The start of a new academic year is always a cause for celebration. For the newest Case Western Reserve University students, it is an exciting—albeit uncertain—time. As the members of the Class of 2027 make their way to campus this month, we’re sure they have plenty of questions as they begin their journeys. To help the Class of 2027 and new transfer students start the year with confidence, we’re sharing advice from upperclass students, orientation leaders, and staff and faculty members throughout the month. And who knows? Even seasoned members of the CWRU community might learn something new.
Starting college is a time that often involves a lot of intense—and sometimes conflicting—emotions. Living away from home, surrounded by potential new friends and taking steps toward your future can be thrilling. But it also can be full of uncertainties. It’s important to know that you’re not alone. Many of your peers are experiencing the same things—and if those jitters start to weigh you down, you have a support system all around you at Case Western Reserve University.
A good starting point is University Health and Counseling Services (UHCS), where you can find a dedicated team of professionals to help you feel your best, whether you’d prefer to talk in a group setting or one-on-one with a counselor. Same-day appointments are available, and a counselor-on-call is available after hours and on weekends, so help is within reach 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Whether you need immediate care or an ongoing relationship with a counselor, UHCS is an important resource to consider.
We asked Trisha Whittington, a social worker with UHCS, about common first-year fears, how to combat them and what to do if you need help—now or in the future.
Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
1. What are some of the most common fears experienced by first-year students?
For many, this is the first time you may be living away from your home, your family and your support system. It is difficult to “start over” somewhere new, even if it has been something you have been excited for and worked hard to achieve.
Sometimes more than one emotion is present at the same time. Remember: There is room for all our feelings, and there is no “wrong way” to feel.
2. What advice would you give to students who may be encountering those things now?
Apprehension, anxiety, nervousness and feeling uncertain are completely normal reactions and to be expected when a person is confronted by change. While these emotions may feel as if they will never end, try to remember that the intensity will pass. Giving yourself time to develop your confidence academically, socially and emotionally is important. If you’d like to learn more strategies to address strong emotions, you can always schedule a same-day appointment with a UHCS provider to discuss further. We are here for you!
3. What advice do you have for students who feel like they’re alone or not making friends as quickly as they expected?
You are not alone! It can be so difficult to be surrounded by people and feel lonely. Take some time and get to know someone—it doesn’t have to be deep. Share some likes and dislikes, go catch a movie, check out some of the museums (they are free with your CWRU ID!) or just explore. Making connections can be intimidating, but it is also in these connections that we grow and thrive.
4. How much homesickness is “normal” and what should students know about navigating those feelings?
Most students experience some level of homesickness, especially if this is the first time a student has been away from their home of origin for an extended amount of time. There are many factors at play, and each student is an individual with their unique perspective. You may experience conflicting emotions. If you think that your homesickness is not improving over the first few weeks, or if you notice a change in your behavior that is making it more difficult to complete day-to-day activities and expectations, it might be time to consider speaking with a counselor for support.
5. When should a student start to seek help—and how can they do that?
Is your emotional distress keeping you from getting a good night’s rest? Perhaps you’ve noticed a decrease in your energy levels, difficulty eating regularly or an inability to relax. Maybe you’re feeling more irritable, or your emotions are closer to the surface than in times past. Are these things holding you back from meeting your academic or social expectations? These would be signs that perhaps an appointment with UHCS could be helpful.
Any student who wants to talk about how this transition to college is impacting them is welcome to call us at 216.368.5872 or use the online portal to schedule a same-day appointment through myhealthconnect.case.edu. We offer brief, solution-focused individual counseling, psychiatry, and group counseling.
You also can access TimelyCare for TalkNow sessions, scheduled counseling appointments or text support. We also provide community referrals if you would prefer a higher level of care and support. As engaging in therapy for the first time can be intimidating, we have care management staff who can assist with you in establishing care in the community.
We are here for you; your wellness and safety is our top priority. We want to support you in your success.
6. What would you like students to keep in mind about wellness and mental health services at the university throughout their undergraduate career?
You need to know that wellness and mental health services are available to you any time throughout your enrollment at CWRU. You should also be aware that maintaining overall wellness is a daily activity; it is important to discover ways that you can be proactive in caring for your mental and physical wellness so you can put these actions into a daily practice that works for you. If you’re able to come up with a routine to provide yourself the care necessary to manage emotions and stress healthily you will build confidence in managing challenges that come your way.
7. Ultimately, what should students know about mental health and wellness in college?
You do not have to carry the challenges associated with transitioning to college (in a new town, making new friends, learning new things and caring for yourself) all alone.
Sometimes we think that there is something deeply wrong with us when we struggle with challenges of life. I assure you that there is nothing “wrong” with you if you encounter strong emotions related to this major life event. Try and remember to take time for yourself and your interests, outside of academics.
Focus some energy on the things you do have control over: your sleep schedule, healthy food choices, where/when/how you’ll study and reaching out to your support system. Moving your body, even for just a five or 10 minute walk can have an impact on reducing your stress. Creating a calm personal space for yourself where you can journal, meditate or even just listen to your favorite music a little can help you feel a bit more at peace as you head into your busy days. Small changes can add up to bigger successes, and baby steps are still steps.