10 Tips to Transition to College Successfully

by Lester Pearson

a diploma with a red ribbon and a graduation cap next to two red books on a table

After high school I moved 3000 miles away from my diverse urban neighborhood home in South Seattle to a small, white town in Maine to attend Bowdoin College

On the first day of school my girlfriend broke up with me.

Two weeks later my best friend from high school was murdered.

Soon after, while having dinner in the dining hall with some new friends at my nearly all white college, I overheard a white student casually use the N word. Every pair of white eyes who heard it were on me to see what I would do. One of the other guys who was white spoke up and said “cmon man, we don’t do that”. The other student apologized, but dinner was pretty awkward after that.

I felt academically in over my head, many of the other students had attended elite prep schools, I had not.

I was homesick.

I wanted to go to college far from home. I wanted to be independent and learn more about myself and see a different part of the country. It was hard, but it was worth it.

I made it and successfully transitioned to college and graduated despite these immense challenges in my first weeks away from home. You can succeed on this journey too! 

These are my 10 Tips for a Successful Transition to College

#1 – Make sure you complete all the steps to be ready for college

Make sure that you confirm you are going to attend and register for orientation and classes. If you’re going to be living on campus, make sure you confirm everything and get in touch with your new roommate. This is really important to make sure you don’t miss an important piece of being ready to start!

#2 – Enjoy the Moment and Experience Everything You Can

Despite the struggles I had transitioning to college, I really made an effort to be there and experience as much as possible and stay present. This is a good way to learn about yourself and be able to overcome the challenges. Try to stay in the moment and not check out. Make the best of situations that aren’t what you expected and learn everything you can.

#3 – Accept that it’s a transition

When I first got to Bowdoin, when I was at school I wanted to be home. When I was home I wanted to be back at school. I always felt I was missing out on things at home and when I visited home it felt weird like I was a visitor or guest. I wasn’t quite sure where I fit in. This is a normal part of going away to college!

#4 – Make New Friends

Making friends was pretty easy for me. Everyone was friendly and helpful because we were all in an unfamiliar place. The freshman dorms made sure to have activities and dinner so that everyone could get to know each other more. The sophomore social houses were paired with a freshman dorm so that you could get to know some upperclassman as well. I also made sure to get involved with activities and clubs like the AfAm Society (African American Society), NASA (Native American Student Association). I also tried out for the baseball team, so I definitely was keeping busy and making new friends. 

#5 – Find your People

This might sound the same, but it’s a little different. Making friends is important but so is finding community and a community of people you can connect with. I’m Black and for me it was super important to find the other Black people ASAP! You have to build back up that structure of love, support and things that are unfamiliar. Attending a predominantly white school with prep school students can be challenging as well so for students of color finding that community is especially important.

Academics are challenging and different from High School – connect with professors and other students!

Academics were challenging for me. I enjoyed the small class sizes at Bowdoin, smallest begin 6 and largest begin 60 but I felt I was not prepared properly. The courses were more rigorous than what I was used to, with a lot of reading and memorization and sometimes quizzes every class. I was hanging on by a thread. I also was sometimes the only black student in class so if any black context came up I was always the one who was asked for an explanation or felt that all are eyes were on me, which was truly uncomfortable. Getting to know other students and connecting with professors and asking for help when you need it is really important. Remember you’ll not the only one struggling with harder classes!

#6 – See a Counselor

I went to see a counselor because I was going through so many emotions and struggling so much in my transition to college. Try it out, even if you do not feel like anything is wrong, venting to someone about your day or experience so far will keep your mind circulating instead of bottling up things that could harm you in the long run.

#7 – Try New Things

Remain open-minded and do things you’ve never done before even if you’re not sure you’ll like it or not. It is still an experience and can be a faster way of figuring out what you do not like. 

#8 – Balance Academic and Party Life

Do your best to balance the academic and party life. I have seen a lot of students burn out really fast because they have partied too hard their freshman year and either get kicked out or suspended. I just limited my hanging out to weekends, but I know other students were out there every night and then would have to wake up early for class the next day. Your mind and body will hate you after awhile. So remember to stay balanced. 

#9 – Be Kind to Yourself

Be kind to yourself and love yourself. College can give you a lot of pressure to be the best because you were the best in high school. It’s okay to fail and make mistakes because they will only help you learn and become successful faster. If your parents are paying for your education it’s a sticky situation and you have to converse with them. If they aren’t, go out there and try courses you never would have thought you would do, you might end up liking it. 

#10 – Get to Know Yourself and How you Relax

What helps me in life right now is meditating and therapy. My mediation is listening to really chill beats and music while focusing on my breathing. Therapy for me is painting. These two things get me through my days and life with stress around me. I wish I had learned it sooner. 

Good luck as you embark on your new journey!