Illustration by Alyssa Maziarz
Photos by Hayley Vitale
August: A month filled with back-to-school advertisements, goals for the new school year and an abundance of brand-new school supplies. The month in its entirety represents new academic beginnings and a fresh start at yet another school year. For incoming college freshman specifically, August is a time to dwell on thoughts of the glamorous college experience portrayed all throughout social media. Dorm rooms filled with personalized decor, all-inclusive dining halls on campus and the freedom that every high schooler can only dream of are only a few of the college aspects every student looks forward to at the start of their freshman experience. Although starting college may be daunting for some, many college students are more than ecstatic to begin this new chapter of their lives filled with different experiences and a newfound sense of independence.
After only a few short weeks of living on campus, however, many freshmen students have an Earth-shattering discovery: the media’s portrayal of college life is only a small portion of what the entire experience is cracked up to be. College is a time when the majority of incoming freshmen are completely on their own for the first time in their entire lives. This means navigating through issues and problem-solving all by themselves. Along with the newfound sense of freedom that aligns with college life, many college freshmen find themselves feeling lost and confused as the few days before classes continue to pass by. In a study of nearly 48,000 college students in 2017, 64% of participants admitted to feeling “very lonely” within the past 12 months of their lives in college. Only 19% of these participants replied that they never experienced feelings of loneliness during their time at university.2 Moreover, many college freshmen experience difficulties adjusting to on-campus dining options, living in residence halls, and the mere fact that they are no longer with their family members in the same place. A grand total of 69% of freshman college students experience severe homesickness in their first year of college.1 As demonstrated, these adjustments can be quite difficult for some and take much more time than anticipated.
On top of all of this, courses in college are vastly different than those encountered in high school. The work loads are far more immense, and many students find themselves with less guidance from their college professors than that of their high school teachers. The vast majority of college freshmen are used to their teachers acclimating them back into the school setting after a long and relaxing summer. In college, though, syllabus week can look quite different. Many professors take their classes very seriously and will dive right into class materials on the first day. In order to be considered a full-time student, colleges require their students to be enrolled in at least 12 credit hours or four courses. This equates to 12 hours in class per week and 24 to 36 hours of study time outside of the classroom. For many incoming college freshmen, this amount of time dedicated to course work outside of the classroom has never been done before and can seem increasingly intimidating in addition to student’s social lives and outside jobs. All of these new adjustments accumulated together can be overwhelming, exhausting and can even cause freshmen to feel anxious and doubtful about their new start in college. The most important thing to remember if you can relate to any of this, though, is that you are not alone.
However, not only do incoming freshmen endure these same challenges. Several other students on campus go through the same adjustments when acclimating to a new college environment. For example, there is a wide variety of students of all grade levels who transfer to different colleges throughout their academic careers. Acclimating to a completely different school setting is challenging in itself, especially when students have already learned the ins and outs of a completely different campus. Although college freshmen experience the majority of changes in their first year of college, adjustments can happen at any time and at any grade level.
The stigma surrounding the “freshman-year experience” is one of the main barriers that prevents first-year college students from opening up about their struggles and asking for guidance. Many freshmen feel that if their experience is worse than their peers, they have failed at making the most of their first year at college. It can seem alienating to open up to friends and classmates about common struggles when the majority of those around you never openly discuss the same feelings. Sometimes, these feelings can become extremely overwhelming and difficult to deal with all on your own. After all, the media’s pristine image that college is a time to be carefree, make new and exciting memories and enjoy liberating freedom is not nearly an accurate representation of what college truly entails. In its reality, college is a time of adjustment, learning about one’s self, and viewing academics in a completely different light than before.
Taking all of this into consideration, it can be extremely difficult to find the beauty in struggles that come along with adjusting to a new academic setting. However, it is extremely reassuring to know that regardless of what is portrayed, every college student deals with a great transition at some point during their academic careers. Learning more about yourself and opening your eyes to real-world experiences is a necessary and well-rounding experience that is all a part of growing up. In fact, one of the very first places that this will take place in every young adult’s life is when they first acclimate themselves to the college environment. These struggles and experiences are crucial to defining who we are, finding what is truly meant for us and realizing just how much we are truly capable of. Every college freshman that faces hardships through their first year of school is encouraged to be open about their experiences; there is absolutely no shame in being candid about your feelings. Specific to Kent State University, there are several resources available right on campus that students are encouraged to use if they are ever facing issues that seem too heavy to deal with alone. For example, Kent State’s Psychological Services is accessible to everyone on campus and will cater to any challenges students may face.
What is even better to know is that in order to grow, we must step outside of our comfort zones and experience endeavors we have never dealt with before. Pushing through the initial discomfort of adjusting to college life can seem extremely daunting and almost endless. However, no matter how difficult it may seem, every college student endures this process. College is truly all about readjustments, and in all honesty, readjustments can seem very scary. In their first year of college, students are forced to think outside of their norm and force themselves to acclimate to a completely different environment than ever before, but this is how we grow. Stepping outside of our comfort zones makes us realize that we are capable of more than we have ever imagined. We learn more about ourselves and how to face life all on our own throughout our freshman year of college, and that is a beautiful thing.
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Lillianna DiFini is a second-year student at Kent State studying communication studies with a concentration in relational and workplace communication. Additionally, she is pursuing a minor in public relations. Lillianna previously wrote for The Burr as a blogger last semester and is now a writer. Her hopes for this semester include continuing to explore her passion for writing as well as create content that is both relevant and interesting to the Kent State community as a whole. After earning her bachelor’s degree in communication studies, Lillianna plans to continue her education and earn her master’s degree in education to one day pursue a career in academic advising.