What Young Adults Need to Know As They Embark on Their College Journey

Leaving home and going to college can be an exciting time that is full of possibilities, but for many it can be a rude awakening when the realty of being away from their home, family, and friends begins to set in. A recent survey for First Year College Experience found that many young adults are not emotionally prepared for college.

The high school experience is often looked at by many as time spent preparing students for community services courses. While there is an intense amount of energy devoted to prepping for college by taking AP classes, studying for the SATs, and visiting college campuses, there is a big part missing, which is what type of adjustments in life there will be when being away at college. A recent survey from the Jordan Porco Foundation has discovered that 60 percent of young adults wished they had more help in being emotionally prepared for college and described their first year experience as being terrible/poor. Students who participated in the survey reported that they felt stressed most or all of the time, and also felt anxious and not being able to handle the stress of everyday college life.

The college experience can be misrepresented in the media with comedies such as Animal House, Van Wilder, Old School, and Neighbors, as a period with little responsibility. Many of the freshmen surveyed shared that they felt that social media, television, and movies had led them to think that college would be more fun than they actually experienced. Parents often tell their kids in their senior year of high school that college will be the best years of their lives, and can unknowingly idealize college, leaving their teens with high and possibly unrealistic expectations for succeeding as they leave home. To make a long story short, they had a big reality check.

So what is college actually like?

While the media portrays college as being a carefree fun learning experience with parties and friends, over half of the freshman college student’s survey reported what sounds like high school all over again, which is having a hard time making new friends and feeling a struggle to fit in and feel that they belong. It can be difficult for people to connect while at college if they came to college from out of state, or from a smaller community where they knew most of the people they went to school with from an early age. It sounds very similar to the metaphor of a little fish being dumped from their fishbowl into the sea, which can feel overwhelming. It’s human nature to like and be drawn to things that feel familiar and similar to what you had back home, and anything different can sometimes be exciting, but also scary at the same time.

How can young adults become emotionally prepared?

Being emotionally prepared for leaving home and going to college is something parents need to discuss with their kids. A part of developing emotional intelligence as a young adult requires learning and applying skills to manage and cope with stress. As teens enter their late teens in their junior and senior year of high school, they need a greater level of independence and responsibility in managing their school schedule, part-time job, and going out with friends. Parents can use their teen’s junior and senior year of high school to teach them important life skills such as how to manage their bank accounts, the connection between sleep and learning, and going to college with people from diverse backgrounds. This can be tricky for some parents not to minimize or dismiss their teen’s experience, who may not realize the importance of being emotionally prepared. Adolescence is the development stage of identity vs role confusion, which is the point in their life that they are developing a sense of who they are, which can often continue into college. Parents can communicate with their kid that they are there to support them and discuss possible stressors that may come up at college, which can help them feel more confident and emotionally prepared.

Adjusting to college and being emotionally prepared requires that young adults step out of their comfort zone and make new connections. As easy as it might be to hang out in their dorm room, spending time in student centers and commons can increase the chances of spontaneous interactions with people who understand what you’re going through. Research on developing healthy relationships and friendships found that spontaneous and repeated interactions help cultivate relationships that can help young adults manage their anxiety and stress by confiding in each other and sharing their experience.

Preparing for life after high school can be exciting and filled with optimism for anything that may be possible when young adults step into a larger world. Preparing for the next step in this journey can help them think about how they can handle stress, anxiety, and be emotionally prepared for the differences they find in their new home. Seeking support from people around them and getting assistance from a mental health professional such as a therapist can help many young adults learn how to deal with the multitude of issues that can come up. If you are planning to go to college or know of someone who is going to college in the near future, then take the time to talk about what it means to them personally to be emotionally prepared.

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