Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 20, 2024

Mental health as a freshman

By ANGELA ZHU | August 30, 2023



Zhu offers ways new Hopkins students can tend to their mental health needs.

It’s everything you’ve worked toward. It’s what all your high school years have been leading up to. It’s college. 

College is one of the biggest transitions — a stepping stone from the more rigid high school setting to the freedom of adulthood. Here, people get a taste of independence, gain new experiences and meet a world of different people. 

But college does not come without its challenges. What may start off as a fresh, exciting adventure could also be marred with feelings of isolation, homesickness and anxiety. Although there’s no way to predict your college experience, here are some general guidelines to remember so you can explore the campus, your interests and your identity while keeping your mental health in mind. 

Social life 

Socializing is practically a full-time job, especially when you're just coming to college. You’re probably eager but also nervous to make friends and put yourself out there — I know I was. But that’s the great thing about college: It’s what you make of it. You get to choose your hours and the people you hang out with; the era of high school cliques has finally died down. 

The key is finding a balance between being social and having alone time. With roommates and friends always available to hang out, you may feel pressure to go out all the time or constantly be surrounded by others. Alone time may seem taboo but is really a necessity for everyone. 

Setting a strict minimum of time you need alone can be a great way to prevent social burnout (yes, it's a thing). 

Here are some examples of boundary setting:

  • Studying alone instead of with your friends if you can’t focus with them.
  • Getting a to-go box and eating in your room instead of in the dining hall. 
  • Telling your friends that you need to go to bed since it's 2 a.m., and you’re tired from the long week. 
  • Saying no to going to an event because you need to recharge.

Don’t be afraid to say no to things even though the fear of missing out can be pretty overwhelming. There will always be more opportunities to have fun and make connections. You don’t need an external excuse to justify your absence — taking care of yourself is a good enough reason. 


What about the academic part of school? For me, as I worked hard in high school, the curriculum was generally manageable, and maintaining good grades became expected. College, however, humbled me. 

I realized that this “prestigious institution” actually had a reason for its prestige. Not every class will be insanely challenging, but many people encounter a failing grade for the first time or a homework assignment that feels impossible. 

The key to academics is managing your expectations and learning how to actually learn. The days of easy A’s are gone. You’ll be given your assignment schedule in advance, so it’s up to you to determine how much time and effort you allocate to each class. Especially during midterm and finals season, studies can get incredibly overwhelming.

Just like with socializing, there’s a need for a work-life balance. Setting a strict time for when you’re working and when you're not can be helpful in achieving that. Moreover, if you are struggling mentally, don’t be afraid to contact your teachers and let them know you may need an extension or can’t attend class. The faculty are here to support you and — more often than not — will be willing to help you out. 

Staying active 

A huge part of mental health is maintaining good physical health, something often overlooked when on campus. Exercise is a great way to stay in shape and keep your mind sharp. 

As a student, you’ll often find yourself sitting in lecture halls or in the library for hours on end. Setting some time each week to do something active can be a great way to destress. 

In addition to weight training or aerobic exercise at the Ralph S. O’Connor Recreation Center, being active can come in many forms like playing volleyball or badminton with friends, climbing the rock wall or even walking around campus. 

Campus resources

One of the main benefits of college is the myriad of resources it offers to its students, and mental health is no exception. Many clubs on campus focus on well-being, like A Place to Talk (APTT), where trained peer listeners have shifts in Brody Learning Commons and Wolman Hall to listen to anyone who needs to express their feelings.

There’s also the Counseling Center where you can make appointments with therapists and psychologists free of charge. They offer both one-on-one counseling and group therapy sessions. Moreover, if there’s a specific area of life you’re having trouble with, like academics, resources like the Learning Den can be helpful.

Taking care of yourself and your mental health is the key to maintaining a balanced college life. Coming into a new space, you might want to do it all, meet tons of new people and join every single club. Everyone’s college experience is different, but it's up to you to define what that looks like. 

Prioritizing yourself, no matter what stage of life you are in, will only ensure that you maximize your time here. In the end, college is a time for exploration but also introspection — take the time to learn not just about your major but also about yourself.

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