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Weathering the Storm: Preparing for the Unexpected in College

If your image of the college experience is based on TV shows, movies, or even social media feeds, you're likely to have the idea that college is some sort of pre-adulthood utopia, the academic counterpart to the land of milk and honey. I know that when I imagined college life, my brain conjured up the cliches of becoming #BFFs with my roommate, having a never-ending social life, attending sporting events covered in face paint, and hanging out with other students on expansive and meticulously kept green lawns.

And while my fantasy was not 100 percent accurate, going to school at Pepperdine has been one of the best decisions of my life. During my time as a Pepperdine student, I have made lifelong friends, spent a year living in Switzerland, gotten incredible work experience, and even carved out some time to lounge on the aforementioned pristine lawns. (Seriously—why is it that colleges have such good landscaping?)

However, I wish someone had told me that college is still real life. Yes, you'll be greeted with a range of new opportunities, new social networks, and an ocean view, but that doesn't give you immunity to the ups and downs of life. College is also dealing with relationship struggles, cleaning food out of the kitchen sink, getting a bad grade on a paper you worked hard on, eating junk food, doing your laundry, negotiating boundaries with your family . . . the list goes on and on. The more pragmatic you are about the college experience, the better equipped you will be to weather whatever curveballs life has to throw at you while you're earning your degree.

Here are three ways that you can prepare yourself to thrive as a college student no matter the circumstances:

Millie Vieira pictured among snow-covered mountains with a group of Seaver students

Be Honest About Your Abilities and Priorities

When you're at your peak emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual health, you're able to juggle responsibilities, friendships, and larger workloads without feeling overwhelmed. But when one of those categories is compromised and your energy is focused on dealing with a crisis, your ability to manage stressors decreases. During my junior year, I was balancing classes, social relationships, Greek life, two jobs, and involvement in multiple clubs. When I had to have emergency appendix surgery, these responsibilities became too much to deal with. I immediately asked my supervisor for time off work and negotiated a release from my organization obligations until I healed, because my top priorities were my health and my grades.

Make a list of your priorities. What is at the top? Is it your GPA? Is it a job that you hope will transition into a career? Or is your biggest focus building healthy relationships? Everyone's priorities are different, but the important thing is to be prepared to make sacrifices for the sake of what matters most to you. Write down your top priorities, and be willing to put other investments on the back burner if something unexpected happens. Be ruthless in the protection of your priorities and graceful when other activities need to be eliminated during times of stress.

Know How to Advocate for Yourself

Everyone comes to college with differing ability levels, financial resources, and health histories. Regardless of your background and needs, the University has accommodations for whatever your special circumstance might be —you just have to reach out and ask. Be honest and challenge yourself to gather the resources that you know will help you succeed. By advocating for yourself whenever possible, you can create a learning environment geared toward success. Pepperdine's Office of Student Accessibility, Student Care Team, Office of Financial Aid, Office of Intercultural Affairs, and Hub for Spiritual Life are great resources to become familiar with.

Furthermore, never underestimate the goodwill of your professors. During my freshman year, I suffered a concussion two weeks before finals. This presented a pretty significant problem—I had to figure out a way to successfully finish out the semester while dealing with nasty head trauma. By communicating with my professors about my situation, I was able to gain extended deadlines, class notes from my peers, and some welcomed understanding. Additionally, the Office of Student Accessibility provided me with resources that ensured my academic standing could be protected while my brain healed.

Millir Vieira pictured amongst Seaver students on a cliff overlooking a body of water

Find a Community That Will Support You

The best way to struggle is to struggle together. One of the surefire ways to feel supported in an unexpected situation is to lean on others who can offer you emotional, physical, and spiritual encouragement. Whether you join a club of close-knit students, attend a local church, have a mentorship with a faculty member, join a fraternity or sorority, or plug into a study group within your major, recognize the wealth of community that surrounds you. And be intentional about showing up! Some of my best friends and most reliable support networks didn't come from my freshman dorm, but instead from my involvement in Dance In Flight, my job in the Office of Admission, and my international program. No matter where you decide to invest your time, be sure to recognize that the people spending every day by your side are an excellent resource for support and friendship.

No one truly knows what might befall them. But the important thing to remember is that no matter the circumstance, you have a myriad of resources to weather the storm. When I showed up at the start of my first year, I had no idea that I would have emergency appendix surgery, a concussion, accidentally get stranded on the top of the Alps (long story), or have to do my junior year remotely because of the coronavirus. But throughout these crazy circumstances, I was able to persevere and thrive thanks to my incredible Pepperdine support system. So as you get ready to head to college, know what matters the most to you, come prepared to speak up for yourself, and trust that an array of people and resources will have your back when you need help. I promise you'll be able to move through the inevitable ups and downs with grace.