9 Tips for a Smooth College Transition

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9 Tips for a Smooth College Transition
portrait of Michelle R. Kelley
by Michelle R. Kelley
Published on September 28, 2021


Many students face challenges during their first year in college. Survey results from the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) suggest most first-year students have difficulty getting enough sleep and eating well. Many of these students also report struggling with homesickness, loneliness, and time management.

College transitions can be tough. But if you prepare yourself for potential challenges, your first year of college also can be fun and rewarding.

Read on to discover nine tips you can follow to help reduce the bumps as you transition into college life.

Give Yourself Time to Figure Things Out

When you first arrive on campus, you'll face some tough decisions: What should you major in? And how will you make friends? When tackling these questions, give yourself time to figure things out.

If you're not sure what college major to choose, don't worry. Many students enter college undeclared and change their major at least once before graduating. There are several factors to consider when choosing a major, including program cost, opportunities to earn an advanced degree, and the availability of jobs in the field. Before deciding, consider taking exploratory courses in different subjects to find the best fit.

Also, give yourself time to make friends in college. Making friends can be challenging! Thankfully, college offers lots of opportunities to meet people. You can join a student organization, pledge a fraternity or sorority, or attend on-campus events to meet other students who share your interests.

Don't expect to adjust to college life right away. That said, if you're struggling to figure out how to deal with the transition to college, reach out to a student advisor, campus counselor, or faculty member for help.

Realize It's OK to Feel Homesick

As with any significant life change, it's normal to feel mixed emotions when leaving home. Even if you're excited to start your new life on campus, you may miss your family, friends, and former daily routine.

There are many ways to cope with homesickness in college. For instance, you might consider speaking with your dorm's resident advisor (RA). RAs often plan fun activities for students living on campus and look out for students' emotional well-being. Your RA can also suggest ways to get involved in student life. This may help you feel like you're part of your school's community.

Also, stay in touch with family and friends back home. Just try not to call home every day. Doing so may keep you from getting out of your comfort zone, meeting new people, and adjusting to college life.

Explore Your Interests Outside the Classroom

Getting involved in campus life is a great way to explore your interests, make new friends, and take a break from your classes. According to HERI, 90% of students surveyed in 2020 said they might join a student organization.

There are many clubs to choose from. Many schools have groups for LGBTQ+ students, first-generation college students, and students of color. College students also can join honor societies, fraternities or sororities, and intramural sports teams.

Check out your college's website or attend a student activities fair to get more information on student organizations at your school.

Find Out What Resources Are Available to You

Most schools provide various student services to help you navigate your transition to college. For example, many feature academic advising offices. Academic advisors can help you choose courses and meet major requirements. In 2019, HERI found that 79% of first-year students sought academic advising.

Many colleges also offer tutoring, academic success coaching, and career counseling. If you plan to work while in school or want help launching a job search, consider visiting your school's career center.

For students with disabilities, colleges offer disability services and accommodations. Potential accommodations could include extra time on tests and note-taking assistance during lectures. Many schools also provide physical and mental health services. These services include outpatient medical care and counseling for students facing mental health challenges.

Communicate Openly With Your Roommates

Although living on campus provides many benefits, adjusting to life with roommates is among the biggest challenges new students face. After your first year, you may have more flexibility when it comes to choosing a college roommate.

During your first semester, though, you'll likely find yourself sharing cramped quarters with someone you've just met. Or you might be paired with several students whose lifestyles may be very different from yours.

To prevent conflict with roommates, establish ground rules early. Avoid fights over whose turn it is to cook or take out the trash by creating a chore schedule and dividing household tasks evenly among everyone. Also, find out your roommates' schedules at the beginning of the semester. That way, you'll know when you can expect to have some time to yourself.

Get Enough Sleep

Lack of quality sleep has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. It's also a big problem among college students. In 2019, only 23% of students responding to a HERI survey reported regularly getting enough sleep.

Getting adequate sleep is critical, especially when you're in school. Researchers have found that a lack of sleep impairs executive control functions — functions that include decision-making, creativity, adaptability, and learning. This relationship may explain why many students who regularly sacrifice sleep for late-night cramming tend to have lower GPAs than students who avoid pulling all-nighters.

Aim to sleep for 7-9 hours each night. Also, try going to bed and waking up earlier. Doing so may improve the quality of your sleep and make you more productive during the day.

Eat Responsibly

Students living away from home for the first time often struggle to maintain a healthy diet. Some first-year students experience unexpected weight gain; however, the so-called "freshman 15" is mostly a myth and not a helpful concept when thinking about student nutrition.

If you've spent most of your life eating whatever was put on the table at home, entering your college's campus dining hall on your first day may feel liberating.

Still, it's important you choose your food wisely. Plan your meals ahead of time to ensure you're eating a balanced diet. If you're not sure what you should eat, consider speaking to a registered dietitian at your college's health center.

Use Your Time Wisely

Getting involved in many different aspects of college life can be rewarding, but balancing academics, work, and other responsibilities is often challenging. If you work an on-campus job, play intramural sports, serve as captain of the debate team, and enroll in 18 credits of coursework, you'll soon find yourself exhausted and overwhelmed.

To avoid burnout, choose your college courses wisely. Avoid 8 a.m. classes if you're not a morning person, and don't enroll in back-to-back classes on opposite sides of a large campus. Go to class regularly, even if your professors don't take attendance. Take detailed lecture notes to help you perform your best on essays and exams.

Staying organized and avoiding procrastination can help you make the most of your limited time. If you find yourself scrolling through social media to avoid studying, use productivity hacks, such as the Pomodoro Technique, to help you stay on task.

Do What You Can to Stay Safe

Many students attend college parties, tailgate, or visit college bars with friends. While these activities can be enjoyable, they also pose risks. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 97,000 students aged 18-24 report alcohol-related incidents of date rape or sexual assault each year.

Stay safe at on-campus parties. Never accept drinks or substances from people you don't trust, never leave your drink unattended, and use the buddy system to help ensure you and your friends get home safely.

Unfortunately, violent crimes can happen anywhere, so take precautions anytime you're on campus. If you ever feel you're in danger, get to a safe location if you can, and call the police. You also can contact campus security using the emergency blue light phones found across many campuses.


Reviewed by:

Rayelle Davis is a nationally board-certified counselor and a licensed clinical professional counselor. As a nontraditional student, she earned her associate degree in psychology at Allegany College of Maryland. She went on to earn her bachelor's degree in psychology online at the University of Maryland Global Campus. Davis earned her master's degree in counseling education with a concentration in marriage, couples, and family therapy from Duquesne University. She has taught several undergraduate psychology courses. She is currently a doctoral student and teaching assistant at Duquesne University and practices psychotherapy in Maryland.

Editor's Note: This article contains general information and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Please consult a professional advisor before making decisions about health-related issues.


Feature Image: Carol Yepes / Moment / Getty Images

Use this guide to prepare for college dorm life! Incoming students can get tips from this comprehensive list of college and dorm essentials. Experiencing impostor syndrome? You're not alone. Implement these tips from a professor to combat the disruptive symptoms of impostor syndrome. Moving away to college is an exciting yet stressful experience. Ease the process by using our ultimate college packing checklist of must-have items.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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