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How to survive college with your sanity intact

College can flip everything you hold to be true on its head. We have some tips to help you navigate the wild, hot mess without having a breakdown every day. It can be fun, I promise.
BY Anandamayee Singh |   28-03-2019

Anandamayee Singh

So, you’ve narrowed down your options and decided to attend a university that matches your goals and/or the environment you want for the next four years. Good choice. Maybe. College is four years that can feel like two decades and four seconds at the same time. It can be a cesspool - a muddle of insecurities and bad decisions, but it can also be a time to grow far beyond what you could have imagined, and form bonds with people who give you room to be truly vulnerable and honest. That is, if you allow yourself to fall, and get up (or drag your butt to class if you can’t get up).

Every college has certain universal experiences. There are the frat parties with toga-ed men and music that plays till the morning, the glossy freshman packets with a strategically diverse group of smiling students on the front, and the eternal struggle of being on waitlists for the professor that everyone says will totally revolutionize the way you think.

All in all, college offers you a dizzying variety of options and paths. Should you join the student government or Greek life? Should you spend more time on your acting class assignment or your paper for the history G.E? Where do you get the cheapest groceries, and where are all these events that your friends get free food at? Essentially,  how do you graduate with a degree and your sanity? Fear not, this somewhat recent college graduate has some honest recommendations for you.

It’s okay to be average
The first, and most important thing to understand is that it is okay to feel or seem unexceptional. One of the first conversations I had with someone who is now my best friend was a confession of how ordinary we both felt. You got into a good college, so chances are that you were brilliant in school. But finding yourself in a sea of similarly brilliant kids might make it ridiculously easy to feel like an imposter. And that is okay, because being a small fish in a large pond means there’s a lot of room to grow. The next four years are going to see you change in exciting and fun ways, but it is also really important to reach out to other people if you are struggling. If you’re open about these things, you’ll be able to form mutually supportive relationships with your peers. At the end of the day, that is the biggest win in college, because you will have a network of people you trust and care about.

Everyone struggles in college
Understand the grim realities of being a college student. The mental health of students is often abysmal, and harassment and assault are horrifically prevalent. As you go through these four years, please talk to friends, professors and therapists on campus when you’re struggling. Please read the sexual assault policy on your campus, educate yourself on resources available, and try to educate those around you.

If you feel like a community/club/job you are involved in would benefit from diversity training or training on sexual assault, reach out to the appropriate groups. The LGBTQ center is a good place to start, as are specific ethnic studies’ departments. Conversations relating to race, sexuality and gender can be uncomfortable, but uncomfortable conversations are much better than inflicting or experiencing deep trauma because of a lack of knowledge or information.

Burnout is real
In the sea of opportunities, try not to drown by taking on every single one. Sit yourself down after the first quarter/semester, or halfway through winter-- when the consequences of unparalleled freedom as a young adult-ish actually sinks your GPA-- and truly, honestly, look at how much you can do.

Just you, not your friend who wakes up at seven and has a full day of classes, jogging, healthy food and fun social activities squeezed between meaningful extracurricular activities. You, dear freshman, who struggle to get out of bed before hitting snooze twice and only make it to weekend brunch two minutes before the dining hall closes.Yes, you, drowning in note cards that don’t make sense two hours before that final for the science G.E. you took in an enthusiastically proud moment. You need to be honest about how much you can put on your plate, whether it is solely focusing on classes to fulfill requirements, or adding a job and an extracurricular or two to your schedule.

Give yourself  time to reflect on what college means to you beyond your classes. Whether it’s volunteering, being involved in cultural clubs and societies, creating your own space on campus or exploring internships and options in the city, assess how each of these activities adds to your life. How much time can you honestly dedicate to these things without compromising on your  ability to eat properly, sleep enough, exercise, and socialize with your friends? Be prepared to change these priorities, because as you learn and experience new things, your views and beliefs of what matters will also change. My priorities changed every single year, and that was okay, because being on a college campus affords you the flexibility to change every semester. 

Use campus resource centers
If you have a disability, get registered with the on campus center for students with disability as soon as you can. All you need is a prescription from your doctor and/or a therapist. Professors don’t always understand how disability accommodation works, so it’s always best to visit their office hours and discuss your accommodation. I didn’t do that with one of my professors, and they initially refused to grant me an extension when I asked for one. It made an already mentally taxing situation much, much worse. In the U.S. it is also illegal for professors to refuse to give you extensions based on your accommodation, so if they persistently refuse you can take legal action. 

Most campuses have specific centers with resources for students with dependents, veteran students, student athletes, and undocumented students. Check out these centers, because they offer a lot of academic and legal help, and there are often student legal services that give consultations for problems with landlords, tuitions, professors etc. for free or a low cost.

Your voice is important
If there is something about the systems in place at your college that bother you (which will probably be the case) know that you, as a student, have the power to change it. Whether it is through student protests, referendums or a committee to improve the campus environment, you can get involved and make a lot of noise. Even if it takes a bit of time, the university has to listen to you, because they exist for students just like you. In my time at college, I have witnessed protests and sit-ins against tuition hikes, the exploitation of UC workers, anti-black, homophobic and Islamophobic incidents on campus. There were several protests after the 2016 election. Take advantage of the passion of your diverse student body, and find like-minded people if you want a change to be made.

I hope these recommendations help you as you embark on an exciting journey. Cherish the experience, because even if college can be frustrating and wildly imperfect, you will miss it like hell once its over.

Good luck!

The wise college graduate.

Anandamayee Singh graduated from UCLA with a double Bachelors in English and Gender Studies in 2018. Her wisdom is a result of frequent breakdowns and freak outs in her freshman and sophomore year, but college was still the most formative and impactful time of her life!


If you like this, check out:
Tips to make the most out of your relationships, studies and finances at university
How to get the most of international student services at US universities
How to find on-campus jobs as an international student



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