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Young Adults

Anxiety About Going to College

5 Anxieties About Going to College and How to Change Them

You know how you’re “supposed” to be excited to go away to college?  You’re allowed to be dreading it too! You’re allowed to be nervous!  It’s normal to be confused. You’re allowed to be sad.  You’re allowed to feel a whole range of emotions, even when everyone is pretending to be 100% happy on Instagram.  

The truth is, if you’re heading off to school this fall, or even if you’re returning to school, you’re about to encounter a life transition. You begin to have some complex thoughts and you start to worry that you’re the only one who thinks these things, as if everyone else has it all figured out. And that leads to even more anxious thoughts. Then pretty soon you’re spiraling within your own mind.  This mixed bag of thoughts and emotions is completely normal and something that everyone experiences. Here are five common anxiety thoughts about heading back to college. If any of them sound familiar, now you know you’re not alone.

College Anxiety #1: College classes will be too hard

Math student sitting with open book in front of a chalk board with hard math problems.

Do you know why your school accepted you?  It’s because they think you’re awesome and they know you can do it.  I would love to be able to sit here and say that every class will be easy and you’ll have a nice, light workload. But we need to be realistic.  It’s very likely that you will find your classes to be challenging and a lot of work. But you can trust in knowing that your professors know what they’re doing and aren’t purposefully setting you up to fail. They want you to learn and they want to see you succeed! 

It’s also important to recognize that there are supports available to you. This includes academic advisors and writing centers that are there to help you produce the best work possible and make the best choices for your academic plan.  Knowing that there is help available to you can make the idea of taking a difficult class just a bit easier. 

Lastly, we can recognize that two things can be true at the same time; you can be doing the best you can while also recognizing that some classes will push you beyond your comfort zone.  Remember, one disappointing grade isn’t going to ruin your college career.  On the contrary, it may serve as a powerful reminder that it’s ok to seek help when you need it. 

College Anxiety #2: I’m awkward

It’s normal to be a bit self-conscious about how you come off to others.  Whether you’re thinking about your personality, your looks, your conversation skills, or anything else, it’s normal to worry about what other people will think. This often falls into the catch-all phrase, “I’m awkward.” 

However, it’s very likely that everybody is thinking way more about how they’re coming across themselves than judging how you’re coming across. We’re our own biggest critic. We focus on what we perceive to be wrong with us. But that doesn’t mean anyone else is thinking about that. Especially because they are thinking about their own self-criticisms.  Nobody fits into a cookie cutter mold of what we think a perfect person is (and it would be boring if they did!). We all have our own unique attributes and when you start to mesh with the right people, you won’t feel awkward. 

College Anxiety #3: Everyone just wants to party, but I don’t

Let’s get one thing clear- you don’t have to drink and party to make friends or have fun in college.  There are three types of people: people who love parties, people who don’t love parties, and people who pretend to love parties because they think that’s what they’re supposed to do. 

For some people, the loud music, dancing, and drinking cheap beer in a smelly house is enjoyable.  No judgement here! But there are other students who don’t feel like they’re missing out on anything. These people find their social engagement elsewhere. 

However, you’d be surprised by the amount of people at a party who secretly hate being there (because they think they’re awkward!  See #2!).  As you head into college, there is a lot of reason to be optimistic that you’ll make friends and have a great time without having to go to parties if that’s not what you’re into.  You will have plenty of company.  

College Anxiety #4: I don’t know how to pick a major

You don’t have to! Although some people know exactly what they want to do (or at least they think they do), most people actually don’t. Can you imagine how much pressure you’d feel if you felt like you had to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life at college orientation?  It’s perfectly ok to lower the pressure! Take a deep breath, and recognize that you don’t need to choose your major the second you get there. 

“Undecided” is such an unfair word for this situation.  View it more as an opportunity to expand your horizons and take a wide range of classes to see what really interests you.  And if that doesn’t help, keep in mind that there are always opportunities to course-correct. 

You’re not doomed to some fate based on what you decide to study; you can change majors, you can have a minor, or you can go to graduate school for something else. Or you can end up with a job that has nothing to do with anything you studied.  It’s going to be ok.   

College Anxiety #5: What if I don’t like my roommates 

College roommates getting along

Can I promise you that you’re going to love your roommate?  Heck no!  I can’t even promise you that you’ll like your roommate.  I don’t mean to be harsh, but sure, it’s definitely possible that you’ll get a bit unlucky.  But whether or not you sink to the point of feeling miserable is up to you.

Having a difficult rooming situation is an opportunity to practice an important skill that will help you throughout life. It’s an opportunity to practice the value of building a balanced perspective and using the “and” skill. “It’s tough to live with my roommate AND I’m going to try to make it work.”  “My roommate is messy AND I’m going to suggest making a cleaning schedule.”  “My roommate never tells me where he is AND I’m still going to do my best to communicate.”

These “and” statements allow us to acknowledge what upsets us without trying to pretend it’s not a problem AND they also help us recognize where there is room for more positive or productive thoughts.  Keeping this skill in mind and establishing appropriate boundaries can make a living situation with a roommate pleasant even if they’re not your best friend.

About The Author

Alex Bleiweis, therapist who specializes in working with college students

Alex Bleiweis, LMSW is a licensed social worker and Therapist at Montgomery County Counseling Center in Rockville and Olney, MD. He earned his Masters of Social Work degree from the University of Maryland School of Social Work in 2021, where he was named student of the Year. He training is rooted in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Among his many strengths, Alex specializes in treating college students, young adults and professionals, career concerns, and process addictions such as gambling problems and technology addictions.

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