Everything else

Off to School You Go

Nine tips to make going to college in a new city a little bit easier.

Illustration by Cynthia.

Illustration by Cynthia.

Congratulations, class of 2014! Whether you just graduated from eighth grade, high school, or college, you should be extremely proud of everything you’ve done to get to where you are today. I just graduated from college myself, and it really was a fantastic four years—stressful and satisfying in all the right ways. And I don’t know if it would have felt as special if I had gone to college in my hometown—the good moments were more awesome, and the bad ones more awful, because I was on my own for the first time in my life.

Moving somewhere new by yourself is a super intense type of stress, especially if you are like I was and have never really been on your own before this. I was thrilled when I got into New York University, which had been my dream school since I was 12. But leaving behind my friends, family, and small Chicago suburb was, I admit, a little terrifying. I still remember the excitement, fear, sadness, anxiety, gratitude and hope I felt as my family drove the 14 hours between my old and new homes. But don’t worry! You will rule at this—just know that, like all good things, this will take time. So be patient, and hey, maybe read these tips on making the most of your Big College Move:

1. Breathe.
OK, it’s July, so you’re deep into summer and probably spending your time going to grad parties and collecting mad gifts from distant relatives. You’re probably also starting to shop for new clothes, desk supplies, a fresh laptop, and twin XL sheets. Meanwhile, you’re stressing out about saying goodbye to your family, your best friends, and the family pets. Of all these tasks, those goodbyes will be the hardest. You will cry every single time. That’s OK! During first few months of college, I often caught myself “accidentally” listening to Sufjan Stevens’s song “Chicago,” which inevitably made me sob uncontrollably, alone in my dorm room. All that means is that I have feelings, and so do you, and you should let yourself feel ALL of them. But what’s great about 2014 is that we have so many ways of staying in touch with our best friends every day, no matter how far away they are, whether it’s through social media, texting, or video chatting. I suggest adding some stationery to your shopping list, because handwritten letters (especially the kind that come with cute care packages) are nice to send and receive every once in a while. And don’t worry that those goodbyes are forever—winter break comes fast, and it will be a blast!

2. Do your research.
Prepare for this move the way you’d anticipate a fun vacation, by looking up all the cool stuff there is to do and see in your new town. Before I moved to New York, I spent hours reading travel guides on the city at my local Borders (RIP) and watching New York–centric episodes of my favorite Food Network and Travel Channel shows to psych myself up.

If your college is in a small town that doesn’t get regular visits from the likes of Rachael Ray or Anthony Bourdain, I’m sure you’ve already discovered that a little googling will land you in a pile of resources for students and visitors. Make a list of the places you want to visit once you’ve acclimated to your campus and your schedule.

3. Don’t let social anxiety get the best of you.
The summer before I moved, NYU held a number of meetups in Chicago for incoming freshmen. I went to a few of them (with my mother by my side for moral support!), but I felt anxious about inserting myself into social situations with new people. I think I had fantasized that the shy caterpillar I was all through high school would somehow transform into a social butterfly in college. But at these student mixers, I was so terrified of saying the wrong thing that I barely spoke at all. Moving to a new city where I knew no one suddenly seemed more frightening than exciting.

This is why I thank god for Facebook. I found a handful of Facebook groups created by and for kids about to start their first year at NYU, including a huge one for the entire class of 2014, and another one for my specific program. Over wall posts and private messages, I got to talk to other people who were going to be studying the same subjects as me, attending the same classes, and living in my dorm. Chatting with these new friends via social media eased a lot of my insecurity about leaving the nest and helped me see that many of the people I was about to meet seemed really cool and interesting. Some of them even shared my extracurricular interests and my sense of humor. Before we ever met in person, I found myself confiding in these new online friends. We shared our fears about the coming year, and that’s how I discovered that I was not the only person freaking out about moving to a big new city—far from it! What’s more, I realized that I wouldn’t be by myself at all—I already had a network of friends and acquaintances in place. As we got closer to move-in day, we made plans to attend various Welcome Week tours and activities together, and to this day, these people remain some of my best friends.

