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I Hate College! Now What? How Students Can Figure Out What’s Not Working & Fix It

Students spend years preparing for college and most assume social and academic success will come easily. But sometimes expectation and reality don’t align. There are many reasons students can end up disliking college, but not all is lost. Most issues that make students miserable can be resolved with a little time and effort. Find out the most common reasons why students hate college and how to fix them.

Meet the Experts

Veronica Schofield Academic Success Coach and Strategist, Advanced Academics
Michelle Curtis-Bailey Senior Admissions Advisor/EOP Coordinator, Stony Brook University

WRITTEN BY:

Common College Problems & What to Do About Them

Transitioning to college can come with a lot of changes, so it’s only natural that not everything will go smoothly. Senior Admissions Advisor at Stony Brook University, Michelle Curtis-Bailey, and academic success coach and strategist at Advanced Academics, Veronica Schofield, offer their insights and expertise to help students who are struggling find solutions to common problems.

Your Classes are Boring

One of the most appealing aspects of college is being able to choose from a huge array of classes and take those that pique your interests. But not every course is going to keep you on the edge of your seat. Because of general education, or core, requirements and major-specific prerequisites, many college students have very little freedom to choose their courses until their junior and senior years. And it’s likely that some required courses are going to be outside a student’s area of interest.

What to do About It

  • Figure out what’s not working

    “Unfortunately, a lot of the time when students can’t stand their boring classes, it has nothing to do with the class content and it is instead because of their professors,” says Schofield. “The professor’s attitude and teaching style can make or break a class, regardless of how interesting a student finds the subject.” When you next sign up for classes, do some research on professors before you sign up. Ask other students if they liked a professor’s teaching style or do some research online.

  • Get creative with core requirements

    “Some colleges have core requirements that can be met with a variety of courses,” says Curtis-Bailey. “Do some early ‘investigation’ by talking with some faculty and maybe even other students who may have taken those courses so you can take what is in alignment with your interests and skill sets.” Think about pre-reqs and general ed classes as opportunities to explore.

  • Work your electives

    Whether students pepper in some electives each year to mix up their schedule or hold off so they can get pre-requisite courses out of the way as quickly as possible, electives can help students add some variety to their curricula.

  • Re-examine your major

    If the boring classes are part of a major requirement, pinpoint whether it’s the topic that’s uninteresting or something else. Many factors can affect the quality of a class, but if it’s definitely the subject matter, students may consider exploring other majors.

Resources & Tools

  • Rate My Professors

    “I recommend my students look up their professors on Rate My Professors before registering for their classes to ensure other students haven’t reviewed the professor as being mind-numbingly boring and dull,” says Schofield.

  • Your advisor

    They can help you create a well-balanced schedule and plan for future terms.

  • Your schoolmates

    Ask around and get details about specific classes and professors. When all else fails, classmates are also excellent sources of commiseration.

Even students who couldn’t wait to get some space from their family and high school crew can find that after a few weeks, their absence just doesn’t feel right.

What to do About It

  • Give it time

    Students are used to seeing their friends and family every day, and the sudden void can be jarring. Adjustment takes time. Remembering to be patient and taking the opportunity to focus on yourself can help you cope with homesickness.

  • Plan visits

    It’s never too early to plan visits to friends, whether it’s a quick weekend trip to visit a friend’s school or a longer trip over an upcoming break. Schools often have designated days for parents to visit, too, to give students a mid-term boost.

  • Stay connected

    “Something that has helped my clients in the past is organizing weekly Skype calls with their family, and have it scheduled so everyone knows the time every week,” Schofield says. “I’ve had students attend their family’s weekly Sunday dinners via Skype. This is a good opportunity for students to catch up with their parents and siblings and let them know all the exciting things going on at school, while also providing some time for them to talk about less exciting things, like worries and fears.”

  • Chronicle your experience

    Students who like to get creative can use their first-year experiences to put together a scrapbook or journal to give to their families. Letters, photos, doodles or whatever else strikes your interest can mimic in-person conversations about day-to-day life. When complete, they also make a nice gift for parents.

Resources & Tools

  • Video chat apps

    Facetime, Google Hangouts and Skype are all good options to try.

  • Flights by StudentUniverse

    This app is designed specifically to help students book discounted flights to help them get around easily. Use it to plan a trip to your best friend’s new town.

