group of happy Illini

Adjusting to College: Your New Life

Almost exactly year ago, I committed to spending the next four years of my life at the University of Illinois.

Until writing this post, I forgot how big of a decision this was. I was 17 when I decided where I would be building a life for myself for the next four years. That’s a big decision for a person of any age, much less a 17-year-old kid! I’m sure my 21-year-old self will be terrified to remember that 17-year-old me was trusted with such a big choice. I know I would have had my doubts if 13-year-old me would have had to make a decision with four years of life-altering implications. Nonetheless, I did the best I could. I could not be more sure that I made the right choice.

So far, I’m proud of the person I was a year ago. The Zoe that existed a year ago was a hard worker. She did her research. She battled a terrible head cold during the college theatre audition season. She got into some darn good schools and earned some darn good scholarship money. But she had a whole lot to learn. She had no idea what was coming, and she had no idea how much she would change in the upcoming year.

My first month on campus at Illinois was the most exciting time of my life up until that point. Even though I had a ton of fun, the transition was a challenge. It was a big step. I uprooted myself from the only life I had ever known and replanted in Champaign-Urbana. Ensuring that you have a fantastic four years at Illinois is like taking care of a plant. The only difference is that the plant is you, and you can’t go to Lowes and buy a new self if you mess up. Here are my tips for adjusting to your new college life.

Build friendships and let them evolve

During Welcome Week at Illinois, you’ll be surrounded by 7,000 other 18-year-olds who are desperate to find their people. I promise that it’s a good kind of desperate. For all the right reasons, incoming freshmen often go out of their way to fit into a social group. The connections you create could turn into great friends down the road.

Still, keep this in mind. Your Welcome Week friends might be just that: friends to get you through Welcome Week. I met some wonderful people, most of whom live in my dorm. We enjoyed scavenger hunts, karaoke nights, and dining hall meals together that first week. Though we had lots of good times, we grew apart. We all have different majors, different interests, different goals, different hobbies, and different schedules. We still say hello in the halls, but we have grown closer to other people. That is okay.

Then again, it is equally likely that you could be like Marshall in How I Met Your Mother. Your future best friend (Ted) and your future wife (Lily) might live down the hall from you. Welcome Week friends are what you make of them. You must reach out starting on day one. You’ll see hundreds of new faces and learn dozens of new names. With a little luck, effort, and good timing, you can make friends that will last a lifetime. And, once you do, lean on them. They will need to lean on you, too.

Get involved

In high school, many friendships begin out of proximity, convenience, and similarity. It was much easier to make friends when you filtered through the same building with the same people from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. every weekday for four years. In college, finding people you have things in common with can be tricky, but it does not have to be. Joining a registered student organization (RSO) is one of the best ways to meet people who have interests and passions like yours.

Whether you love to cook, play soccer, write, dance, go camping, drink coffee, or pretty much anything else, there is a student organization full of people who love the same thing. Sharing an interest with other club members gives you something to talk about right away. This commonality can lead to the formation of a group of friends. If you can go out and do the things you love with people you love, you’ve struck gold. The memories you make with your friends will make college the best four years of your life.

Figure out a routine, NOW

The best time to start developing a healthy routine is on move-in day. A silly, but informative thing happened to me on my own move-in day that made me realize this. I couldn’t haul all my getting-ready supplies to the bathroom all at once. Also, I remembered that I would no longer be able to leave my toothbrush on the edge of the sink. At home, it works. At school, it’s gross. Because of this, my morning routine had to change. Now, I have developed a way of getting myself out the door that works for me. It is different from the one that worked in high school. This is just one example of the many parts of my day-to-day life that look different now than they did in the past. It seems obvious, but don’t let it take you by surprise.

College is a big change. Your typical schedules for mornings, meals, exercise, sleep, and self-care will have to change, too. Don’t wait until halfway through your first semester to start developing good habits. The time is always to start making healthy choices is always now. If you take action and adjust to college early, you have every opportunity to become the best you that you can be. Why not be excellent?

Remember your roots, but don’t forget to grow

I’m lucky to have great relationships with my mom and dad. I missed them a lot more than I expected to this year, and calling them is always one of the highlights of my day. Visiting home is fun and important, but you must find balance to combat homesickness.

When you first come to Illinois in the fall, go home for Labor Day weekend if you must. After that, stick it out until late October or early November. Going home too often tells your brain that you don’t have to adjust to this new life that you are planning on living for the next four years. Going home every weekend or every other weekend is probably too much. Plus, bus tickets are expensive. Keep in touch with your support system back at home, but don’t feel guilty for staying on campus on free weekends. Your parents, siblings, other family members, and friends are only a call away. Be here as much as you can.

Ask for help

The University of Illinois has tons of resources available to students who are having a tough time adjusting to life on campus. There is no shame in asking for help. In fact, it might be the best thing you can do for yourself. Reaching out is always better than staying silent. The Counseling Center, McKinley Health Center, and Disability Resource & Educational Services (DRES) are all great resources. If you don’t know where to start, knock on your RA’s door. They will be able to point you in the right direction.

I hope this post gives you an idea of what to expect as a freshman adjusting to life in college. You’ll be a pro in no time, and you’ll wonder where the time went. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions!



Class of 2021
I am from Rock Island, Illinois, which is right on the Illinois-Iowa border. I am a dual-degree student studying Acting in the College of Fine and Applied Arts and Advertising in the College of Media. I am also a James Scholar and a Chancellor's Scholar.