Freshmen deserve the whole truth: college can be hard

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As an incoming college student, it is likely that you have heard two very different perspectives on what to expect and what to do when you get here.

Teachers, parents and other adults advised you to buckle down, focus on your studies and get involved around campus. On the other hand, older siblings, friends and upperclassmen told you about the insane parties, the attractive girls and guys and all the freedom you would have. But no one likely ever told you about coping with a profound feeling of emptiness and isolation or overwhelming social and academic insecurity. 

To better prepare incoming students for college, it is crucial for those with current or future college freshmen in their lives to address potential struggles — not just the fun. It’s also important to destigmatize asking for help during the transition from high school to college.

For many, the first couple days of college are great. Torchy’s and Kerbey Lane become your standbys, and Lime rides down Guad become a part of your routine. But even in a city as great as Austin, the novelty of your new surroundings wears off. You’re thrown into a whirlwind of classes, suffocating student organization recruitment and a chaotic social scene. Surprise — you’re now an emotional wreck.

If college was supposed to be the time of my life, why was I so miserable? I wondered if there were others who felt the same way, and to my surprise, I discovered that I was not alone.

“Social insecurity is the hardest part,” undeclared freshman Declan Price said. “Everyone loses a sense of individuality because there’s no time for all your interests, and you’re not in control of every aspect of your life. It’s hard to make genuine connections because everyone’s just trying to make as many friends as possible, as quickly as possible.”

Undeclared freshman Mason Norris agreed, adding that his college experience has so far been much worse than he expected.

Norris added that separation from family and everything familiar adds to the social pressure. 

“It just feels like major parts of your life are missing,” Norris said. “You’re not who you used to be.”

Not only are freshmen grappling with social uncertainty and feelings of rejection, but they are immediately tasked with rigorous academics, which advertising freshman Mathilde Mergaux described as her biggest hurdle. 

“You don’t know what you should be doing,” Mergaux said. “What should we take notes on? What do we study? Whatis important?” 

Although she recalls being warned about the workload, Mergaux maintains that no one ever talked about the lack of guidance from professors regarding paper requirements, test preparation and coursework in general.

Hearing my peers describe their challenges made me realize that it is totally normal to experience these turbulent emotions and that it’s normal to break down sometimes. Freshmen must understand that they should struggle with schoolwork — it is college, after all — and that they don’t need to meet their best friends within two weeks of being on campus. It’s okay to be overwhelmed because college is overwhelming.

The best resource freshmen have to help them cope is other freshmen — they can relate to the highs and lows of transitioning into college better than anyone else. For professional help, students can visit UT’s Counseling and Mental Health Center (CMHC). Students can reach CMHC at (512) 471-3515 or visit their website to schedule a free appointment with a counselor. 

Parents, upperclassmen and professors should be honest with incoming and current freshmen about how difficult the transition can be. Warning incoming freshmen about the struggles they will endure won’t make the transition seamless, but normalizing these feelings and including this side of the experience in our dialogue will significantly help students cope.

Beck is a radio-television-film freshman from Park Ridge, Illinois.