In this blog, our Young Ambassador, Sophia, shares her experience of university life and her tips for others at university!
We are often told that university will be the best years of our life and that student life is full of fun. Sure, we know there is some hard work involved too, but to me it felt like I was being sold a dream. I have largely enjoyed my time at university, but I have also endured some struggles.
In this blog post, I will discuss some of the struggles that I encountered and how I dealt with them. I do not intend to make the university experience seem nightmare-ish but rather shed some light on the difficulties many people face during their time at university. I hope you can find comfort in knowing you’re not alone in your struggles.
Moving to uni
New people and new surroundings can be both exciting and overwhelming. The lack of familiarity can be very anxiety inducing and for many this is our first time living independently. Meeting the demands of adult life can be a lot to juggle alongside a degree.
In some ways I loved the freedom, but I also missed a lot of home comforts. Being told ‘you’ll get used to it!’ is not particularly reassuring when in that present moment everything feels too much and perhaps it feels like everyone else has settled but you still have not.
Firstly, people are probably not as calm and organised as they may seem.
Secondly, be patient with yourself. Some ways I helped manage what felt like an infinite ‘to-do’ list is by arranging them in order of importance. Getting the more urgent things done first and mixing in some fun stuff to break up the day to make it feel like less of a chore. Although this may seem obvious it is easy to lose our logical thinking when panic kicks in. So, try to take a step back, rationalise the situation and you will probably realise that not everything needs to be done right this very second! You have more time than you think, there is no time limit on how long it takes you to feel at home.
Remember your family and friends are just a phone call away and you can also schedule visits to see them.
For most of us, when we move to university, we do not know a single person. Making friends is not always easy. Some people quickly bond with their flatmates and develop a family-like relationship with them, whereas in my flat that did not happen. Some people prefer to keep themselves to themselves and others make friends with people outside of their flat.
Hope is not lost if you do not connect with your flatmates, there are plenty of other places to make friends. Making friends with course mates is a good idea as you already have something in common – the subject that you study -it can be helpful to have a study buddy too.
There are a large variety of societies you can join to meet new people and remember- societies aren’t just limited to sports!
You don’t have to meet people in person either, there are online communities such as gaming communities and forums etc that you can be a part of.
Chatting over a few drinks can be a great way to get to know people, but be careful to not become over reliant on drinking to fuel your social life. Drinking culture is a big thing at university but it is important to not get carried away as it can easily escalate into a substance abuse problem and have detrimental effects on your mental health.
Equally, do not be so hard on yourself making friends can take time and having only a few friends is not necessarily a bad thing. You do not need to compare yourself to others who seem to befriend everyone they encounter. Remember you can still keep in contact with existing friends online or in person!
Loneliness and isolation
I started university in September of 2020 so throughout my first year there was varying levels of COVID-19 restrictions which put further strain on my social life. At one point I had to self-isolate, although COVID-19 restrictions are now minimal, a lot of the struggles I felt regarding loneliness and isolation are still relevant.
I found it really helpful to create a list of activities you can do by yourself so that way if none of your friends are available or if you don’t feel like seeing anyone (although I don’t encourage isolating yourself I appreciate having some alone time can be beneficial and more comfortable when we’re feeing low); these tasks should vary in intensity for example watching your favourite comfort show is something that requires minimal effort whereas going for a walk or doing a workout can require a lot more willpower. Also consider that you may feel more accomplished after doing something more challenging but don’t push yourself too hard as then you’ll be at risk of burn out.
Remember progress doesn’t have to be perfectly linear it’s totally normal to have set backs along the way!
I had a real issues with time management – I would only get the motivation to get the work done the night before it was due. Creating a schedule to help organise your time and breakdown tasks can be really helpful but for me that wasn’t enough. Something I’ve found that helps is to set myself mini-deadlines to be breakdown the task and have check-ins with someone to show / explain what I’ve done to keep me motivated to meet those mini-deadlines. I do this with a personal mentor of mine but you can do this with a study buddy or a member of academic staff.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions and reach out for support whether that be academic support or mental health support. You are paying a lot of money for university – you are a customer – use the services and support available to you- you are not being a burden it is their job to support students! The way you communicate is flexible; in person, via email, via audio or video call. I’ve always taken a bit too much pride my independence, to the extent that I often refuse to ask for help in times of need- don’t be like me.
Hope is not lost, low grades does not mean you have not learnt anything. Your passion and excellence in your subject can be presented in other ways outside of your university studies perhaps through work experience or a personal blog.
Looking after your mental health and accessing support
Universities have a number of support services. I personally found the student welfare team to be a great help – I used to meet with my welfare officer quite frequently. Whereas some people preferred to speak to their academic tutor or their favourite lecturer. There may be a counselling service inside or outside of university – apply for them all as waiting lists can be long but also don’t hesitate to get help through others means while you wait.
Universities also have a disability advisory service so if you feel your struggles are impacting your studies long term you can consult them – this usually requires a diagnosis or doctors note of some sort. Adjustments can be made for your exams and assignments.
For more short term issues regarding physical health, mental health or other personal issues you can apply for an exceptional circumstances or a deemed not to have sat. remember your GP looks after your mental health as well as physical so do not hesitate to make an appointment with them – they can help in providing things like diagnoses, referrals and in sharing resources.
Managing the termly payments can be difficult! Many of us have not been responsible before for all the bills and expenses that being a uni student comes with.
My top tips if you are struggling are to:
- Create a budget
- Seek financial advice
- Apply for bursaries
- Look into part time work (within the uni they tend to be very flexible with what hours you work and how many)
You can also check out this dedicated University Money Saving Tips Hub on the Martin Lewis Website.
To conclude, university is a big change and adapting to the demands of a new way of life is not easy. Remember, you are a paying customer so make the most of the resources and services available to you! Many people share the same struggles, perhaps you can relate to some of my experiences, so do not feel alone. Do not be so hard on yourself, life is a journey and things take time. Progress is not always linear; you are allowed to have setbacks along the way so try not to catastrophise. Finally, remember to respond to your thoughts and feelings the same way you would respond to a friend’s thoughts and feelings – with care and respect.