  • Scrapbook apps

    Products like ScrapBook – Tell Your Story allow users to make digital, sharable scrapbooks complete with photos, videos, notes and audio recordings.

Balancing school with other aspects of life is challenging, and when students find schoolwork is taking up all their time, they can burn out quickly.

What to do About It

  • Make time for downtime

    When students’ social and emotional health are not in check, their academic lives can suffer, too. The push to get ahead can be overwhelming, but without regular breaks, students risk getting overloaded. A short mental break to spend time with friends or do something unrelated to academics can help students feel refreshed. Schofield recommends students check with campus resources to help develop time management skills and personalized plans.

  • Review your schedule

    Sometimes it’s hard to see that there actually is free time. “Take a look at your schedule and see where you actually spend time,” suggests Curtis-Bailey. “Track your schedule for a full week, including exactly how much time you spend in class, studying, getting ready, eating, working or volunteering, working out, etc. At the end of that week, you’ll see that there are chunks of time you dedicate to ‘other activities’. When it comes to time, it can seem like there isn’t enough, but if you don’t track it and see where you are spending your time, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed that you can’t do all that you want to do.”

  • Lighten your load

    If students are really struggling to make time outside of studying, it might be appropriate to take fewer credits next semester. Remember that not only should there be room for fun in college but that workloads vary from term to term, depending on the classes. Talk to an advisor about how to balance your credit load.

Resources & Tools

  • Scheduling apps

    Try an app like iStudiez Pro to help manage your schedule, or even an old-school physical planner.

  • Your advisor

    They’re pros at helping students figure out their schedules and manage college life, and they can point you to other resources that may be available on campus.

  • Your professors

    Get in touch with potential professors and ask them about the course load and how much time they expect students to put into the class.

Some students go to college and make friends right away, but for many, it’s not as easy as it looks. Having no one to talk to or spend time with can make for an isolated experience.

What to do About It

  • Participate in residence life activities

    This can be an easy step for students who live on campus to develop relationships with those in the same hall. The people they live with may end up being friends out of convenience, but it’s a start in developing a larger social pool and becoming more confident talking to new people.

  • Join a club

    Joining clubs is great for on-campus and commuter students alike, and it ensures that students will meet people with at least one thing in common. “Once you meet people who share similar interests as you, that’s a great way to ‘break the ice’ and have a common point where you can begin to form friendships from there,” says Curtis-Bailey.

  • Venture off campus

    Some colleges are situated in areas where there isn’t a lot going on away from school, but students who attend schools in bustling areas can try making friends off campus. Go dancing, become a regular at a nearby coffee shop, go on nature tours or become a volunteer. These can be great opportunities to meet people in different environments.

  • Take the risk

    It may seem awkward, but students can make friends by talking to a person they sit next to in class. “If you’re just starting to stretch your ‘friend making’ muscles, chatting it up with the person sitting next to you in class is a great way to start getting the courage for making new friends outside of class,” says Schofield. You’re probably not the only person looking for friends. Your classmate might be grateful for the extra conversation or invite to lunch.

Resources & Tools

  • School-affiliated apps and social media groups

    It’s not uncommon for schools to create apps to help students navigate college life and get familiar with school culture. RAs may also use social media to help students get involved without the discomfort of face-to-face interaction.

  • Campus Life list of clubs

    Many schools make it easy for students to browse clubs, teams and Greeks based on their interests.

  • Meetup

    Find groups of people linked by a common interest, on and off campus.

Students probably expect to feed themselves and do their own laundry when they go off to school, but they may be surprised to find out how much more they have to keep track of. Managing financial aid deadlines, paying bills, making medical appointments and getting around without a car to borrow can put a damper on the idyllic college experience.

What to do About It

  • Take it in stride

    “This is a great time for you to be the manager of your educational process and journey to begin developing the muscles necessary for self-advocacy and accountability,” says Curtis-Bailey. Schofield agrees and notes that after having the help from their parents for the past 18 years, adjusting can be rough for students. She suggests students simply go with it.

    “It’s all a learning curve, and the best way to get over the overwhelm is to just roll with the process. There is no time to learn like the present.”

  • Break it up

    Looking at everything that needs to be done on top of schoolwork can make tasks seem insurmountable. Curtis-Bailey suggests students focus on what they can control and seek help from an advisor or campus ally for additional support.

Resources & Tools

  • Your advisor

    “A great place to discuss this is with your academic advisor, who can serve as a resource to help map out your journey and break it down into manageable steps that are more realistic to you,” says Curtis-Bailey.

