The other week I was scrolling through Buzzfeed, and I noticed a ton of quizzes and articles about being ready for college. They had titles like “What Percent Ready For College Are You?” and “Share Your Best Tip That Helped You Get Ready for College” and “Are You Actually Ready For College?” Turns out I’m only 40% ready for college. While these articles and quizzes are fun and entertaining, I couldn’t help but think they really do nothing to prepare you for transitioning into college life. Sure, they talked about decorating your room, getting into good study habits, making sure you know how to do laundry, and getting involved on campus—which are all important things—but what about the mental, emotional, and spiritual struggles of transitioning into a completely new season of life? How do you prepare and cope with those things?
As someone who’s recently graduated college and is also transitioning into a completely new season of life, I don’t think our situations are that different. Changes and transitions are hard, no matter what they entail. We are forsaking what is familiar to us and embracing something new. While a lot of people may be excited to come to college, there is also a lot of uncertainty, and that can be very stressful and overwhelming too. This presents a great opportunity to lay these feelings at the feet of our God, lean into the discomfort, and learn how to better trust and depend on him. So, I’d like to share some things that have helped me do this during my recent transition:
1) Recognizing the difference between change and transition. Change is what is happening on the outside, like our situations and our circumstances. Transition is what is happening inside, like our thoughts and emotions. People may experience the same changes, the same external circumstances, but not the same transition. The ways people go through this transition process is different, and that is OK. So, give yourself the time and space you need to transition. Don’t compare your process to someone else’s.
2) Familiarize yourself with the stages within the transition cycle and be aware of what stage you are in. These stages include an ending, the neutral zone, and a new beginning. However, be aware that this is a cycle so you can go back and forth between these stages as well as see some overlap of the different stages.
At this point, you have already ended the previous chapter in your life, but you may not be completely past this stage yet. A part of the ending stage is recognizing that you have experienced a loss, and it’s important to grieve that loss. Embrace this, but also grieve with hope because we have a God who is in control and we can trust that what he has for us next is good.
The stage you might find yourself in is the neutral zone—you don’t really feel connected back home anymore but you also haven’t found your place here yet. This stage is extremely uncomfortable and stressful. It just feels empty, but the key to overcoming this is to allow yourself to just be. Just be in the empty, fallow space. Our culture is obsessed with filling our time and we are constantly busy to the point where we don’t know how to just be still and alone with ourselves. But to move past the neutral zone we need to reflect, process, relocate, and reorient ourselves. Thankfully, we are never really alone in this because our God is always with us and will guide us through. Stop doing, and start being.
Since you’ve begun your college life already, you’ve already started the new beginnings stage. The novelty of college life can be super exciting. However, sometimes we get so caught up in the external change that we avoid the internal transition. Don’t do this. Again, give yourself time and space to process everything, just like in the neutral zone. Another issue that may arise during this stage is a sense of incompleteness. Things just aren’t quite clicking yet and you just don’t know what to expect. If you experience this, remember that these feelings are normal, show yourself some grace and kindness, and be patient with God.
3) Recall God’s character, and remember his goodness. With so much going on in our lives internally and externally, it’s easy to get wrapped up in ourselves. We put all of this unnecessary pressure on ourselves, and we forget that we have a God who is sovereign over all. When I fail to remember these truths, I like to look to the Word, specifically the Psalms, which are full of people remembering and recalling God’s character and his good works. It comforts me to know that God has always been and always will be faithful to his people, and it brings me to a place of gratitude for all he’s done and just who he is.
These times are tough. In the words of the wise Tupac Shakur, “that’s just the way it is.” But it doesn’t end there because we have hope. Hope doesn’t mean it will be easy—in fact, hope is usually hard work because it relies on something outside of ourselves. But we can take heart, and remember that God is the same God here as he is back home as he is wherever we go.
—Leah Hornfeck is a CCO Fellow at Slippery Rock University. She’s an officially certified athletic trainer and a graduate of Duquesne University. You’ll find her listening to hip hop, watching horror movies, or eating ice cream.