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8/23/15blog post

an open letter to college freshman

Your freshman year in college is a time of many changes and challenges. It’s an incredibly exciting time in your life, but there are lots of pitfalls. Many of you will encounter serious problems during this journey, and 40 percent of you won’t graduate.

Do these three things to succeed in college.

  1. Take care of yourself. Young people fail in college primarily because of mental health problems. If you work hard and stay focused, you’ll do fine in your classes. That’s the easy part. The tougher part of school is maintaining mental wellness. This means dealing with feelings of depression, anxiety, and managing stress without resorting to the plethora of mood altering substances you’ll be offered. The phrase “to party” means to chemically manage your feelings by drinking alcohol or taking drugs. Most of you overestimate your self-control to handle these situations. The risks to your mental health are not worth the short-lived pleasant feelings. Taking care of yourself also means recognizing that college campuses can be dangerous places for sexual assaults, with perhaps as many as 20% of students (mostly women) being victims.
  2. Stay focused on what’s important. You’re going to college to learn new skills, get a good job, and make money. That’s all great. When you take your first psychology class (the most important class you’ll ever take!), you’ll learn a lot about the science of happiness. You’ll come to understand that people who live meaningful lives do three things. They focus on nurturing relationships with family and friends. They maintain a positive attitude. They are grateful to others. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Living a happy life is all about surrounding yourself with good and loving people. Value your friendships in college, as they can become lifelong relationships. When you do encounter problems, don’t whine and catastrophize. Your attendance at college makes you one of the most privileged persons in the world. A positive, can-do attitude will help you navigate the difficulties that are a normal part of living. Finally, practice the art of gratitude. You are attending college today because of the hard work and support of parents, teachers, coaches, and many other loving adults. Show that you are grateful for all that these people have done for you.
  3. Learn to be a better you. You are living in a college community with a diversity of young people. Avoid the natural inclination to stay around others who share your interests and values. Be yourself, but challenge what you think and feel. Listen to others’ perspectives. Ask lots of questions and try to understand and learn from the experiences of others.