  • To-do list apps

    Apps like Wunderlist can help you list out and manage what you need to accomplish in any given day or week.

  • A success coach

    “If you’re seriously having problems juggling everything you need to do, I recommend speaking to a counselor at your college, or seeing about hiring private help in the form of a success coach to help you get through everything you need to do,” says Schofield.

Ideally, students move into a dorm and get along nicely with the person they’ve been randomly paired with. In some cases, it may even become a genuine friendship. But in some cases, the roommate mismatch is so extreme that continuing to live together seems impossible.

What to do About It

  • Talk to your roommate

    Bringing up conflict can be super uncomfortable, but Curtis-Bailey says that talking to their roommate should be a student’s first step. “Some problems arise because we see a situation and don’t know how to confront it and deal with it.” There may be a simple solution, but without talking to your roommate, things could escalate unnecessarily.

    “This is a great time for you to be the manager of your educational process and journey to begin developing the muscles necessary for self-advocacy and accountability,” says Curtis-Bailey. Schofield agrees and notes that after having the help from their parents for the past 18 years, adjusting can be rough for students. She suggests students simply go with it.

  • Keep it in person

    Try to have these kinds of conversations in person, not through text or social media. It’s easy to misinterpret text-based conversations, which can quickly escalate a minor argument.

  • Get backup

    Curtis-Bailey and Schofield agree that approaching the RA is a good next step if talking with a roommate doesn’t yield any results. Make them aware of the issue and let them be a mediator for discussion and problem-solving.

Resources & Tools

  • Your RA

    They can be a student’s first line of defense when dealing with roommate issues.

  • The Housing and Residence Life webpage

    These offices often have lists of talking points roommates can use to establish ground rules as well as voluntary contracts they can fill out and sign.

  • Roommate-finding apps

    Apps like Roomster and Roomi can help those living off-campus find compatible roommates.

According to a 2017 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, around one third of students change their major at least once during the first three years of their college education. But discovering that a course of study isn’t working can leave students feeling hopeless and stuck.

What to do About It

  • Assess yourself

    Students who find that their major no longer aligns with their interests need to figure out where their interests actually lie. This may mean taking some exploratory classes or thinking about any general education courses that they found particularly enjoyable.

  • Meet with your advisor

    Curtis-Bailey says that academic advisors can provide some context to a student’s major and help them see how a course of study progresses from term to term. This can help students determine whether it’s just that the early stages of the program that aren’t interesting them or the major truly isn’t a good fit. Advisors can also help students figure out which majors are better suited to them.

  • See if you need to take further steps

    Sometimes changing majors ends up being more involved than talking to an advisor and changing your course of study. “If it’s later on in your college years,” says Curtis-Bailey, “you may want to see if your college has the options where you can blend programs together to create your own major.” If their school does not offer a major they are interested in and doesn’t allow for blended programs, students may have to consider transferring schools.

  • Don’t be too hard on yourself

    “Changing your major] may mean that you will spend more time completing your degree, but in the end if you finish with something that makes you proud and will help you start your career, it doesn’t really matter how long it takes,” says Schofield.

Resources & Tools

  • Your advisor

    Helping students figure out academic and career goals is their job. They can also be pretty empathetic and help assuage students’ fears and uncertainties about their majors.

  • Your school’s career center

    The career center can help students figure out what interests them professionally and what education requirements need to be met in order to get specific jobs.

  • Major planning guide

    Academic departments often make these available online or in their offices to help students map their courses, but students can also ask their advisors for major-specific planning guides.

Whether students are overwhelmed by a large campus, stifled by a small one, outcast from the prevailing culture or any number of other factors, there are times when it seems the only way to salvage the college experience is to start anew somewhere else.

What to do About It

  • Give it time

    Schofield doesn’t recommend students transfer during their first year. “Adjusting to college can be a huge process, so it may not be that your school is a bad fit, but rather that you are not used to the aspects of college itself.”

  • Get socially active on campus

    Part of feeling like you don’t fit in may just be “You should do everything you can to see if you can find a way to fit in. Join clubs, sports teams and talk to people in your classes. Chances are, other students probably have similar feelings right off the bat.”

  • Look off campus

    All of your social needs don’t need to be met on your college campus. Are there any organizations or groups in the nearby community that meet your interests? Is there a religious center or youth group you could join?

Resources & Tools

  • Campus Life Center

    Most schools have a campus life or student rec center where students can find information about clubs and organizations. Many will also have information about groups in the neighboring community.

  • Meetup websites and apps

    Meetup.com and friend-finding apps like Bumble can help students find friends and those who share their interests.

Signs It’s Time to Make a (Bigger) Change

Sometimes students face issues that are particularly challenging to fix. These problems can be logistically tricky, and careful planning and self-assessment are required to resolve them. The good news is, they generally can be resolved. Recognizing warning signs of bigger problems can help students resolve issues and salvage their college experience.

Sign: You Feel Unsafe in Your Dorm

While it’s always appropriate for students to first talk to their roommates and RAs about any housing conflicts before rushing to request a room change, sometimes diplomacy doesn’t work out and a bigger change needs to be made.

“It is mature and fair to speak to your roommate calmly and politely to see if you can resolve your issues before requesting to switch rooms,” says Schofield. “If your tense relationship with your roommate is seriously affecting you negatively, or you feel unsafe in your dorm with them, ask for help. There is no reason to stick it out if your mental health and wellbeing are at risk.”

Students should read the details of their school’s room change policy and make sure they understand the request process and how long it may take. Students may have to fill out a form and meet with an RA or housing director. Room change requests are not always granted, so students may want to document and provide evidence that their current living situation is causing serious problems.

If students need to move off campus, they should be aware that breaking their housing contract will likely result in additional fees, and they may have a very limited period of time in which to move. Taking the time to research and discuss the logistics of making a roommate or housing change with a housing official can help students get through the process a little easier.

Sign: You’re Being Bullied or Harassed at Your School

Harassment can take a number of forms, like name-calling, physical attacks and sexual advances and can be aimed at a person’s race, religion, sex, gender expression or identity, disability and more. The severity of the harassment and from whom it’s coming will dictate a student’s course of action for resolving the problem.

If the situation is dangerous or detrimental to a student’s mental health, it’s important that students talk to their advisors to determine the best approach or, if they are feeling extremely unsafe, contact the police.

If the harasser is a professor or other school employee, students should seek assistance. Advisors should be able to point students to a legally impartial and confidential official who can guide students through the steps students needed to take to protect themselves and stop the harasser.

No matter the situation, it’s important that students keep track of the harassment. “If you are experiencing harassment, you want to document it and bring it to the attention of campus administration with clear awareness of how this harassment is going to be resolved,” says Curtis-Bailey. “Take a look at your college’s campus policy or code of conduct for you own knowledge, and you can bring up any issue to your Dean of Students’ Office or Equity and Diversity Office, depending on its nature.”

Sign: It Isn’t Just “College Blues”

According to a Spring 2017 report from the American College Health Association, 67 percent of students report having felt very sad within the past 12 months, and nearly 40 percent felt so depressed that it was difficult to function. Over 60 percent felt overwhelming anxiety. If you feel depressed or that your depression or other mental health issues are worsening, you should reach out for assistance.

“The first step is to identify your feelings,” says Curtis-Bailey. “It’s normal to have some college stress as you navigate different times of the school year and/or academic responsibilities. If this is more than the college-student blues and you recognize that you lack motivation to move forward, you are beginning to withdraw from friends, family and classes, it’s a sign to get some help.”

Schofield notes that students may be reluctant to seek help because experiencing mental health issues can especially scary for students, who fear they may have to reduce their course load, withdraw from school or quit sports teams.

“This is not usually the case,” she stresses, “and doctors and school advisors can help make changes to accommodate your mental health. Sometimes this can be fixed by starting a new, or adjusting an old, prescription. While it seems like your grades should be your top priority, in reality your health should always be your top priority.”

Sign: You’ve Tried, but the School is Just Not a Good Fit

You’ve given yourself time to adjust, you’ve tried joining clubs, making friends or joining groups in your community. But you still just don’t like your college. Curtis-Bailey asserts that a bad college fit shouldn’t mean the end of a student’s education, but that students will have to do some assessment to figure out why the school is a bad fit and what they should look for in their new school.

“If you would like to transfer, either to a smaller school, school closer to home or that is more cost effective, check with that institution to get some key information, such as what are their transfer requirements, how your classes transfer from your original school to their own and what the process will be for you to attend for the following semester. Sometimes it takes being in a wrong place to know what environment isn’t best for you.”