No one takes a picture of herself sitting in her dorm room crying.
Come August, Facebook and Instagram will soon be filled with pictures from freshman orientations, fabulous dorm buddies, newly pledged Greek members, and other activities that make college appear to be indeed very much like 22 Jump Street says it is. College students will appear to the world as if they do nothing but have fun. There are no lonely moments, no feelings of insecurity, no financial hardships, and no academic adjustments on social media.
However, most college students find themselves feeling lost or without friends or direction at some point in their college careers, particularly in the first year. In fact, according to the American College Health Association, more than 25 percent of college students have been diagnosed or treated by a professional for a mental health condition within the past year. These are staggering statistics about the mental health challenges U.S. college students face.
A Different Era
It is no surprise that college can involve difficult times. Students are separated from their family and friend support systems for the first time, and are doing the hard work of forging careers, relationships, and futures. These tasks hold importance but also intense pressure for many students.
I think the age of Instagram has brought a new challenge – a reality in which everyone you “see” can be perceived as having mastered all of the growth required in college without having experienced any of the distress.
First, students should know who to call for help and how if that hard work seems too overwhelming. Parents and counselors, you can help them research student services and go to college with a list of helpful phone numbers and emails – counseling center, tutoring center, health center, etc. Students should also decide on trusted friends and family from home on whom they can call if they are feeling unable to cope with the challenges they face.
Before You Go
Most importantly, however, students should set their expectations of college appropriately. In college, you will experience incredible change. Your job in college is to become an adult. And the tasks of growing up – finding trusted peers, charting careers, getting into graduate schools, engaging in meaningful hobbies – are worthwhile but not always easy.
Students preparing for college: You will cry in your dorm room. And you won’t take a picture. And you will see a million pictures of other college students having the time of their lives and nobody else crying.
However: growth-producing experiences bring you to tears now and again. They are beautiful and rich. Soul-wrenchingly intense. World-shattering. Thus, be prepared for the intensity of emotions that come with so much growth, and be proud of yourself for growing. Feeling vulnerable means that you are open to the world and you are outside your comfort zone. Both of those qualities take bravery.
And if you are very brave, post a picture of yourself in your dorm room crying. You may save a life.
Nicole has dedicated the entirety of her 20 year career to encouraging higher education opportunities. After graduating from Vanderbilt, she worked in her alma mater’s admissions office. The, she completed her PhD in Counseling so she could bring that expertise into college counseling. Nicole partnered with her former Vanderbilt colleague, Fitz Totten, to form Find The Right College and support their mission to make trustworthy advising more accessible.