It's That Time Again: For College

Its August of 2010 and that means college freshman are sharpening their pencils and packing their bags to set out on their quest for an undergraduate degree. Many of these young people are feeling anxious because of all the unknowns they will face. Among the unanswered questions some of them have are:

1. What will it be like to live away from home and parents for the first time?

2. What will my roommates and floor mates be like in the dormitories?

3. Will I make new friends and will people like me and find me acceptable?

4. Will my classes be difficult and will I pass everything?

5. Will I be able to take care of myself?

6. Because of the state of the economy, many students begin their college career with the worry, "Will there be enough money for me to complete college and graduate?

1. Food and Diet

It is important for males and females to eat a balanced diet each day. As part of this, a regular meal schedule is important. Regularly scheduled breakfast, lunch and dinner should be adhered to.

Those students who come from families that kept a schedule of three meals per day will not find this difficult to do. However, those from homes in which there were no regular meal schedules are likely to find it challenging to work this into their routine.

The foods that eaten are as important as when they are eaten. Full proteins, such as fish, chicken and other meats balanced with fresh green vegetables comprise good sources of nutrition. Processed foods such as chicken nuggets, potato chips and processed cereals, do not make for healthy eating.

2. Weight

Many female students become vulnerable to "food talk" with girl friends around the lunch and dinner table. Discussions that center around issues of weight gain and loss, dieting and low calorie foods, can reinforce the kind of thinking and behavior that leads to eating disorders such as Anorexia, Bulimia or Binge eating. It is best for all involved to avoid these topics especially during freshman year when there is a tendency to gain a few pounds of weight.

Studies

One of the problems confronting students during their first year is leaning how to study. Many were able to get by and even do well in High School without having to study because they relied on their memory of classes. That strategy does not work on the college level where there are prodigious amounts of material to learn.

A recent study showed that even when listening to enjoyable music while engaging in tasks that are cognitive in nature, the noise interferes with memory and other cognitive processes. In reality, reading and studying are done more efficiently when there is an atmosphere of silence.

Many young people have told me, over the years, that they cannot concentrate when there is silence. They need music or television while they are studying or doing homework. I suspect that this is a result of a number of problems:

1. Poor study habits from the past that must be changed.
 
2. Attention Deficit Disorder that can cause silence to be distracting.
 
3. Anxiety and depression both of which interfere with concentration.
 
4. Poor reading skills that causes distractibility because reading is felt to be a painful and arduous experience.

5. Any number of possible learning disorders that went previously undiagnosed.

All of these problems can be addressed if students check out the programs available designed to help them succeed in school. Today, all schools have a mental health or counseling department to help young people with emotional or adjustment problems including feeling lonely and homesick.

It is also important to not procrastinate doing essays, term papers and preparing for quizzes and exams. It is easier to study for these tests if there has been concentration on reading and studying prior to the upcoming exams.

Part of the learning and study process is focusing attention during class. I remember taking copious amounts of notes because it helped me focus. The notes then served as a study guide. I suggest that this is a good idea for many students and that the only thing that may vary are the amounts of notes taken.

Socializing

In order to help overcome the feelings of loneliness and homesickness, if a student is facing this, is to make friends in the dorms, with roommates, during classes and in the cafeteria at meal time. Part of the process of socializing will involve joining one or more of the many activities around campus. For some, it might mean joining  fraternity or sorority. For others, there are many religious, political, social and athletic clubs that provide the opportunity to have fun and meet new people.

Money,

Unfortunately, some people will find it necessary to work part time during school. That can be very difficult because it takes time away from studies and socialization. Freshman year, with its many challenges, is probably the worst time to have to work. Hopefully, parents can find ways to financially supplement their sons and daughters during school so that they do not have to work.

Alcohol and Drugs

One of the worrisome problems that may concern parents more than students is the abuse of drugs and alcohol on campus. It is a well established fact that college presents huge temptations for students to drink to excess. There are many stories of young men and women being brought to the hospital emergency rooms because they are unconscious after bingeing on huge amounts of alcohol. Before school ever begins, it is important for parents to address this very real issue and impress upon their children the need to use common sense about this. Hopefully, that began long before college.

Students and families, please be aware that there are health and mental health resources available on campus and should be utilized if and when any of these problems come up.

Your comments and questions are encouraged including anything I failed to include in this article.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD