If you’re in high school, you’ve probably heard stories about how difficult it can be to adjust to college life. If you’re in college or graduate school, you already know! Standard advice like “get eight hours of sleep every night” and “eat healthy” may be easier said than done when you’re moving to a new town or living in a dorm. So, set yourself up for success with some self-care tips for students, based on what’s helped my clients the most in their college years.
1. Limit your work load.
Don’t take more classes than you feel ready for. And don’t take harder classes than you have to. This goes double for your first semester, when you’re still figuring out how much you can handle.
You should also take into account jobs, social obligations, and time commitments from Greek houses if you’re a member. Depending on finances, you may have to work or take a certain number of classes. Ask your program advisor for suggestions about which courses are easier or harder, and how to balance them with your situation.
If you have ADHD or other mental health conditions, I highly recommend ADDitude’s College Success Strategies for ADHD Teens. They also mention self-care tips for students of their own!
2. Look for friends who share your values.
Whether you’re aiming for a 4.0 or are just here for a good time, it helps to have buddies get what’s important to you. Explore the student clubs around campus, look at fliers for upcoming events, and try attending even if you feel nervous the first few times. It’s okay to feel awkward. If you don’t click with one group of people, there will always be others.
Some prime places to meet people might be:
- Classrooms and libraries are a great place to meet other people who share your academic interests, or to get a study group together.
- Dorms and other student housing often have welcome parties and group hang-outs.
- Churches, synagogues and other spiritual centers often have groups for students. These can be good places to start if your beliefs are important to you or you want to get involved in charity work.
- Greek houses vary in how much membership costs, how much of a time commitment they require, and how much they focus on academics, social life, and community service. Ask existing members what their daily life is like and how happy they are with the group.
3. Break down school work into chunks.
The most common challenge my clients encounter in college is figuring out how to tackle big tests and projects. You might have to study most of a textbook, or put a massive presentation together. But the good news is that these tasks can always be shrunk into something more manageable.
This is my go-to strategy:
- Figure out what the assignment is asking for. Or the material you need to review, if you’re preparing for a test.
- Ask the teacher questions for anything where you’re not completely sure about what they want. Write the answers down.
- Spend a half-hour just listing the tasks you have to complete to get the whole thing done. It’s like making a to-do list just for this project.
- Break down each to-do item into smaller chunks. Be as specific as possible. So instead of “Research for a presentation,” the smaller chunks might be, “Find an article about the topic. Read an article. Find a line in it you can cite. Write out the citation for it.”
- If you’re feeling stuck, or aren’t sure what to do next, try explaining the problem to another person. This will often get it un-stuck.
If you’re neurodivergent, or just need better study habits, ADDitude has an excellent article on developing your organization and study skills.
4. Check out your campus’ support resources.
Self-care tips for students may not be enough on their own. But all colleges in the USA have a disability office you can ask about accommodations, and most have counseling centers. You may be able to score free therapy, career advice, and study skills coaching! Plus access to the gym, recreation center, and other student amenities. Go to the school’s website or student resource center and try to find everything they’re offering. Grab everything your tuition entitles you to!
The main limitation of college counseling centers is that they often have long waitlists, and you don’t get to choose your counselor. So some students choose to get counseling independently anyway. If you’re in Texas, I’m one such therapist who often works with students, and helps other students find the right therapist for them. Drop me a line if you are interested or want more articles about mental health in college!