4. Be nice to your family.
I can guarantee you that everyone in your family will annoy you more and more the closer you get to moving day. It’s not because you’re not going to miss them, it’s actually the complete opposite! Think about it: Not only are you moving away from your loved ones, they are losing you, too. Your last few weeks at home will probably heighten emotions all around—don’t be surprised if your parents start pulling out baby pictures, or if your siblings start loudly arguing about who’s gonna get your room when you’re gone. These are all their ways of trying to cope with letting go. Your family is just as stressed as you are. They will help you no matter how spazzy you act, but maybe lighten up on them, all right?

5. Breathe some more.
As you get closer to heading out the door, be extra sure to do something every day that is just for you. Maybe start a fresh journal just to document this year, or dig out your favorite childhood toy to bring to your dorm. (Sometimes that reminder of home can be a perfect stress reliever during midterms and finals.) Printing out pictures and preparing decorations for your dorm is also really fun, and it can help you feel comfortable in your new place quicker. A month before I left, I made a playlist of all the songs in my iTunes about New York, and it was exactly what I needed to put on replay to get me pumped for the trip. But your playlist doesn’t have to be about a specific city—it can be about leaving home, traveling, starting a new life—or anything that helps you get excited about your upcoming adventure.

6. Be nice to yourself (part one).
As I mentioned earlier, I have a lot of anxiety when it comes to talking to new people. Luckily, it’s gotten easier after four years of nothing but meeting new people, but it can still be really tough. When I got here, none of my high school friends were enrolled at NYU, and I had no family in New York. The city was overwhelming and strange. I cried as my family hugged me goodbye. I cried the day before classes started, worried that the people I had met online wouldn’t stick around. My point is, I cried a lot—but I also saw a lot of other kids crying over the same, or similar, things.

It’s important to remember that every freshman is just as new as you are. Some people carry themselves with more confidence than others, or are naturally more outgoing, but that doesn’t mean they’re not scared. They had to say goodbye to their people, too. Shake off your self-doubt and introduce yourself to strangers—they will be so relieved when you do. Join clubs, go to school events, and start ticking off activities from that well-researched list of places you made over the summer. What’s cool about a residential college is that it allows you a lot of independence. It can be overwhelming and scary at first, but you’ll start paving your own path in due time.

7. Be nice to yourself (part two).
You don’t have to like your school. Just because it was your dream school at one point in time doesn’t mean it’s gonna seem all that dreamy once you’re there. The best advice I can give you is to not force yourself to stay somewhere that makes you unhappy.

Of course, don’t be rash with your decision. Like I learned at the student mixers, you will not magically transform into a new person the minute you get to college, so take into account your own nervousness and give yourself at least three months to ease into your new environment. By then, you’ll probably have some sense of whether this is the right school for you. If you put in a whole year, you’ll be absolutely sure one way or the other.

There are lots of good reasons to transfer: Maybe you didn’t realize that your chosen school’s whole social scene revolves around a sport you don’t happen to enjoy. Or maybe you thought you’d love Chicago, but you come to find that you actually hate the noise and clutter of big-city life. Or you may decide you hate making art, after all, and you want to leave art school to study medicine. Whatever it is that’s making you regret your first choice, don’t feel like you’re stuck with it! Leaving does not equal giving up—sometimes, it’s the best thing you can do for yourself and your future.

