Advice for My Freshman Self: College Mental Health Prep

Doah Shin
Doah Shin

Dear me,

How are you feeling about going to college for the first time? Nervous, excited, a little bit of both? I get it. It can be overwhelming thinking about all the big changes that come with moving out on your own, making new friends, taking harder classes, and just growing up in general. Not everyone has the support system around them to talk about college prep, mental health prep, or both – so, here I am. 

After three years of being a college student, I’ve learned a lot about the ins and outs, and the good and bad of college. I’ve made mistakes, had successes, and above all else, found a great community of people that have supported me throughout it all. But I remember how hard it was those first few days, weeks, and even months. So, I want to give you some practical and (hopefully) encouraging tips to do some mental health prep before and even during college. These are all of the things I wish I knew!

  • Have a list containing school-specific mental health resources and learn how to access them before you go to college! College can feel so fast-paced and the initial change in the environment may feel quite stressful. When you’re going through a rough patch, it can be so overwhelming to figure out how to even set up an appointment. It’s also super helpful to have a list of available crisis support, including state-specific or county-specific hotlines and warmlines: there might be some nights where you really need to talk to someone, but school services will not be available. Figuring out all the details beforehand will save you so much time and effort when you’re in a position where you can’t afford to delay help. 
  • On the topic of doing your research beforehand – know where your university counseling center is located and how to get there so you don’t feel the urge to skip your appointment when you realize that you can’t figure out which building/room to go to (totally not saying this from personal experience…). Add the counseling center to the list of buildings to visit as you explore campus and look for your classes before school starts!
  • Another important reminder: take it slow. I know that as a freshman you’re feeling really ambitious, but recognize you’re going through a huge life transition! Don’t overload on courses and start by picking one or two student organizations to spend your time with – you still have three more years to try new things and take more classes. Plan ahead and schedule breaks and chunks of time to grab meals/coffee with friends to have things to look forward to! Make it a point to prioritize your mental health by scheduling times for yourself in your calendar as well.
  • Seek out communities that intentionally prioritize and genuinely care about mental health. I was able to find such a supportive community through Active Minds on my college campus and through cultural organizations where I met people with shared identities that I could relate to in deeper ways. Within these communities, I don’t feel guilty about prioritizing my needs – my peers even make it a point to take breaks together!
  • Finally, as cliché as it sounds, remember: you are not alone. Finding a supportive community of people will help you so much throughout your college years. Whether it be with your roommates, those you meet in classes, friends from student organizations, or any combination, having those around you that know you and you feel comfortable with makes all the difference. Knowing you’re not alone also extends to knowing that feeling nervous or overwhelmed during big life transitions is normal – it doesn’t mean you don’t belong there.

To all those stepping foot on a college or university campus this semester who aren’t feeling 100% confident – you got this. Whether it’s your first semester or fifth, know that you are capable, that your feelings (both good and bad) are valid, and that you belong there. From one college student to another – you got this.