As we approach Labor Day, thousands of freshmen across the country are heading off to college and university campuses. This is an incredibly exciting time when parents learn to let go and students experience a wide range of emotions.
"Will I fit in?" "Will I make friends?" "How much will I miss my family? "Can I handle the amount of work that is expected of me?" "Where do I turn if I need help?" "How will I balance being away from home for the first time with finding out what I want to do for the rest of my life and for my career?" all roll around first year students' heads.
One of the best things about being a university president is getting to know students, and over the years, I've learned a lot about the first year experience. With that in mind, below is my advice to students for easing into their new lives, when it's natural to feel a little uncertain and how everything will come together, including a sense of belonging.
First of all, first years, take a deep breath and approach everything one day at a time. The nervous feelings you have those first few days will get better, and there are many people on your campus who care about how you're doing. It's normal to feel lonely and miss your family. Try not to call them too often. Instead, leave your room and get to know people on campus.
I was recently talking to Sarah, a student who is a senior this fall. After her parents dropped her off her freshman year, Sarah sat on her bed in her residence hall room with tears in her eyes because she wanted to go home. Her roommate, Mary, took her by the hand and led her out of her room. Together, they looked into activities on campus, and they allowed a whole new world to open.
Sarah realized that Frostburg State has educational, recreational and social activities to suit everyone, and that there were lots of students around to make sure she didn't feel lonely.
You couldn't meet two more different students, but that initial connection between Sarah and Mary got them through their homesickness. Together, they found their way to orientation, freshman convocation, and many other events where they met new people and built relationships. Both served as leaders in our Student Government Association and other organizations on our campus and Mary is now in law school, while Sarah is completing her teaching degree.
Get involved! I can't emphasize this enough. I hear a lot of students say, "there is nothing to do." It actually takes more effort not to find something to do than it does to get involved.
Peruse the calendar of events on your university's website and connect to social media to learn what's going on. Keep your eye out for posters and announcements about student activities, interesting plays, lectures and music performances. These fliers are typically found in dorms and in the student union building.
Campuses have fitness centers, bookstores, cafeterias, coffee shops and student centers, game rooms and gymnasiums, athletic teams that you can cheer to victory, movie nights, concerts -- the list goes on and on. If you truly feel there is nothing to do on your campus, then you aren't trying.
Show up and study hard! Remember first and foremost you are in college to be a successful student. Faculty members are there to support you in class and during office hours. No surprisingly, they expect you to come to class, read the textbooks, be organized and put effort into your assignments. Not surprisingly, the students who do best in college are those who actually attend lectures and do the work. If you do your part, professors and teaching assistants can help you share your ideas through research opportunities, art exhibitions, plays and in many other ways. In short, remember why you are in college -- to define the best parts of yourself through learning.
Use technology to stay connected to family, friends and your campus. You have a world of technology available to stay in touch with people you love, so be sure to use it. If you aren't familiar with social media, now is an ideal time to learn about the various platforms.
Skype is a great way to talk to your parents and easily reassure them you are okay. Be careful and thoughtful about social media like Facebook and Twitter, and remember that these sites exist in the public domain. Don't post anything too personal or that you might regret later. Many colleges and universities have mobile apps with a variety of resources, including campus maps and class schedules to help you get situated and make the most of your time on and off campus. Download these apps to your phone to access campus resources from wherever you are.
Get to know your faculty, residence life staff and other university personnel because they are there to assist you. If you don't know what to do or where to turn, ask someone. Everyone who works on a campus is there because they care about students, They are there to be a resource; please reach out to them I can guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised at how willing they are to assist you.
If needed, talk to the Counseling Center or University Police. All colleges and universities have experienced counselors and university police officers there to make sure you're doing okay. If you feel overwhelmed, seek them out and talk to them. Their goal is to create a safe and healthy learning environment for you; let them know if you need help with your safety or welfare.
Finally, have a good time and keep yourself safe. These years will change you in ways you can't even imagine; you will learn more and develop friendships unlike any you have ever had, or possibly ever will have again. Your time is what you make of it. Take it all in, be safe and enjoy it.
Follow Dr. Jonathan Gibralter on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@jgibralter