How to Deal with the Ups-and-Downs of College Life

In this guest post, Jeff Beers of Tutor Delphia provides tips to help students with the ups and downs of the college experience.

There are many things I wish I had known when I started my Freshman year of college. Things that could have saved me a lot of time and a lot of stress.

But I didn’t know them.

And, like many students who arrive in over-loaded cars to college campuses at the end of August every year, I thought I knew enough.

Any of us who have been through college could write books (and some of us do) on specific tips and trends and what-to-dos and what-not-to-dos. And you might want that.

But if you ask me, there’s a different, more important bit of insight that will help you deal with it all . . .

It’s all about taking a little look at what I call “The Experience Curve.”

The Experience Curve should be no stranger. If you’re someone who pays attention, you’ve probably noticed this phenomenon occurring when you do, uh, almost anything ever.

Everyone, from children to adults, experiences the Experience Curve at some point. And understanding the simple fact that we all go through it will help you when you ride the Curve for whatever new thing comes up including that first semester of college.

And here it is:

There it is. Look familiar?

What the Experience Curve demonstrates is that, over time, happiness fluctuates. We start out at a middling sort of calm “normal,” we peak, we fall (passing back through “normal” and, if we’re lucky, staying there for more than 5 seconds), we crash, we recover, and we’re “normal” again.

It happens all the time. In a given day, in given moment, we’re normal, we’re up, we’re down, we’re normal.

And in the context of a given event say, starting out at college the Experience Curve fits as well.

So let’s take a look at that Curve again, now with the “Starting Out at College” event in mind

Just like before (or, whenever), we’re hitting highs and lows. But now, we’ve got some identifying characteristics.

You’ll probably be excited about meeting so many people your age who didn’t go to your high school. That will feel good. And then it will feel better because they remember your name and they’re funny and whatever, but then you’ll get to know them, and then don’t like some of them, or some of them will offend you, and then you’ll go to a lame party where everyone is in a bad mood and stressed and you’ll miss the high school friends you left behind. And that will feel bad. But then you’ll meet new people, or it’ll be the next day or the next week and you’ll feel better.

And the food. At first you’ll be thrilled (I can eat ‘til I’m sick! Panini machine! Cereal for dinner!) and that’ll feel good, but then you’ll eat the fried fish sticks and wish you hadn’t, and someone will bump your tray and you’ll spill juice on yourself, and then the tots will be all gone, and that’ll feel bad. And then you’ll recover.

My point is: you can always recover. From tough classes, from toxic friends, from smelly dorms, from homesickness. And my point is also: the “good” things won’t last forever. Nights without homework become midterms, funny new friends keep telling the same old joke, new twin XL sheets get filthy, and care packages from mom get devoured. It all comes and goes, and nothing good or bad lasts forever.

So what’s the point?

The point is: you’ll be alright.

College is a HUGE change, and it’ll be a suckier or less-sucky change not because of who you know or what you major in, but in how you look at it.

So ride the Curve.

Ride it on the upswing, and understand that when you’ve ridden it back down to the bottom, it’s probably not a long ride back up to normal. And if you can, take a second at that bottom and wonder at how amazing it is that we all go through this highs and lows together.

If you can realize how amazing it is, even the bad, that whole curve will move up the happiness scale, and the worst of it will be better than you ever had it before. And when specific issues do come up, you’ll be MUCH better equipped to deal with them or enjoy the heck out of them.

Take care of yourself, notice when you’re riding the Curve, and your life at college and beyond will be just fine.