College can be awesome. It is also a chaotic swirl of uncertainty, curiosity, excitement, apprehension, boredom, bills, deadlines, requirements, growth, stress, and constant change. I’ve worked with hundreds of college students in my career as an academic advisor, college instructor, and program director. Every student is unique, but all students experience setbacks, struggles, and some outright disasters as they pursue their degrees.

Common struggles include:

  • Doubts about choosing the “right” major, college, and career
  • Difficulties finding satisfying, supportive friendships
  • Stresses over money and debt for tuition, books, and everyday expenses
  • Anxieties about academic workload and performance
  • Problems navigating changing family dynamics
  • Struggles to balance time, responsibilities, and personal well-being

Too often, students think that these issues are distractions from their “real” education or proof that they can’t manage college. It is easy for any of us to slip into this mental trap, to presume that difficulties are proof of our own shortcomings. That isn’t true.

The truth is that everyone feels insecurity, uncertainty, loneliness, and anxieties. These feelings can be particularly intense in college because changes happen fast and frequently during that period. Starting anew every term is like jumping into a totally new life. The truth is that experiencing academic, personal, and professional crises and figuring out how to respond to those difficulties is one of the reasons that college is important. The truth is that college is a hard thing. The truth is that hard things are hard.

Fortunately, it’s also true that supportive and trustworthy guidance can empower students to face their own hard things and learn to grapple with them effectively in the future. Research into persistence in college reveals that four factors make students more likely to graduate:

  • Feeling confident that they can manage changes in their lives
  • Seeking out resources for academic and mental health support
  • Engaging in extra-curricular experiences
  • Developing a meaningful relationship with at least one faculty member

Fortunately, students can cultivate every one of these factors to improve their experiences in and out of the classroom. As a college success mentor, I offer my clients four key pieces of advice to build these ideal factors into their real lives. Whether you are someone who loves a college student or a student yourself, I assure you that these principles make a positive difference during dark and messy times.

  • Consistent habits help students manage the upheavals that happen in their workloads, relationships, and residences. Using the same study locations, maintaining social connections, and making regular space (even in busy weeks) for the creative and physical activities that make you feel like yourself can make it easier to adjust to changes.
  • My Rule of (At Least) Two help students to build relationships:
    • Put your name on at least two sign-up sheets at every event or fair, and then attend at least two meetings of each of those organizations during the term. This helps you to create the possibility of connecting with new people and activities by opening yourself and your schedule.
    • Introduce yourself to at least two new people in every single class each term. These folks may become close friends, and at a minimum they will be people with whom you can check in if you have to miss class, or become a study group for the course.
    • Make at least two visits to every professor’s office hours for each class, each term. Getting to know your professors is important for your learning and for developing your community of supporters. If you’re not sure how to do this, Kairos College Success can help.
    • Reach out to at least two of your friends every day, whether they’re nearby or far away. Schedule time to hang out in person or just say hi—this keeps your connections alive and healthy, and reminds you that you are not alone when things get harder.
    • Conduct at least two informational interviews with people outside of campus every term. This will help you to gain valuable insights into career paths and industries that you may want to explore and it will illustrate how others use the transferrable skills they developed in school after they graduate. It will also help you to build up a connected community that can make it easier to find internships, jobs, and mentors. If you’re not sure how to do this, Kairos College Success can help.
  • Talk to people that you trust to listen about what you’re facing. You can uncover helpful new perspectives or strategies by sharing your struggles with someone else. If you aren’t a student, listen to the college students in your life without judging them or taking action. Maintaining open channels of communication is essential, and it’s easier to keep those active in times of real trouble if you are routinely sharing experiences with ups and downs.
  • Seek out & use resources all the time. You are paying tuition in order to have access to professors, offices, programs, and resources. That’s what colleges are: collections of experts and tools for the purpose of transferring knowledge and skills to others. Sign up for tutoring, take your papers to the writing center, go to workshops run by the counseling center, ask librarians for guidance on research, and get job search support from the career center. If you don’t use these experts, it’s just like skipping classes: you are letting your tuition dollars go to waste. It’s a sign of maturity and strength to ask people around you for help.

It is possible to build a meaningful education out of every exciting, scary, weird, stressful, awkward experience that you have in college. If you are preparing to start college, in the midst of college, or getting ready to launch after graduation, expert mentoring from Kairos College Success can help. Schedule your free consultation today—hard things are hard, but they get easier with help from other people.

Content provided by Women Belong member Megan Bernard