The Roller Coaster


A green roller coaster with riders on a train car going around a curve.
Image 9.3 The college experience has its ups and downs. Try to enjoy the ride. (Credit: “Dorney Park 058” by from used according to CC BY 2.0.)

The first year of college is a roller coaster of an adventure filled with new connections, challenges, and self-discovery. While it’s exciting to start or try something new, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some fear and anxiety involved with it.

At this point, you may be finding that college isn’t just signing up for classes, sitting through a lecture, and knocking out an assignment in a few minutes. You have different classes at different times on different days in different buildings. On top of that, you may be juggling keeping social or family activities, a job, maintaining a household, and being a caretaker to a loved one. Or, you may feel like you’re running in multiple directions trying to keep schedules straight, finishing assignments, attending classes, and being active on campus. Whatever this part of your journey looks like, you probably feel overwhelmed at times.

This is a normal response to the roller coaster of starting college. When you can, remind yourself that this is a normal feeling that will pass. It may help to work through “The Five Whys” in the section titled “College: A Pathway to Personal and Professional Growth” for a reminder of why you are here. Reading through this section, you’ll learn more about the academic and social adjustments you may encounter during your first year of college.

Questions to Consider

  • How will you adjust to college?
  • What are the common college experiences you will have?


Adjustments to College Are Inevitable

College not only will expand your mind, but it may also make you a little uncomfortable, challenge your identity, and at times, make you doubt your abilities. It is hard to truly learn anything without getting messy. This is what education does: it transforms us. For that to happen, however, means that we will need to be open to the transformation and allow the changes to occur. Flexibilitytransition, and change are all words that describe what you will experience. Laurie Hazard and Stephanie Carter (2018)6 use the word adjustment. Hazard and Carter (2018) believe there are six adjustment areas that first-year college students experience: academic, cultural, emotional, financial, intellectual, and social. Of course, you won’t go through these adjustments all at once or even in just the first year. Some will take time, while others may not even feel like much of a transition. Let’s look at them in brief as a way of preparing for the road ahead:

  • Academic adjustment. No surprises here. You will most likely—depending on your own academic background—be faced with the increased demands of learning in college. This could mean that you need to spend more time learning to learn and using those strategies to master the material.
  • Cultural adjustment. You also will most likely experience a cultural adjustment just by being in college because most campuses have their own language (syllabusregistrar, and office hours, for example) and customs. You may also experience a cultural adjustment because of the diversity that you will encounter. Most likely, the people on your college campus will be different than the people at your high school—or at your workplace.
  • Emotional adjustment. Remember the range of emotions presented at the beginning of the chapter? Those will likely be present in some form throughout your first weeks in college and at stressful times during the semester. Knowing that you may have good days and bad—and that you can bounce back from the more stressful days—will help you find healthy ways of adjusting emotionally.
  • Financial adjustment. Most students understand the investment they are making in their future by going to college. Even if you have all your expenses covered, there is still an adjustment to a new way of thinking about what college costs and how to pay for it. You may find that you think twice about spending money on entertainment or that you have improved your skills in finding discounted textbooks.
  • Intellectual adjustment. Experiencing an intellectual “a-ha!” moment is one of the most rewarding parts of college, right up there with moving across the graduation stage with a degree in hand. Prepare to be surprised when you stumble across a fascinating subject or find that a class discussion changes your life. At the very least, through your academic work, you will learn to think differently about the world around you and your place in it.
  • Social adjustment. A new place often equals new people. But in college, those new relationships can have even more meaning. Getting to know professors not only can help you learn more in your classes, but it can also help you figure out what career pathway you want to take and how to get desired internships and jobs. Learning to reduce conflicts during group work or when living with others helps build essential workplace and life skills.

Table 9.1 provides a succinct definition for each of the areas as well as examples of how you can demonstrate that you have adjusted. Think about what you have done so far to navigate these transitions in addition to other things you can do to make your college experience a successful one.

Table 9.1 Six Areas of Adjustment for First-Year College Students. (Credit: Based on work by Laurie Hazard, Ed.D., and Stephanie Carter, M.A.)
What Is It? Students exhibit it when they:
  • Take an active role in learning.
  • Attain college-level learning strategies.
  • Are open to feedback and change.
  • Make adjustments to learning strategies as needed.
  • Accepts and welcome differences in others.
  • Recognize their own cultural identity.
  • Seek opportunities to explore other cultures.
  • Readily handle the stressors of college life.
  • Develop emotional coping strategies.
  • Seek support from campus resources.
  • Manage money independently.
  • Recognize the costs of college.
  • Explore job and aid opportunities.
  • Engage in intellectual discussions.
  • Are open to new ideas, subject areas, and career choices.
  • Integrate new ideas into belief systems.
  • Join a club or organization.
  • From supportive, healthy relationships.
  • Understand the impact of peer pressure.
  • Manage conflict in relationships.

“Experiencing an intellectual ‘a-ha!’ moment is one of the most rewarding parts of college, right up there with moving across the graduation stage with a degree in hand.”

Analysis Question

Which of the six areas of adjustment do you think will be the least challenging for you, and which do you think will be most challenging? What can you do now to prepare for the more challenging transitions?



  • 6 Hazard, L., & Carter, S. (2018). A framework for helping families understand the college transition. E-Source for College Transitions, 16(1), 13-15.


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The Roller Coaster” by Rachael Reynolds is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License and adapted work from the source below:


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UNM Core Writing OER Collection Copyright © 2023 by University of New Mexico is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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