Adjusting to College

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Adjusting to College

Adjusting to College

Whether you're entering college right out of high school or returning to school after taking some time off, starting your first semester of college is an exciting and challenging time. Becoming a college student involves lots of adjustments, no matter how you look at it. How do NJCU students weather these changes successfully? Here are a few tips to help you navigate the "new student" journey:

Manage your time well

One of the biggest challenges new college students face is grappling with time management. Juggling school, work, family, and a social life is not an easy task. Figuring out how to balance these competing factors in a way that allows you to function well is not simple either.

If you're coming to college directly after graduation from high school, you may experience more freedom than you're used to. With this freedom comes responsibility for managing your obligations and daily activities. You're likely to be spending far fewer hours in the classroom than you used to; in fact, you may have some days where you don't have any classes at all. The classes you're taking are also likely to require more hours of independent study than you used to need. The general guideline for college study is that for every hour of time spent in class each week, you can expect to spend two hours studying outside of class each week (in other words, if you're taking 12 credits, you're spending about 12 hours in the classroom each week and should anticipate spending about 24 hours each week studying after class). You may also be living away from home for the first time. You may be used to parents, siblings or guardians providing you with reminders to take care of assignments or personal responsibilities, or providing assistance with basic needs (cooking, laundry, shopping for personal items, transportation, etc.), whereas now you will be responsible for all these aspects of your life.

If you're returning to school after being out in the workforce, you may experience less freedom than you're used to, particularly if you're continuing to work the same number of hours each week and you're taking classes in addition. Finding the time to accomplish all that you need or want to do with less free time available will require extra attention and careful planning. You may feel overwhelmed by the increased demands on your time.

Here are some ideas for helping you manage time effectively:

Develop a weekly schedule. Create a "block grid" on which you record all your schedules activities, and assign unused blocks of time to the various tasks you need to accomplish. Try to stick to this schedule as best you can. Getting a visual perspective of how much spare time you actually have may help you to plan for using that time more effectively as well.

Create a "to do" list. Tasks and obligations can be hard to keep track of when they're not written down, particularly when our lives are very full. Being able to cross accomplished items off the list also helps us feel like we're making progress during times when we're feeling overwhelmed.

Prioritize. Sort out which tasks need to be done today, which can be accomplished later in the week, and which are not necessary to do until later in the month. Give your scheduled study times the same priority that you would give a doctor's appointment or a work-related meeting.

Find healthy ways to cope with stress

A certain amount of pressure helps motivate us, but excessive stress keeps us from performing optimally. Therefore, in order to succeed academically, it's important to have a plan in place to help minimize stress, for those times when life's challenges and school's challenges collide. Among the things you can do:

Get a good night's sleep. Cutting back on sleep in an attempt to get more work done may seem like a helpful solution when you're feeling the pressure of a deadline, but getting poor quality or poor quantity sleep will impair your ability to concentrate, reduce your test performance, increase your irritability, and decrease your emotional coping skills. While everyone's sleep needs are different, the average person needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night to function at one's best.

Eat a healthy diet. Make sure you eat a variety of nutritious foods, and avoid high- carbohydrate "junk foods" that keep blood sugar levels unstable. Avoid caffeine and other stimulants. Drinking coffee, tea, cola, Red Bull or Mountain Dew may seem to help boost your energy in the short run, but will ultimately leave you feeling more depleted, irritable, and anxious.

Avoid using alcohol and other drugs. When you're feeling pressured, it may be tempting to turn to "escape mechanisms," but the biochemical changes these substances bring about can reduce concentration and brain function in the long run.

Move your body. Exercise reduces tension, increases the release of endorphins (biochemical substances that produce a feeling of well-being), and helps you feel more energetic.

Take time to relax. Even when things are at their busiest, it's important to reserve some time in your day for activities that help you wind down. Listening to soothing music, taking a warm shower or bubble bath, reading for pleasure, doing deep breathing or meditation, or writing in a journal are examples of tools students have used to help them relax.

Brush up on your study skills

Many students find that the study habits they used in high school aren't effective for the type and amount of studying and work that college demands. Now, before you begin to struggle with your classes, is the time to consider learning new methods of studying or fine-tuning old ones. Professors and students further ahead in their college careers can provide helpful guidance about ways to approach your class material and assignments. The Hub offers tutoring and a variety of academic skills workshops that can assist.  In addition, the Counseling Center offers the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory, which helps identify areas of improvement for enhancing study strategies.

Get Involved

When researchers study the habits of college students who persist through graduation, they consistently find that one factor these students have in common is taking part in extracurricular campus life. Getting involved at NJCU, whether through participation in a sport, regularly attending campus activities, working at a campus job, becoming part of student government, or joining a club, sorority, or fraternity, is associated with new student success. Becoming an active member of the University community strengthens one's identity as a college student, provides opportunities to connect with and learn coping strategies from other students who are going through the same challenges as you are. It also helps you develop relationships with faculty and staff and develop leadership skills, both of which can reinforce and enhance your academic success.How can you find out about ways to make a connection to NJCU? To learn about the many clubs, organizations, service opportunities, and fraternities and sororities we have available, the Center for Leadership and Engagement is a great source of information (201-200-3585). Academic departments can also provide information about departmental clubs and honor societies. To learn about special events going on at NJCU, check out NJCU's website and look for posters and flyers throughout campus. You can find out about athletic events and intramurals at the John J. Moore Athletic and Fitness Center, located on Culver Avenue. Membership is FREE for currently registered students!

Reach out for support

Many of us have well-established support networks in our lives. Family members, friends, and romantic partners can be an invaluable source of support during stressful times. Some of us don't have supportive people in our lives. It can be very challenging to work towards a college degree without relationships that nurture us. It's important to surround yourself with people who encourage you to become your best self and to reach your goals. Back away from people who distract you or discourage you from moving forward in your life.

Even though you may have people in your inner circle who care about you deeply and can provide a shoulder to lean on, they may not have had the experience of being college students themselves, and may not fully understand the academic demands, changes and adjustments you're dealing with. It's important to expand your support circle to include others who share the college experience. If you're living in the residence hall, your roommate, hallmates or residence hall staff can be great resources to talk to. Reaching out to other students in your classes can provide opportunities to build study groups and partnerships and develop friendships with others who share similar academic or career goals. Faculty, staff, and upper-class students can be helpful mentors to guide you along the college journey.

Utilize campus resources

There are also a number of campus resources that can help support you in achieving your educational and personal goals. These resources are available to you at no cost; take advantage of them while you have them!

The Speicher-Rubin Women's Center for Equity and Diversity (Gilligan Student Union 318; or 201-200-3189) provides personal, social and career support and workshops for people of all genders.

The Office of Academic Career Planning and Placement (Vodra 101; 201-200-3005) provides career planning assistance, cooperative education opportunities, and job placement services

The University Advisement Center (Vodra 101; or 201-200-3300) provides academic planning, guidance regarding general studies requirements and academic majors, placement testing and transfer credit evaluation.

And last, but certainly not least, the counselors at the Counseling Center (Gilligan Student Union 308; or 201-200-3165) offer confidential mental health services to currently enrolled students. Contact us to schedule an appointment!