Calming first-year jitters


You’ve got your first few days of college or university under your belt, but are still feeling overwhelmed and apprehensive about whether you’ll ever feel at home. Though you can’t wait for the butterflies in your stomach to go away, feeling nervous is actually a good sign, a counsellor advises.

“Any type of transition can feel isolating,” says Jesmen Mendoza, of Ryerson University’s Centre for Student Development and Counselling in Toronto. “I think feeling nervous and anxious is a good thing, because it shows that you care about doing well and making connections.”

Though you may feel alone, your feelings are common. “Students new to university and college are experiencing a lot of transitions,” Mendoza says. “Not only are they transitioning from high school to university or college, but they’re in a new location and require new skills.”

Mendoza encourages first-year students to take positive risks. “When you’re feeling shy or apprehensive, it’s a natural inclination to avoid new opportunities, but those become lost opportunities … I encourage students to check out things like school clubs, if only to find out if it’s something for you.”

He also advises students to reach out to others in the same boat. “It’s an opportunity to normalize some of the feelings you’re experiencing,” he says. Even if you racked up straight As in high school, you may be nervous about how you’ll fare academically. “Some students need to develop things like time-management skills, but there’s a lot of help available,” Mendoza says.

Ryerson, for example, offers workshops on everything from how to write a multiple choice exam, to stress management. “At the first sign of trouble, talk to a faculty member, someone in your department or someone in student services. We all want to help you achieve academic success,” Menoza says.

Seneca College in Toronto lends a helping hand to first-year students through its SMILE (Student Mentoring in Life & Education) program, which pairs them with mentors. “Students have been in the same environment for so long and come to college with so much trepidation,” co-ordinator Margie Bader says. “They don’t know where to go, there are so many students on campus and they don’t even know if they’ve signed up for the right courses.

“This program is geared to giving them one person in their program area to talk to soon after the start of the semester,” she says. “We know mentoring works. According to a study of high-risk students, 94% said mentoring was the single most important intervention that helped them stay in college.”

And mentoring isn’t just a feel-good intervention. “It helps with retention and engagement,” Bader says. “It lasts as long as the protege wants … Mentors get a lot of this program, too. It’s excellent volunteer experience for their resume. It’s noted on their transcript and they get co-ops more easily than other students.”

In the end, adapting to university or college will help you develop important skills. “The world of work, after all, is constantly changing,” Mendoza says. “Making successful transitions will help you develop skills employers will value.”


Quick facts
Making the transition from high school to university or college? Ryerson University offers the following tips:

– Develop a schedule that allows you to have adequate study time.

– Check your school e-mail and course-related blackboard sites regularly.

– Take advantage of learning success workshops.

– Strive for a lifestyle that balances exercise, relaxation, food and sleep.

– Don’t give up activities you love — you need them to energize yourself.