Going to college is an exciting milestone, but it can also be a terrifying one. After months of endless applications, acceptances, rejections, and difficult decisions, you’re finally ready to take the next step!
However, as your departure date draws closer, you’re probably dealing with some serious pre-college nerves. You’ll have to make new friends, adjust to new academic expectations and learn how to live away from family. That’s a lot of “new” — no wonder you’re feeling nervous! But don’t stress, because I’ve compiled a list of tried-and-true ways to calm down and get excited about the next four years of your life. Here’s what to do if you’re feeling nervous about college, according to experts and students who have been there.
1. connect with current college students
One of the best ways to feel reassured about college is by talking to someone who’s been through it and survived. “I talked to a very good friend of mine who was a rising junior,” says Laura, a student at Virginia Tech. “Listening to her talk about her freshman year and everything she went through really put things into perspective that [college] isn’t as bad as you think, and you can get through it.”
Even if you don’t have close friends who are currently in college, there are likely a few people you can speak to, whether it’s a family friend or someone in your community. If you’re working a summer job right now, there are probably college kids hanging around somewhere — see if you can start up a conversation with them while you’re scooping ice cream or on break.
Current and former students are your most reliable resource for what college is really like. Remember, though, that every college experience is different, and that traditions and customs at your friends’ schools won’t necessarily apply to your experience. Just because your friend’s entire school participates in a naked midnight run doesn’t mean you’ll have to do the same.
2. channel your nerves into something exciting
Nervous or anxious energy can manifest in all kinds of ways, like crying, sleep disruption, changes in eating habits, inability to focus, and more. Instead of letting yourself get too worked up about going to college, try channeling your energy into something fun and productive, like scouring the web for thrifted dorm furniture or researching the student organizations you might be interested in joining next semester. Researching your school’s opportunities will not only help you feel more prepared for college, but can also help you get excited about what’s to come.
“I moved across the country on my own to go to college, so I was very nervous,” says Dylan, a student at College of William and Mary. “I put all my nervous energy into packing — researching packing list recommendations, frequently visiting Bed Bath & Beyond, and looking around online for dorm decorating ideas. It made me feel like I had a better handle on the whole transition.”
Looking for other great ways to channel your nerves? Work on a passion project you’ve been meaning to get to for a while, like starting a blog. If your school requires summer reading or prep work, try to focus on that, and do it to the best of your ability. Movement and exercise are also great ways to get rid of nerves, so channel your anxiety into finding a cool new workout and giving it a try!
3. Make a plan for your first week
If you’re feeling nervous about college, make some concrete plans for your first week on campus. Your school will probably have a huge activities fair where you can explore clubs, extracurriculars, and more, so ask your roommate to go with you. Make a promise to yourself to sign up for as many organizations as possible (even if you only end up sticking with one!) so that you’ll immediately be “in the know” about campus events and have the opportunity to meet diverse people around campus.
Adding structure to your first week can help the beginning of college feel more manageable; plus, you may even discover something new that you enjoy! “If you and your friends are bored one night, maybe you will decide to go to that rugby club party or mock trial cookout,” says Ashley, a student at Wake Forest University. “College is all about meeting all kinds of people, and you won’t find them unless you force yourself to get out of your room and try as many things as possible.”
4. care for your health and wellness
Brian Wind, PhD, a clinical psychologist, adjunct professor at Vanderbilt University, and the Chief Clinical Officer at JourneyPure, recommends maintaining a consistent self-care practice and familiarizing yourself with campus resources for mental health and wellness. Dr. Wind tells Her Campus, “There are usually resources available for student counseling, mental health and study support. Just knowing that these are available to you and how you can get access to these resources can be comforting.”
If you’re feeling nervous about the transition to college, utilizing these resources can be a great way to set yourself up for success — along with practicing consistent self-care. Dale Troy, a College Success Coach and the founder of Crush College Stress, tells Her Campus, “Moving to a college campus is a huge transition. Practicing good self-care will help you feel good, both physically and mentally,” she says. “Get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, move your body, and drink water throughout the day. Take breaks to restore your energy. You can do this!”
Rachael Himsel, MA, a graduate of DePauw University, reminds students that it’s okay to feel conflicting emotions about college, and to let the feelings flow. “Not gonna lie, I cried the first month at college,” she tells Her Campus. “My advice for incoming freshmen is the advice I’d give to anyone starting something new: it’s okay to feel scared. It’s okay to cry. Though you may feel fear about the unknown, college is an amazing opportunity.”
5. get back into “school mode”
Maybe you’re excited about the social aspect of college, but super nervous about academics. Will the classes be too hard? Will the professors be nice? Will you even remember how to do school? Ben Kassoy, a Her Campus contributing writer, graduate of Emory University, and Editor-in-Chief of DoSomething.org, suggests reviewing old high school notes or textbooks before leaving for college, especially for subjects you know you’ll be taking freshman year. This can get you back into a “school” frame of mind, remind you how to study and take notes, and help you feel more confident heading into fall semester.
Laurie Kopp Weingarten, CEP, the President of One-Stop College Counseling, recommends conducting a trial run of your schedule before the semester starts to help you get back in the groove. “The day before the semester begins, walk through your schedule, locating every classroom and building,” she tells Her Campus. “That way you won’t panic on the first day!”
If you’re still feeling nervous about academics, Weingarten says that carefully reading the syllabi and meeting with professors early on can help. “Make a conscious effort to meet with your professors during office hours, at the beginning of the semester,” she says. “Professors enjoy getting to know their students, and they can help you later in the semester if you find that you’re stumbling.”
