Navigating the highs and lows of junior year
by Bri Pastro
Starting the second half of your college experience can be scary! It’s marked with a whole slew of challenges that can impact your mental health, but it’s also a great time to have new experiences and take on new, enriching opportunities. Here’s what I wish I'd known before starting junior year.
Navigating the transition to living off-campus
Moving off-campus was a big change for me. After two years of on-campus dorm life, I moved into an apartment close to campus. At first, this was a constant source of stress: having to cook for myself rather than use the dining hall, clean the apartment, and maintain relationships with my housemates seemed like insurmountable tasks. My anxiety also went through the roof, clinging to the fear that someone might break into our apartment. If you’re in the same boat, I promise it's going to be okay.
Try communal cooking or meal prepping with your roommates (saves on expenses and offers great bonding time), having a chore afternoon where you all do the hard work together, and maintaining good communication. Self-care also played a big role for me: addressing my fears in therapy, meditation, and weekly trashy TV night with my roommates helped me tons. Allow yourself what you need, and know that if off-campus living just isn’t for you, you can always explore options for moving back on-campus.
Summer internships & jobs: applications and handling rejection
Especially during the second semester, it seemed as if internship applications were the most important thing any of my friends were doing. I got caught up in the frenzy: cover letters, resumes, and interviews became my whole life for a good two months. I saw a career advisor at our university’s career center, who somehow both calmed me down and made me more anxious. My advice for such a scenario: go in with a strategy. If you do better with structured to-do lists and an organized list of ideas, make sure whomever you’re working with knows this. I wish I'd been more honest and told my advisor that the career fair was not going to work for me, instead of getting ready to attend and panicking before I could leave my front door; if she'd known, she could have helped me explore other avenues.
Once I had a plan about what I was applying for, I faced the struggle of receiving my first rejection. It decimated my confidence; it seemed like my roommate was getting accepted left and right, and I convinced myself that I was a failure. In discussing this with my therapist, she pointed out that that just like me, she was embarrassed and kept quiet regarding programs and jobs she didn’t get accepted for. When something does work out, allow yourself to be proud: you put in the hard work, aced that interview, and stood out from the crowd!
Long story short: don’t freak out about what you’re going to do with your summer. What's important is that you do whatever's going to be best for you in the long run. If you need a summer at home to recharge from the school year, do that. If you need to spend your summer in an intensive outpatient program, do that. If you’re ready for a summer job or internship, go for it! You’ve got nothing to lose.
Navigating study abroad (and, alternatively, feeling left behind)
At my university, most students study abroad during the fall or spring of their junior year. Being away from support systems can be straining, and leaving regular routines and navigating language barriers can cause anxiety. Many of us think that when we’re in a beautiful new place, we’ll feel better; while this might be partly true, many major struggles won’t disappear with a change of location.
Think about how you’re going to handle your mental health while you’re away. If you take medication, make sure to get a supply before you leave. If you’re prone to homesickness, bring pieces of home to your new living situation, whether it's photos or your stuffed animal. If you have a certain challenge like anxiety, learn vocabulary for explaining your situation to your host family or new friends.
To those staying on campus, it can also be scary to have good friends leave for months or feel like you’re missing out. I found it helpful to schedule Skype calls weeks in advance, at times of the day that were reasonable for both of us. To help combat FOMO, I made the most of my time on campus, going on adventures of my own and traveling to local destinations on weekends. Take the train to the next big city, explore a park nearby, find a new favorite restaurant -- there’s much more to do than you may realize.
Feeling like you need to have to have it together
When I was a freshman and sophomore, upperclassmen always seemed like they had everything together: they had mastered balancing school, work, and social life, had solid friendships, and were leaders in extracurricular activities. But looks can be deceiving!
The pressure to “have it together” as you move through college is real because you’re moving towards graduation and whatever lies ahead. It’s normal and perfectly okay to struggle with this pressure. Remind yourself that you aren’t alone in this struggle. When I allowed myself to be vulnerable and share my worries with a friend, she opened up to me in turn, and I realized that while our challenges may take different forms, everyone struggles from time to time.
My best advice is to utilize your resources: your friends, university counseling and career centers, faculty, and family can all be wonderful places from which to draw support. Find what works for you, and if you’re having trouble, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and ask for help.
Bri Pastro is a senior at Tufts University majoring in Psychology. She is interested in psychopathology, specifically PTSD and self injurious behaviors. She is the social media chair of Tufts Active Minds, and spends her free time bullet journaling and listening to Twenty One Pilots.