I was absolutely brilliant in high school. So much so I recall being asked jokingly: “do you take your brain out at night to give it rest?” Not only did I graduate with honors amongst the top of my class but I did so actively engaged in high school activities. Unfortunately, for me, academic fortitude and school engagement did not equate to college readiness.
I was so hyped up on being independent that I did not give any thought to what this actually meant and how I would be successful at navigating independence. Consider if you will my never having real responsibilities, the lack of structure and emotional support that is classic to growing up in dysfunction and being practically sheltered from what my parents saw as the “dangerous outside world”. The failure to launch-esque scene that unfolded over four years led lots of poor choices, failed classes, bouts of anxiety and depression which all culminated in a mental health crisis. Yes, even this therapist has contemplated suicide.
Statistics show that although I felt alone in college, I was not the only one unprepared and struggling through their college years. In fact, suicide has been noted to be the second leading cause of death among college students across our nation. The Association of Psychological Associates (APA) notes that although student enrollment grew only by 5 percent recently there has been a 30% rise in students seeking appointments at counseling centers for reasons other than academic performance. These students indicate concerns around anxiety, stress, depression and family/social issues.
Even with legislature such as the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act of 2004 which is noted to have been instrumental in shaping current campus support resources for students what I know is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So how do we prepare students mentally and emotionally for the demands of college and adulthood? I believe in starting where you are with the end in mind…taking note of each human developmental stage and with each stage transitioning our parenting style away from being as authoritative to more of a coach. An authoritative parenting style demands: “do as I say”, while a coach relies on what has been taught or develops new skills to assist with gradually building self-reliance capacity which is needed during the college years.
Developing a strong foundation is uber important for transitioning college students. While college certainly does a great job at testing and fortifying that foundation looking back on my own college experience I am certain I would have fared better had I known the following:
My value: value can be described as what sets one apart from others, the importance or usefulness of a thing. When value is understood it dictates the care and treatment given or expected from myself or others, it defines who and what has access to me and indicates what investments I am willing to make to ensure my value is maintained and grows. The level of care-physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, spiritually and academically were all value based decisions. There will be those who do not see your value, do not let it be you.
My Voice: because we are all so unique we carry varying perspectives on life. I wish I had known that being able to speak from my unique perspective sets me a part and actually makes me a leader among my peers. Using my voice to positively influence rather than allowing others to only influence me is critical.
My Right Not to Know: It was my own thought that I was supposed to have my life figured out by the time I became a freshmen. This self-imposed pressure is what led to my anxiety and depression. I wish I had known that it is perfectly okay to not know. I wish I had known that the pressure I was feeling was simply me growing in my capacity as an adult and that I did not need to panic. I just needed to talk it out.
My Unlimited Resources: I soooo wish I had known how to ask for help! From test taking strategies, talking to my professor for support, how to resolve a conflict with my roomie to how do I manage these overwhelming feelings. Instead of pretending to have it all together, grinning and baring it, tapping into the array of resources at my disposal could have literally changed my life. You’re paying good money for the help anyway. Ask for help, take the help!
My Ability to YOLO it up with the best of them: college is fun; if you aren’t having fun, you are doing it wrong. Enjoy it with moderation by taking healthy risks. I wished I had taken the time to expose myself to experiences outside of my norm with those unlike me.
College life is so different for each person; what are five things you wish you would have known prior to college? How do you intend to prepare and/or support a transitioning student with that information?