8. Let it suck.
Even if you love your school, college will involve making mistakes. You will endure some awful teachers, miss a few deadlines, work an awful job, and maybe have to drop some toxic friends. All of those things, while unpleasant in the moment, will make you stronger and teach you how to laugh at yourself. Laughing is VERY IMPORTANT: It will help you get through the tougher aspects of the next four years. Speaking of which…

9. Have FUN.
Check in with yourself from time to time and make sure you’re happy where you are and with what you’re doing. That will make all the stress of college worth it, and will (I swear) make these four years ZOOM by. The next thing you know, it’ll be your next graduation day. I hope you arrive there feeling triumphant, proud, and ready for the next adventure. ♦

14 Comments

  • Boo July 23rd, 2014 5:10 PM

    This article is great and everything but is it really appropriate to use the word “spazzy”? I don’t know about in the US but in the UK it’s a widely disapproved of (I think it’s considered one of the most offensive) slur for those with a disability?

    • Anaheed July 23rd, 2014 5:44 PM

      Hi, Boo! You know what, I wasn’t even thinking of that UK meaning when I edited this piece — in the U.S., the word is not connected to disability. We’ll be more careful about this from now on, though, as we have a lot of English readers!

  • Hillary July 23rd, 2014 5:38 PM

    I’m from Georgia and starting at NYU in a few weeks. I’m so nervous because 1) I’ve never been to New York and 2) I also feel like I’m socially inept. It is comforting to get out of the self-involved bubble and realize that other people are having/have had the same problem as well though. I needed this.

  • Aurora July 23rd, 2014 6:15 PM

    I stopped to take a break from filling out financial aid paperwork for Columbia University and I was like, “hey, let’s go on Rookie!”
    YOU GUYS ARE MIND READERS I SWEAR.

  • K8 is Gr8 July 23rd, 2014 6:29 PM

    I’m heading off the Mercersburg Academy (in Pennslyvania) this fall and I was actually having a mini panic attack last night because I’m so nervous. This is really going to help me a lot! Just breathe. I’ll try to remember that. Thank you so much for writing this, Brittany <3

  • Abby July 23rd, 2014 9:28 PM

    I hope this is okay, lovely people who moderate the comments, but if it’s not I understand…

    Are there any Rookies who go to or are going to be going to SUNY Geneseo? I just thought about this because college was the topic of conversation and if there are any we should totally meet up.

    Also this is an amazing article and I can say from experience all these things are definitely important when going off to school.

  • sans.sheriff July 23rd, 2014 10:51 PM

    As someone who just came out of her first year of college in a new city, this is all great advice.
    One of the things I struggled with was feeling like I wasn’t figuring things out or making friends fast enough. Don’t try to compare your college experience to tv/movies — it might actually take some time to find friends who stick, or to settle on your “for real” major, and that’s 100% ok.
    Good luck to everyone heading off to college in the fall! xoxo

    http://www.thismoxy.com/

  • InProgress July 24th, 2014 1:44 AM

    WOW OK NO WAY
    I just discovered that song yesterday and it’s been on repeat

  • Alabastrowa July 24th, 2014 5:34 AM

    This is exactly what I needed <3

  • ms demeanor July 24th, 2014 2:26 PM

    back to school inspo!

    http://cargocollective.com/suburbiaandsuch/admin

  • isabellaisonmars July 26th, 2014 5:38 AM

    ahhhh as usual, rookie, you are entirely in sync with the inner workings my mind! this article has reaffirmed my feelings about moving cities for college/uni/knitting club/the special thing you are passionate about, scary but ultimately a really damn great thing to do.
    thanks for always being wonderful!
    bella x
    http://sincerelyisabella.blogspot.com.au

  • Nadifa July 26th, 2014 4:54 PM

    Yep I really need this. I’m going to college next month. Feeling anxious but also excited!
    Good luck to all of you who’ll go through the same thing :)

  • thedresscollector July 26th, 2014 10:34 PM

    this is perfect, seeing that I’m moving into FIT in three short weeks….NYC college rookies unite!

  • Kiana Kimberly Flores July 31st, 2014 5:39 AM

    This is so refreshing to read! Makes me reminisce about my first few months in college. Yay! I am glad I made it through a year and now I am slowly blooming into a well-adjusted college kid. Although I would’ve loved to time-travel back and read this before going into university. :)