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Dear Freshman: A Simple Guide to Having a Successful First Year and Prioritizing your Mental Health

Welcome to our College-in-Covid series! In this series we pen a letter to each college class to start you off in your first semester/quarter back on campus. Good luck!


Dear Freshman,

Congratulations. You’re going to college! That’s such a huge accomplishment and you should be proud of yourself. The “back to school” season is officially upon us. To help those of you who are about to embark on a new year filled with long study sessions, midterms, and finals, I will share some of my freshman experience and a few tips on how to have fun, stay safe, and navigate through attending college in the midst of a pandemic, while also prioritizing your mental health.

I know exactly how you feel and let me just remind you that everyone’s first year of college experience is different. I know you’re feeling a mixture of excitement for leaving home and being in a new environment. But you may also be feeling anxious about having to be responsible for your own future. As well as feeling fearful to leave your parents and begin your own journey and take care of your mental and physical health. Believe I know, because I have been in your shoes.

I moved across the country to attend college. It was brave of me and it seemed rather easy when applying to the university. But, if I’m being honest, the first night I spent in my dorm, I silently cried myself to sleep as I missed my mother and father and my annoying siblings and my friends. I missed my puppy and was homesick for a good 3 months. But as time went by, I made new friends; I created healthy distractions, and I found clubs and organizations that made me happy again. I was finally adjusting to my new environment.

Starting college in the Midst of a Pandemic

I know your experience will be much different from mine, being that you’re starting college in a pandemic. You may feel more stressed and dealing with the effects of being isolated due to seeing less of your peers. You also may be more anxious about the possibility of getting sick and being away from your parents. I get it. Social anxiety is oftentimes present to those who haven’t been around many people since before the pandemic. Studies have shown that it’s normal to feel uncomfortable being in larger crowds due to being isolated for a long period. How solitude and isolation can affect your social skills - BBC Future. We feel less in control of our surrounding environment and that’s scary. For many of you, the uncertainties of the pandemic piled on top of general freshman anxieties have had an effect on your mood and outlook, causing your mental health to suffer.

But freshmen, give yourself a pat on the back for attending college while spending so much time in social isolation. For graduating high school without formal graduation. For taking SATs and ACTs online. And, for having your prom date and your friend groups dance to prom music behind a computer screen. Class of 2025, you are truly remarkable.

When the pandemic struck, I was home for spring break. I packed a small suitcase with only my necessities as I was sure I would be back on campus after a week. A few days later I received a university notice that school openings would be delayed for another week. I was happy and excited that I got two weeks of school off and could relax at home. Little did I know that I wouldn’t be returning to campus that semester, and I would also be completing my undergraduate psychology degree program online, at home in my bedroom. How depressing is that? I was devastated and felt as if all of my hard work was for nothing. But freshman, no matter the outcome or circumstance that you face during your experience in college, I promise your hard work will pay off.

As I’m in my last semester of college now, set to graduate this fall, I look back at all my growth and success, and failures I have learned from, and I can’t help but smile and be proud of the young adult I am today.

I learned a lot from college, and most were things outside of the classroom. Granted things have been a bit different for a year and a half due to the pandemic, and it most definitely changed our school setting. But, college has taught me so much about myself and the strength I didn’t know I had in me as well as how to care for my mental health and maintain a positive outlook on college life.

As professors are expecting papers by the end of the week and quizzes and exams that you must study for, it is important that you create balance in your life, so you don’t feel overwhelmed. Many students go through the “second-semester freshman syndrome”. Symptoms include a lack of motivation, a lack of concentration, depression, and fatigue. The pressure is high in college... Whether you are trying to decide on a major, looking to make new friends, or in my case struggling to navigate through campus without getting lost, these tips below will help you deal with stress anxiety and the fear of your new domain while saying COVID-free.

1.) Acknowledge that your emotions are valid

It’s okay and completely normal to feel the way you feel, especially during such uncertain times. You may feel sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety, or all of the above. Sit with your emotions and allow yourself to understand what you are feeling. Talk to loved ones and friends about your thoughts. If your feelings worsen, don’t be afraid to reach out to your campus counseling staff. So many freshmen enter college without the knowledge of where to access mental health resources. You don’t have to go through anything alone, after all, they are there to help you!

2.) Maintain a routine

Try to start your day around the same time every day. Set a goal for coursework to be completed. When it comes to a healthy diet routine, most dining halls serve healthy food, so it shouldn’t be too hard to incorporate fruits and veggies into your diet! Create exercise regimes Try to get some form of exercise for about 45 minutes to an hour each day. It is very good for your mental health to get some fresh air and go on a walk, run, or bike ride.

3.) Practice good sleep hygiene

Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. A healthy sleep cycle includes getting 7-9 hours of rest per night. Of course, we all know this is quite hard to achieve, but you can also strive for quality over quantity of sleep — It may be difficult, but try to limit screen time in the evening, and try to avoid drinking caffeine after 2 pm as it may affect your sleep cycle and ultimately throw off your daily routine.

4.) Don’t compare yourself to others

It’s really hard to be in college and not compare yourself to others.The transition into college can be nerve-wracking. During the application process, you’re asked to produce a resume, essays, and recommendations exhibiting your best self. Once enrolled, you’re expected to take a challenging course load, earn good grades, and have a high GPA. Let’s not forget those extracurricular activities or job that you probably have a commitment to as well. And somehow, you’re supposed to stand out to an admissions panel amongst many other qualified students. However, if you find yourself comparing yourself to other students, don’t get yourself down about it. We’re all human and can get our priorities mixed up sometimes. However, you should recognize the action and its negative effects and do something about it. Comparisons are learned behaviors, and therefore, can be unlearned.

5.) Connect with others

It may seem like connecting with others is easy because so many students are on campus. Stay socially connected by participating in student clubs and organizations while also being mindful of social distance measures. Studies have shown that social connections can lower anxiety and stress. Social connection also helps regulate our emotions which can lead to higher self-esteem and motivation. To learn more about the importance of human connection clinked the link provided: The importance of human connection - CMHA National

6.) Take a break

Take time for yourself each day. Step away from the never-ending news about what’s going on in the world and from your coursework. Do something you enjoy and that you find relaxing and rejuvenating. This will most definitely boost your serotonin levels and mental wellness. Finding balance and creating “me time” will help you to avoid slipping into a funk.

In conclusion, college is truly what you make of it. Go to sports events. Have fun at parties (when it’s safe to). Study with friends. Don’t skip classes. Indulge in new cultures. Take lots of pictures. Make wise decisions. Take care of your body and mind. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to discover who you are. Always remember, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think” Chris Robin.

Congratulations once again freshmen, the world is your oyster. You have the opportunity to do whatever you want. Choose wisely.



By: Francesca Mina


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