Poshak Agrawal, Co-Founder, Athena Education

Poshak graduated from DPS R.K. Puram, where he graduated in the top 1% of his class and served as President of the Mathematics Society. In 11th grade, he was the only student from India to get into the Stanford SUMaC summer program on a full scholarship, which helped him to also receive a 100% scholarship from Stanford and Princeton. At Princeton, Poshak was Co-President of the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club.


Congratulations! You have secured admission to your dream university abroad and are all set to leave. However, as mountaineers know, the battle does not end with the glorious sunrise at the summit. The most difficult part of your journey still lies ahead, and you need to be well prepared to tackle it.

Most folks have the logistics figured out: travel documents, finances, accommodation. However, it is essential to acknowledge and plan for the emotional and mental stressors that students encounter in their journey through college.

Here are five strategies that can help you handle the stresses and anxieties of your college experience:

1. Buckle in for the adjustment period

International education is the first independent living experience for many students. Once the initial excitement subsides, students report experiencing being hit with a wave of homesickness, loneliness, and anxiety. 

An effective way of processing and dealing with these emotions is to use coping mechanisms:

  • Form meaningful relationships: Seek to become a part of a community by joining student organisations or working with university programs that interest you.

  • Focus on academic collaboration: Working on projects and assignments all alone can be a daunting task. Collaborating with other students is an efficient way of getting more work done while simultaneously building an academic community. These can also act as academic support systems, keeping your progress and productivity in check.

  • Stay in touch: Reach out to friends and family back home. Time zone differences can be a bummer, but scheduling regular calls can help in maintaining a healthy support system back home.

  • Prioritise self-care: Following a regular sleep schedule, eating healthy, and exercising regularly has a positive impact on your mental health. 25% of American college students feel that lack of sleep has affected their academic performance in a negative way. Taking out time to decompress and recharge using mediums such as journaling, meditation, and student counselling services are also useful tools for taking care of  your mental health.

  • Be open minded: You are going to meet people from various backgrounds; experiencing culture shock is normal. Be empathetic and accepting, look past ethnic and cultural boundaries and learn from other people’s experiences.

2. Say ‘No’

So much to do, such little time—a dilemma college students are all too familiar with. Be assertive with your personal and professional boundaries; learn to say no. 

Time is a precious commodity, you must ask yourself the hard questions before taking anything on. Do I really want to do this? Does it align with my values, missions, and beliefs? What learnings will I gain from it? What will I have to compromise to accommodate it into my schedule?

Having ambitious professional and personal goals are important ingredients for a healthy college life, but knowing where to draw the line is what helps separate you from the rest. Peruse through your calendar. Look at your priority list. Does the additional activity fit in? Does it help you be #BetterThanYesterday? If not, it is time to let go. 

3. Learn to deal with decision stress

College students—being young adults—have to make a multitude of tough decisions every day. Decisions regarding majors and coursework can be especially stressful. A recent study in the US revealed that almost two-thirds of students feel overwhelmed when selecting a major. 

Using mindfulness techniques can help you combat this anxiety and make for an efficient decision-making process. 

  • Identify your priorities: What subjects are non-negotiable for you? Dig deep! If a clear answer still eludes you, use the Japanese framework of Ikigai. Consider what you’re good at and what you love doing. Connect that to what is likely to help you make money and will help you contribute to society;and at their intersection, you will find direction. 
  • Stair-Step the process: Don’t limit yourself. Dream big and then reverse engineer your goals by breaking them down into smaller but actionable items . This allows you to improvise and adapt instead of perceiving decisions as discrete events.
  • Seek mentorship: Confused? Talk to people. Find a mentor. Seek input from college counsellors, peers, and alumni. They can provide practical insights and help you make more informed choices.  

4. Seek professional growth

Considering the high costs of an education abroad and the competitiveness of these programs, it is natural for students to be anxious about their career prospects. An excellent way to deal with this anxiety is to start working on your professional growth as soon as possible. 

  • Look out for professional opportunities: Stay abreast of the career centre and online portal listings, you will find many jobs and internships there. Ensure that your resume and LinkedIn profile are updated. 
  • Leverage your university’s brand to reach out to people—alumni, faculty, and industry professionals—to build a professional network. They can provide you with both university and industry-specific information in your fields of interest. Attend industry events, connect with people. Send that cold email!
  • Join industry focused clubs and greek life associations: Interacting with like-minded peers will help you build your professional network while simultaneously exposing you to all the interesting projects your fellow students  are working on.  

5. Be prepared for failure

College involves a steep learning curve. Failure is an inevitable part of the college experience. Rather than dwelling on them, you must accept them and learn to move on. Here is a framework suggested by University College London to deal with failure as a student. 

  • Recognise how you feel – Acknowledging that you have failed is the first step of the process.
  • Change your perspective on failure – Failure is not a reflection of your worth. Instead, this can provide invaluable insight on how to excel in the future.
  • Practice self-compassion –  Be kind to yourself and have optimism in your abilities.
  • Speak to someone, don’t carry the burden of failure all by yourself. Sharing it with others can provide both perspective and respite.
  • Get organised – Identify what is hindering your performance and plan meticulously to overcome it.
  • Take action – Instead of seeking perfection and practising avoidance, divide your goals into smaller, more achievable tasks. 

It is natural for international students to feel anxious and stressed during their time at college. However, deep below this sea of stressors lies an excellent opportunity for personal growth, helping young adults develop the emotional and mental fortitude required to tackle these issues independently, a strength you can draw upon throughout life.

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