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    August 16, 2022

    How Colleges Can Help New Students Transition to the 2022-23 School Year

    Leaving home for college has always been stressful for first-year college students. It's not uncommon for first-year college students to experience depression, isolation, homesickness, loneliness, or anxiety over meeting academic expectations. Similarly, transfer students can have similar feelings as the "start again" at a new school setting.
    Troublesome emotions and mental health issues upon entering a higher academic setting are more prevalent than ever, and it's easy to understand why. High school freshmen have spent the past few years of high school grappling with the effects and restrictions caused by the pandemic.

    For example, this year's college freshman and transfer students may have difficulty readjusting to classroom learning. They may feel particularly anxious about meeting classmates, roommates, faculty members, and others on campus. Since they have spent more time at home with their families, they may find it tough to leave this trusted support system.

    COVID-19 Created a Lack of Access to School-based and Community Supports

    K12 schools have played an increasing role in providing students with mental health, academic, and other resources--supporting students with existing diagnoses or flagging troubled students based on classroom observation and interaction.

    It's well-known that high school students' anxiety, depression, and suicide rates have skyrocketed over the last few decades, reaching unprecedented levels since the onset of the pandemic. Without classroom learning during much of their junior and senior years in high school, many students with mental health issues have lacked the opportunity to receive help from the school. It has also been more difficult for families to locate and access appropriate community resources.

    The upshot is that this year's crop of college freshman and transfer students are more likely to experience greater anxiety, depression, academic struggles, and other challenges than their predecessors. Proving the point, a 2021 study of COVID-19 and the mental health of first-year college students showed that 71 percent experienced increased stress, depression, and anxiety due to the pandemic. The rates are particularly high among racial/ethnic minorities, economically challenged students and the LGBTQ community.

    How Can Colleges Support This Vulnerable Population Make the Transition?

    The issue at the start of the 2022-23 school year is how we can provide incoming first-year students and transfer students the tools they need to make a successful transition. There are many avenues to explore, including:

    • Foster Connections: Combat feelings of loneliness and isolation by providing opportunities to participate in small-group settings in classes and residential life. In addition, peer-to-peer support may play an important role during orientation and throughout the year
    • Provide Safe Spaces to Talk: Provide opportunities to discuss fears and possible solutions openly. Depending on the student's problems, this might include easy access to live or virtual academic advisors and mentors, mental health professionals, peer support systems, and emergency services in case of a crisis
    • In-Person Counseling and Teletherapy: Find new ways to make students aware of the school's counseling services, emphasizing that no problem is too small
    • Provide Mobile Technology: Mobile software apps such as HELPme from STOPit can be implemented to connect the school community directly to local resources, complement school resources, and provide a 24/7 anonymous crisis text line
    • Provide Staff, Educator, and Training: Provide training sessions to help the campus community spot red flag and appropriately report and take action.

    The suggestions above are just the tip of the iceberg. Higher education institutions should work hard to build an environment that prioritizes student well-being at every level. Every school must determine what resources it can commit to supporting incoming students. Beyond that, it must take steps to make resources widely known and easily accessible.

    Over the past few years, colleges and universities have had to decide whether to maintain in-person learning, stick with remote learning, or use a hybrid approach. As they make these decisions, it's critical to pay attention to student mental health and work on finding creative solutions. In particular, they must be vigilant about keeping an eye on vulnerable new students.

    Regardless of the choice that higher education institutions make, students well should be top of mind. When exploring support options, look for ease of use, convenience, and anonymity so that students and the larger school community will use the tools you provide to their highest potential.






    Tag(s): Higher Ed , HELPme

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