6. attend orientation and campus events
Go to college orientation, even if it isn’t “required.” At orientation, you can get a feel for campus, explore organizations that your school offers, and make new friends, all before the scary sophomores, juniors and seniors get there! Many schools also offer a chance to meet with an adviser during orientation, so if you’re worried about what classes to take, they can help you figure out what classes best fit your interests and aspirations.
Cassandra Aasmundsen-Fry, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Her Campus that it’s normal to feel nervous about orientation, and to keep an open mind. “Orientation is your first exposure to your life as a college student, and can be a jumble of nerves, excitement, and uncertainty, especially in the era of COVID-19,” she says. “Allow yourself to be present and go in with an open mind. Instead of focusing on your perceived expectations, let yourself envision the excitement, hope, and promise of the next four years.”
Whether you’re attending orientation online or in-person, Dr. Aasmundsen-Fry recommends that students take a break when they’re feeling nervous. “I always recommend to clients to take a step back, spend a minute focusing on their breathing and ground themselves in the moment,” she tells Her Campus. “If you start to feel overwhelmed, you can always step away to the bathroom, get a drink, or take a break to gather yourself.”
Apart from orientation, some colleges plan other summer events, like meet-ups and picnics in specific cities. If you find one that’s being hosted near you, check it out! Chances are, you’ll get to meet some of your future classmates, and you’ll meet alumni and current students who are just waiting to tell you how amazing your new school is.
7. start Making Friends
“They often say the friends you make in college are friends for life, and there is a lot of truth in that,” Dr. Aasmundsen-Fry tells Her Campus. “College is beautiful in the sense that there are so many different types of people that you can relate to. If you feel nervous going into a conversation, try to focus on asking questions and getting to know the other person instead of putting the pressure on yourself. Also, remember that friendships don’t happen overnight, and you have many chances and people to meet!”
If it’s not possible to meet your classmates in person yet, go on your school’s Facebook group and join the conversation. Although you’re not really “meeting” these people through Facebook, an online community can be a great place to ask questions and help you feel like a part of your college class before you even get to campus. By reading the online posts, you’ll also probably realize that the other students are just as nervous about college as you are!
8. brush up on practical life skills
Going to college also means picking up on valuable life skills that you may have taken for granted in high school when your family was helping you out — think cleaning, laundry, cooking, meal prepping, and more. Feeling nervous about those housekeeping tasks you’ll need once you get to school? Before you head to college, ask your family to help you wash and fold a load of laundry, or get some friends together to cook a simple meal. You’ll be much better educated in those living-on-your-own chores, and you may have some great quality bonding time!
9. write what you’re nervous about
While going to college can definitely cause a big, overwhelming wave of panic, there are probably some specific parts of college life that you’re most worried about. Maybe you’re an absolute pro at introducing yourself to complete strangers, but you’re freaking out about the college party scene. Or maybe you’ve always been at the top of your class academically, and you’re worried college classes will be a lot tougher.
“Try to think about where your fears and nerves are coming from — don’t fight them,” Dr. Aasmundsen-Fry tells Her Campus. She says that if you’re feeling nervous, it can help to write down your specific fears and refute them. For example:
- Fear: I’m afraid that I’ll be awkward with the other people in my dorm, and they won’t want to be friends with me.
- Answer: Last year at my summer job, I made tons of new friends, and I’m still in touch with them! I’m awesome!
“Think about how you’ve overcome difficult situations in the past,” Dr. Aasmundsen-Fry tells Her Campus. “Now, remind yourself that even though [college] is new and uncertain, you can do difficult things. Remind yourself often and firmly that you can handle these new experiences and will find your own way of settling in. If you have trouble, ask yourself, what would you tell a friend feeling similar to you?”
10. don’t forget to smile
Remember in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when the students got rid of a “Boggart” (which takes the shape of the thing the student most feared) by turning what they found scary into something hilarious? Humor is a great way to get past something that freaks you out, because it forces you to look at the situation in a whole new way. Watch funny videos or TikToks, talk to relatives and friends about their funniest college experiences, or even make jokes about the size of the suitcase you’re bringing — I guarantee you’ll be feeling less doom-and-gloom in no time.
Liz Newman, MA, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology and board certified coach, says that “smile therapy” can be a great way to cope with your pre-college nerves. “Fake it til you make it, and the first step begins with a smile,” Newman says. “When we smile, our body releases ‘feel good’ chemicals like endorphins and serotonin, which calm anxiety and allow us to feel more confident and ‘light up a room.’ It brings good feelings from the inside out, so before you enter a room, smile!” Even if you’re feeling nervous, remembering that college is all about having fun can help you navigate the jitters when they arise.
You may not feel like you’re ready for college, but I’m here to remind you that you are! You’re a smart, capable person who’s ready to take on the world, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Remember, you go to college to get an education — not just from books but also from friends, experiences, and yes, even mistakes.
“Believe in the power of the possible,” says Karen Gross, an author, educator, and former Senior Policy Advisor to the U.S. Department of Education. “[Your] college accepted you because they believe in you.”
And to be honest, I couldn’t agree more. It’s normal to feel pre-college nerves, but follow these expert-approved tips and trust that you’re going to be just fine. Good luck!
Brian Wind, PhD
Cassandra Aasmundsen-Fry, PsyD
Liz Newman, MA, PsyD(A)
Ben Kassoy, Editor-in-Chief of DoSomething.org
Karen Gross, Educator & Author
Dale Troy, Founder & College Success Coach at Crush College Stress
Laurie Kopp Weingarten, CEP, President of One-Stop College Counseling
Laura, Virginia Tech
Dylan, College of William and Mary
Ashley, Wake Forest University
Rachael Himsel, DePauw University