Making a Healthy Transition from Summer to School

The biggest challenges in any person’s life often happen under the heading of one word: change. Many of us find comfort in being creatures of habit, finding routine, and knowing what to expect. Even the experience of “positive stress” can come with welcome changes such as starting a new exciting job, getting married, or even moving to a new place where you are excited to start over.

This human characteristic of craving consistency is so ingrained in many of us that whether we are excited to return to the routine of school or not, the transition can be challenging. In order to go back more smoothly and manage any difficult emotions that come with that transition, here are some tips for making a healthy transition from summer back to the school year.

Three people sitting outside on the ground with laptops and notebooks studying and talking

5 Tips for Transitioning Back to School

  • Grieve: While this first tip may sound like a bummer, it’s not intended to be. As some people return back to school, they grieve the summer. They enjoy being away from school, the warm weather, the free-er schedule, etc. For them, school is hard, and summer is easier and that brings feelings. It does us no good to ignore the sadness or trepidation ahead. If you’ve got tears to shed or feelings to work through, please do so. No matter what transitions we go through, we have to acknowledge how they make us feel in order to make the change most successfully.
  • Make Forward Connections: A great deal of difficulty in making transitions comes from being unsure how we will feel settled and stabilized in the next situation. Whether you are heading to school for the first time or returning as a professor in your 15th year, it can help to make connections. In the weeks before a return to school, make some human connections with where you are headed. Communicating with a roommate, touching base with a colleague, or even simply talking with someone in financial aid or student life can be grounding. The human connection is a huge part of helping transitions happen more smoothly.
  • Plan Your “Firsts”: In addition to making some human connections, having just a bit of a plan for the first days or weeks back can be very helpful. As much as it can be hard for some people to think about returning to school, opening up the calendar to August and September and writing in a few things can help our minds and emotions transition. Writing in your first fun activity, first lunch date, or even the first time you get a day off or return home can help shape the first few weeks so that they feel more predictable and less intimidating.
  • Take a 40,000 Foot “Flyover”: In a continued progression from the suggestions above, another transitional “trick” if you are struggling to transition from summer to the school year is to take a broader view of the time ahead. A traditional college semester is approximately 16 weeks with at least a week or more of breaks. Taking a “bird’s eye view” of the semester, or even the school year, can help condense a sense of overwhelm and make the transition ahead feel more manageable.
  • Lean into Gratitude: Several of the tips above have been largely practical. This one is more like the first: psychological, mental, and emotional. While I’m certainly not trying to offer toxic positivity, an education (or employment) is a privilege that some people do not have. The educational environment can be stressful, but it also provides unique resources and opportunities. In the moments where we are having a hard time returning to school, we can also buoy those difficult feelings with gratitude for the opportunity to get an education, further our passions, and prepare ourselves for the ways we can contribute to the world now and in the future.
Three people sitting outside on a stone bench holding papers and talking

As always, your campus has people both formally and informally operating as support so that you can transition in and out of your college career in the most successful way possible. Be honest with yourself about how you are feeling and lean on your resources to help make this year’s transition from summer back to school the best one yet.

August 1, 2022. By Anne Rulo, Author, Speaker, Therapist. FB/IG/Twitter @annemrulo 

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