September 28, 2007

Five Steps to Surviving Your First Year in College

A student’s freshmen year in college represents a crucial period of adjustment in terms of her/his academic load, social life, and emotional development. As thousands of students begin college this fall in San Diego, Dr. Danny Singley, a staff psychologist at UCSD and principle investigator in research, describes several important steps new students should take to survive the transition. His advice is based upon results from the ongoing Goals in Action research program, or GIA, which he helped initiate with UCSD Student Educational Advancement and Student Health Service. Singley has conducted GIA over the past two years with UCSD undergraduate students at risk for academic dismissal. He recommends that students:

1. Get social support — Actively establish and maintain an effective social support system. This includes keeping lines of communication open with friends, professors, teaching assistants, and family members. For many new students, developing a new set of friends while still working to remain close with friends from high school can be a challenge. Surrounding yourself with supportive people is a critical step in adjusting to college.

2. Use time management — Establish a time management system that works for you (e.g. planner, PDA, phone scheduling software, online systems, etc), and be consistent in using it. At the beginning of the semester/quarter, enter all class times, quizzes, tests, labs, and assignments into your schedule. With the general rule of 1 hour in class means 3 hours of work spent on that class per week, you can add in times designated specifically for class work to stay on top of your studies. Related to #1 above, balancing time spent on academics versus time spent on other responsibilities (work, friends, and family) is a key factor to help feel adjusted to college. Consult your calendar daily- if you can’t remember to check it daily, tape a pen on your toothbrush to remind you to check it each morning and night. 

3. Goal setting — Set realistic goals, and reevaluate these goals as needed. For many new students- particularly those who may be the first in their family to attend college- living up to academic/professional goals set long ago may be a problem. Often students are under pressure to live up other’s expectations, and the prospect of telling mom and dad that it’s art history —not medicine— that really excites you can be a difficult conversation. Nobody is singing for joy while doing homework, but pay close attention to what subjects and work you find challenging yet manageable- a feeling of losing track of time while working suggests that you are having a positive “flow” experience. The more time you spend in flow, the more satisfied you’ll be. 

4. Stress Management — Establish healthy ways to deal with stress. In dealing with the stress that accompanies any transition, new students may choose non-constructive ways (e.g. partying till the wee hours, drinking, drugs, unhealthy food, gambling and sex) to unwind. This type of stress management may likely end up causing more distress in the long-run. By being active and planning to have healthy stress management (talking with friends, regular exercise, getting enough sleep, meditation/prayer, yoga, balanced nutrition, etc), new students can increase their ability to perform academically, and feel better at the same time.

5. Be Proactive — Although doing so may be uncomfortable, talk with trusted people (professor, advisor/counselor, friends, R.A., etc) about any difficulties you might be having adjusting to school. It’s really common to have doubts and anxiety while you’re adjusting to a new setting, but some students wait until their problem has reached a critical stage before letting others know what is troubling them. Even if you’re not having difficulty, making contact with your professors, deans, teaching assistants and fellow students is an excellent way to develop support and connections on campus. It’s always helpful for your deans and academic advisors to know who you are even before any trouble arises. The student leaders on campus tend to be very active about staying involved with the campus administration.

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