Common Problems College Freshmen Might Face

By Patricia Gorden Neill - June 13th, 2013

While every freshman might have his or her own particular set of personal problems, there are also problems and upsets that face all freshmen and indeed, all college students. Some we’ll mention here and dig into these thornier issues with more detailed articles. Many of these problems run into deeper issues if they’re not dealt with adequately. For instance, because of the newfound freedom of dorm life sans parental oversight, many new students stay up late, party and lose sleep. Too much lost sleep can eventually lead to falling grades, stress and even depression. So it is best to try to notice minor mess-ups early on and catch them before it becomes a bigger issue.

Roommate Issues

Every college student will have to deal with roommate issues sooner or later. Whether it is your roomie using your stuff without permission, or coming in noisily at 4 a.m. and waking you up from a sound sleep or having their study group over every single night, you’ll have to confront them, nicely of course, and let them know it’s a problem. Even though it will feel awkward, start the conversation, which is the best way to deal with a minor mess before it reaches uncomfortable levels.

As mentioned in an earlier article, start off right with your roommate by having a frank discussion about ground rules. Settle certain items right off the bat. Can she use your stuff or borrow your clothes? Perhaps you’ll give a qualified yes, that is, if she asks first. Perhaps you had sisters who stole your clothes all the time so this is a definite no. Whatever your feelings on it, be upfront and say so. Help your roommate to do the same, because you don’t want to be stepping on her toes either. You and your roommate are going to live together in close quarters for months, and you’ll be much happier if you two can reach comfortable compromises.

Staying Healthy

Staying healthy requires you to set ground rules for yourself. One of the biggest changes of coming to college is that your parents are no longer around to set parameters for you. Now you have to do it yourself because no one else will. If you want to stay up all hours, skip classes, binge drink and have random sex, no one will stop you. If you choose to eat fatty fried foods and no vegetables or fruits, it’s allowed. If you don’t exercise, that’s OK with everyone around you. The big problem with this behavior is it will lead to bad health and bad habits. You’ll feel awful and probably look worse. It will affect your social life and eventually your academic standing as well.

The three essential cornerstones of good health are sleep, nutrition and exercise. You will probably let one or the other or even all three slip during your first year at college, but be careful. The only way back out of the pit of worsening health is to reinstate the cornerstones and be conscientious about them. You’re in charge now, and you’ll have to learn to act that way. Sleeping in and missing one class isn’t a problem. Missing lots of classes is. Sooner or later, your RA or your professor will remark on your behavior but it will still be up to you to change your ways. Try not to slip into bad habits. If you can make good decisions most of the time during your freshman year, you’ll be doing well. Don’t worry about the minor slip ups, but don’t let the behavior get out of hand.

Most students, by the time they get to college, have learned self-discipline at least to some extent. They studied hard during high school to get the grades to be able to go to college, so they know what they need to do. But because they’re hit with the heady freedom of no parental control for the first time in their lives, most freshmen college students have to relearn some things the hard way. Again, don’t sweat the small stuff, just don’t let it get to be bigger stuff.

Time Management

Time management is the sticky wicket that will follow you around and create havoc in your life until you come to terms with it. This is one of the most important things you will learn in college, how to manage your time, balancing between classes, study time, social time and work if you have a part time job. The temptation to go out with friends for pizza and ignore the 300 pages you have to read for tomorrow’s class will be great. Naturally, you’ll give in sometimes. The sooner you can get a handle on managing your time, though, the better.

Many first year students are overwhelmed with the opportunities available on campus for clubs, sports and activities. You definitely want to get involved with the stargazer’s club and indulge your love of astronomy, but you also have an 8 a.m. economics class that will interfere with late nights with the telescope. How you handle these obligations depends on your time management skills and your self discipline. Sure, you want to get on the volleyball team, but will all the practice and games get in the way of your major in biophysics?

Check out our article on organizing your schedule to your best advantage for tips and advice on the best ways to handle time management. You’ll learn some of the best practices as taught by the experts.

Never Enough Money

Unless you’re one of the very wealthy, you’ll run into this issue throughout your college career. For centuries, students have never had enough money. You’ve just ploughed all the money you and your parents had into attending this college, and now you have to live on the pittance left over, or what you can earn through work. Try not to let this bum you out, as you’ll be sharing this problem with nearly every other college student in the nation and probably the world. In other words, it’s an established college tradition that you be broke or nearly broke all the time.

With a tough economy, everyone worries about money. Parents, college administrators, waiters, golfers, taxi drivers and college students all worry about money. From the looks of the economy, it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better any time soon. Your best bet on dealing with money issues in college? Avoid credit cards and pay cash. Get a part time job, either your FAFSA approved work-study job or any on or off campus job to earn extra cash. Read our detailed article on college students and money problems, as well as our article on how to make money while going to college. Look at the money you have coming in every month and make a budget. Do the common sense stuff your parents told you to do, and we’ll provide some creative ideas for earning some extra cash on the side.

Stress

Unfortunately, freshmen college students are reporting high levels of stress. A 2010 study on more than 200,000 freshmen at four-year colleges, more students rated themselves as below average in emotional health than ever before. In 2012, the American College Health Association compiled an assessment of undergraduates and 30 percent reported that stress had caused a negative impact on their studies. Other studies report the same high incidence of stress affecting college students. Most experts say they don’t know the exact cause, but suspect it is the worsening economy, the rate of employment in families and the students’ perception of the student loan problem and bad job market.

There’s all kinds of stress in college life. Academic stress of worrying about grades and GPA, the financial stress of worrying about their college loans and whether they’ll find a job after college and the day to day stress of making decisions for themselves in all aspects of their lives. As we all know now, stress can have adverse effects on health in many subtle ways. Having to learn to deal with stress is just another thing students have to learn in today’s colleges.

Exercise, meditation, prayer and talking it out with friends can all help. Get active, play sports or simply take long walks when stress gets to be too much. Fortunately for this problem, as for many of the other common problems freshmen face, colleges have a wealth of resources for students to lean on in times of trouble.

Resources That Can Help

For academic issues, students should first talk to their professors and academic advisors for help. They will also find assistance at the college’s academic resources or tutoring center. Most colleges have one these days.

For money problems, that is, of the more than the I-need-to-borrow-ten-bucks variety, the financial aid office is the place to go. One of the counselors there can sit down with you and go over your account, your loans and any other issues that are causing you headaches. They’ll be able to ease your mind and help you figure out a financial plan, but they probably won't loan you ten bucks.

For physical and mental health issues, including stress, go to the student health center. You’ll find doctors, nurses and counselors who are more than willing to listen and help you find solutions.

About the Author

Patricia Gorden NeillPatricia Gorden Neill edited medical and scholarly journals for over 20 years in the ivy-covered halls of the University of Rochester. She is a freelance writer, often covering higher education and the concerns of college age students, and is regularly published on a variety of websites.