’re probably swamped with papers and forms, but familiarizing yourself with your new home will make everything seem less foreign. Learn about your meal plan, housing system, where the gym is and the name of the student center. Take a look at a campus map and see where your dorm is located in relation to the library and other freshman dorms. All these trivial details will make your college feel more real and more comfortable. There will be so many names and details to learn once you get there, so learning what you can before you arrive gives you a head start and makes the unknown a bit less intimidating.
- Reach Out: Facebooking people you don’t know isn’t the height of suave, but this isn’t the time to be too cool for school. Making a few buddies before you arrive on campus means you have at least one person to have lunch with. Everyone is desperate to meet someone. There is a short span of time where the usual social code is suspended and it’s a meet-and-greet free for all. Usually, between the day you are accepted and Halloween, it is socially acceptable to introduce yourself to random people in the dorkiest of ways. The people you meet first probably won’t end up being your closest friends, but they will be someone to walk to class with and get lost with.
- Consider The Boyfriend/Girlfriend Situation: This is probably the first time you’re going to be separated from your high school sweetheart. It’s a tough decision: stay together and do the long distance thing, or breakup. I’m not going to weigh in as every relationship is different. I am, however, going to tell you to give it a really good think and be prepared for either possibility. I have known a few couples that stayed together, but many break up, too. Long distance is never easy, but when it comes to relationships, freshman year is especially challenging. You’re both in new places, meeting new people and having new experiences, and for probably the first time, experiences that aren’t shared. The close bond you had when your lives were interconnected in high school no longer exists. It takes unimaginable effort to maintain common ground when the only thing you have left in common is each other. Make time to talk and learn about each others’ new lives, or recognize that you both need time and space to adjust. No matter what you decide, talk to your boyfriend about what you are thinking. You may just as well decide to play things by ear, but just make sure you two are on the same page and communicating.
- Focus On What You Can Control: Part of the reason I’m so intimidated is that I just don’t know what is going to happen. I can’t visualize my life. I just can’t picture myself in my new home with all the unfamiliar sights and sounds. Since there’s nothing I can do until I arrive, I will obsess over what I can control. For me, that’s packing. I have no clue what my first day of class will be like, but I can plan what I am going to wear. I have no illusions that my clothes will make a serious difference, but as it’s all I have control over, I am going to hold onto it firmly. No matter how small or insignificant the detail, identifying one thing you have power over really helps. Organize your CD’s, decide which books you are going to take, figure out the appropriate shoes for the climate, nothing is too small or too trivial.
Take a few deep breaths. We will fully get through this together. Are you about to go to college or grad school? Do you have any advice?