Practical Advice - Starting University
Coming to University for the first time is for most people an exciting experience. Whether you are leaving home for the first time or coming back into education after several years away, starting University offers a total change of circumstance and the prospect of meeting new people and experiencing new challenges. However, as with any change of lifestyle, there are sometimes unexpected difficulties to be faced and adjustments to be made, and this leaflet is aimed at preparing you for some of the problems which students can meet with during their first months at University.
For some students, coming to University means leaving their home, family and friends. This can feel exciting but also at times quite frightening. Home usually represents security, and leaving this to come to a place which is totally new, can feel very much like stepping into the unknown. It is usual to feel some sadness at leaving behind our family and school friends, and this feeling may continue for a while until new friends are made and a new security is found. It is quite normal to want to stay in frequent touch with those that you know at home, and this can help you to feel less vulnerable during the period of adjustment.
However, it is probably advisable not to go home too frequently during the first few weeks, as this could hinder you making friends here.
Some students choose to live at home during their time at University and this is particularly true with mature students. Being in your usual surroundings with family and friends can make starting University less of an upheaval, but it can also provide its own set of problems. Sometimes, relationships at home can come under strain. This can have many causes - financial hardship, particularly if the person studying has given up a paid job; less free time to spend with your family; resentment by those at home that you are making new friends and experiencing new challenges which they cannot share; a lack of understanding of your need for space and time to do your study. It is very important with family situations of this kind that they should be acknowledged and the feelings talked about. If they are not confronted and dealt with in this way, resentment and misunderstanding can build up and make the situation harder to deal with.
Sometimes new students are lucky enough to meet one or several new people straight away with whom they feel at ease and can make friends. If this happens, then it certainly makes the transition into University life much smoother. For some people, however, it can take longer to find a group of friends and this can add to the feeling of vulnerability, particularly when it seems that everyone around you has made contact with others. If this does happen to be your experience, the important thing is to try not to panic. It feels like you are the only one who has not made friends, but this is certainly not the case. It is very usual for it to take a while to form a circle of people who you feel comfortable with. Try and remain cheerful and positive, be friendly with those people that you do meet, and join some student activities which appeal to you. Slowly but surely, you will form a wider circle of acquaintance, but be patient and try not to give into that feeling that nobody likes you.
Sometimes, new students can seem overwhelmed by the amount of work which seems to be coming their way.
Timetables, reading lists and assignments can seem to be never ending and may make you wonder if you will ever have time for a social life. Mature students who have been out of the education system for some time and worried about writing their first essay, may feel particularly concerned. Again, this is a very usual experience and the initial feeling of panic does settle down after a while as you begin to sort your work into manageable piles. If, in the first few weeks, you feel that you are doing the wrong course and would like to change, do not be afraid to ask for help. You may first speak to your tutor, your Head of Department, one of the University counsellors or the Student Support Officer. All will help you to decide what is best for you.
The University counsellors see many new students with difficulties such as those mentioned in this leaflet. It is helpful to be able to confide their worries and to be reassured that what they are feeling is usual and will probably pass.
Finally, please remember that the vast majority of students find their time at University enjoyable and fulfilling, despite any “teething problems” they may have had at the beginning.