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What’s the Pressure Going To Be Like? A Guide to Understanding the Stresses of College

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College can seem overwhelming at first. You’re suddenly surrounded by a host of new responsibilities: living on your own, taking care of yourself, taking the hardest classes you’ve probably ever taken, and adjusting completely to a new lifestyle, to name a few.


Then, once you’ve gotten used to the initial changes that college brings, you still have the ongoing responsibilities of paying bills, making friends, staying healthy, staying on top of assignments, and more.


As long as you are aware of these challenges and are able to tackle them head-on once you get to college, you should be fine. To help you prepare, here are some of the common stresses and worries that a college student is likely to face throughout their college career along with some ways to manage those stresses.


The Looming Potential Of Failing Classes

In high school, one bad grade on an assignment would not necessarily sign a death sentence for your overall grade in the class because you had plenty of other assignments that could keep your grade average high if you did well on them.


In college, this is not the case. In most college courses, you will only have a handful of exams and assignments throughout the semester that will define your entire grade in the class. If you do badly on one of them, there’s a strong chance that you won’t get the grade you want in the class. In other words, there is very little margin for error in college courses.


There is a lot of pressure associated with those few assignments and exams in college, and unfortunately, the stress of those exams tends to hit all at once. Most midterm and final exams happen around the same time during a given semester/quarter, so you’ll often find yourself juggling more than one exam at once.


The Stresses of Keeping Up With Classes

In high school, teachers often made sure you did the reading and are kept up with the material through nightly homework that would sometimes be counted as a grade the next day. This forced you to continuously review and understand the material presented in class, and, if the homework was done well, those grades could boost your overall average in the class.


In college, professors expect you to do the readings and learn the material on your own, oftentimes without a worksheet or anything else to guide or motivate you. It is up to you to discipline yourself and keep up with the readings and class material. A large chunk of the learning in college comes from teaching yourself through reading the material and doing practice problems on your own time.


Oftentimes, you will have multiple readings and practice problems to do before each class, and the workload can be overwhelming at times. In addition, the material you learn is more advanced in college and is delivered at a faster pace than in high school. It isn’t unheard of for college students to walk out of a lecture having no idea what a teacher was talking about, even if they did the readings and the homework.


If you find yourself drowning in the material and not understanding the concepts that are being taught, it is going to be up to you to seek help. Many college courses happen in large lecture halls with many students, so you can’t always get the teacher to help you during class. It’s up to you to get help by visiting the professor during office hours, attending discussion sections, or finding a tutor or fellow student to help you.


The Stresses of Maintaining Your Health

With an average of four rigorous and time-consuming college courses, a few extracurriculars, and all the outside reading and homework, it is very easy, as a college student, to forget to do basic things like eat, bathe, and sleep. The social aspect of college can promote this further, what with lots of time being taken up with things like hanging out with friends and going to parties. As the responsibilities, tasks, and time commitments start piling on, many students tend to neglect their physical health.  


If you start acquiring unhealthy habits as a college student, you risk sending your body in a downward spiral. The more unhealthy habits you assume, the less your body will be able to function amidst all of the school and extracurricular responsibilities you will face in college. You won’t be functioning at 100% and thus won’t get the things done that you need to, which could add more stress and force you to take on more unhealthy habits. All of this could take a serious toll on your body and cause you to develop serious health problems.


The Stresses of Social Anxiety in College

In high school, making friends was a little bit easier because you and a bunch of other students were stuck in a building together 5 days a week for 8 hours a day. Eventually, you and your classmates were going to mingle and build friendships.


In college, there is no such guarantee. Especially in bigger colleges with many students, it is very easy to become another face in the crowd and experience deep feelings of loneliness. After all, there is nothing that is forcing you to be around people and make friends, so you have to seek out social opportunities and make an effort to be friendly on your own.


Of course, building friendships takes both time and effort. When you first get to college, you may feel that out of the thousands of students at the university, you don’t fit in anywhere. That can cause a lot of stress and social anxiety, especially during your first few weeks of college.


The Stresses of Finding a Job/Internship

In many universities, it is recommended that students use their summers to either take college courses or get some work experience. The latter requires going out and finding those competitive internships and jobs.


Simply put, the job/internship search can be long and hard. Many college students will attend countless job fairs and information sessions to get the employer’s attention and apply to dozens of internships and jobs before one finally gives them an offer.


Trying to find a job or an internship as a college student is like a part-time job in itself. It takes hours of refining your resume, practicing your elevator pitch, attending interviews, etc. The recruitment process itself usually takes several months. Moreover, you face a lot of rejections from employers, which can start to take a toll on your self-confidence and self-esteem.


Ways to Mitigate the Stresses of College

College can be a difficult adjustment, and there will be times when you’ll feel a lot of weight on your shoulders; however, all of the stresses mentioned above are surmountable if you know how to deal with them.


Here are some helpful tips to mitigating college stress:


  • “Me Time”: Even if you have tons of readings and assignments due, take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours each day to clear your head and calm yourself down. Everything seems less overwhelming if you step back for a moment and relax.
  • Make a Checklist of Ways to Take Care of Yourself: It’s so easy to forget to do basic things like showering and eating when you’re overwhelmed with college classes. In order to keep yourself from forgetting to do the basic necessities of taking care of yourself, keep a checklist or set reminders in your phone to do basic things like eat, sleep, brush your teeth, etc.
  • Keep an Agenda/Planner: You’ll often have a lot of assignments and tasks on your plate at once, so be sure to write them all down somewhere so that you can keep organized and make sure you’re doing everything that you need to do on time. You can even cross off an assignment once it’s completed to help you visualize your progress.
  • Start the Job/Internship Search Early: Start looking for a job or internship well in advance so that you are not scrambling to fill out a dozen applications at the last minute. The more time you give yourself, the less pressure there will be on you to secure each job you apply for. Many college students will start recruiting for summer internships and jobs after college during the fall semester, and many employers from large companies also recruit during this time.
  • Seek Help As Soon As You Need It: Don’t wait until the midterm to try and learn the material and email your professor about a billion questions you have. Instead, utilize the resources at your disposal, such as office hours and your teaching assistants, on a regular basis to make sure you are staying on top of the material as it is taught to you.
  • Seek Emotional Help As Soon as You Need It: Many universities have counseling and psychological services for students dealing with loneliness, anxiety, and overall stress in college. If you feel you need them, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Utilize them so that you feel better.


For More Information

Interested in learning more about what it’s like to be a college student?


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Sadhvi Mathur
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Sadhvi is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where she double majored in Economics and Media Studies. Having applied to over 8 universities, each with different application platforms and requirements, she is eager to share her knowledge now that her application process is over. Other than writing, Sadhvi's interests include dancing, playing the piano, and trying not to burn her apartment down when she cooks!