Going to university for the first time can be both overwhelming and exciting. I wish there had been a guide to university that laid out exactly the issues I’d be facing along with the anxieties. While I enjoyed learning, I was in no way prepared for the academic pressures, nor had I imagined the potential for financial hardship.
But, without a doubt, it was one of the most character forming experiences of my life. I got a degree (one which has served me little purpose since), and learned many hard life lessons. It was a chance for me to spread my wings, make new friends, learn how to better manage my time and gain new skills. Both academic skills and essential life skills.
This guide to university aims to discuss some of the key anxieties you might feel, and how to manage your first year.
A Guide to University Nerves.
Going to university is a big change, so it’s only natural that you might feel nervous. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and everyone, even if they don’t admit it, goes through it! Here are just a few reasons why you might feel nervous.
You’re afraid of the unknown.
Aren’t we all? It’s a natural human response to feel anxious about the unfamiliar, and starting university is no exception. Unless you’ve been there before, you don’t know what to expect, who you will meet and how it’s going to feel. Even if your friends or older sibling has clued you in, experiencing it yourself is a whole different ball game.
You’re concerned about leaving home.
Leaving home for the first time can be difficult, specifically at such a young age. Perhaps you miss your family, your friends and home comforts? And maybe you aren’t quite prepared for what it means to keep a home, even if it is just university halls. Homesickness among first years is very common, and can even be the reason for early drop outs!
You feel unprepared for the academic pressures.
University and high school are very different in regard to what is expected of you academically. Teachers chase after and ensure coursework is carried through. Lecturers assume you’re more mature, and leave you to it. While I thrived in such an environment, many didn’t. The pressure to succeed is also a lot higher than expected in the later high school years, and can be very overwhelming.
Young adults leave high school with limited knowledge on the skills needed to succeed in university. In fact, here in the UK it’s often assumed that the first academic year of any course *doesn’t count and is instead used as an adjustment period. However, it’s recommended that you still make an effort, even if those around you aren’t.
*This is not true for all course and in fact may even be an old legend among students.
You might suffer from social anxiety.
Starting university often means meeting knew people. Some of you may be fortunate enough to be moving on with some friends, but most aren’t. While this can be a very exciting time, it can also be very daunting and intimidating. Specifically if you suffer from per-existing anxiety or are particularly shy.
You’re concerned about finances.
Finances are among the biggest concerns for new students. There’s no doubt that university is expensive, and is set to get even worse in the following years. It’s a lot of money to borrow in order to pay off tuition, accommodation and living expensive. Will you need to get a part time job to help cover the costs? And, if so, how will you manage studying, working and have time for a life outside both? I personally worked part time throughout my academic studies, and then two part time jobs during my certification. It was very difficult and led to me burning out in my mid-twenties due to chronic stress.
A Guide to University Anxiety.
Reach out to others.
First of all it’s important to know that you’re not alone. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Going to university is a massive life change for many. Thousands of first time students, and even those returning, feel anxious and afraid! Talk to your friends, family and other loved ones about how you’re feeling. It might even help to connect with other students who are starting along with you if at all possible.
All universities also have student support available, and this often includes things such as counselling and financial advice. If you’re really struggling, don’t be afraid to use these services to your advantage.
There are also online resources that can help guide you. Here are just a few.
Do your research on the university, accommodation or anything else that might be relevant before going. This might mean speaking to other students, course directors or even university services. Find out what help and support is available to you, where they are situated and how to go about getting help if you need to.
In regard to accommodation, find out what you need to live comfortably and prepare well in advance. Think about accessories for your room such as an ethernet cable if the internet is wired, bedding such as duvets and sheets, and even small things such as storage. While most university campus accommodation has a desk, mattress and storage, private accommodation may not. If you’re living off campus, how will you get to university? Are you planning on driving there, walking or taking public transport?
Make sure you have all the essentials to help you academically too. Think about electronics you might need such as a laptop, and mundane things such as writing materials. Yes, some of us still do take physical notes and I’ve experienced some lecturers who wouldn’t accept laptops in their classroom.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, are you prepared financially? As scary as it sounds, it’s important you have all the right things in place to prevent any financial surprises. If you’re taking out loans, make sure you have the right information in regard to when they come in, how much you are paying and any important numbers available in case you run into trouble. Do you have a student overdraft? How much is it and is there interest to be paid? These are all important lessons I learned while at university. I’ve been there and been stressed about it so you don’t have to!
Remember your self-care.
You can’t burn the candle at both ends, not matter how hard it might feel not to. Many students work and study simultaneously, meaning very little time for anything else. But self-care is extremely important in order to manage stress and anxiety effectively. That doesn’t mean taking a spa weekend twice a month. It can be as basic as ensuring you’re eating right, getting enough sleep, and taking the time to engage in the things you enjoy most.
Take the time out to go for a walk around the park, or play your favourite video game. Even if you don’t feel like you have all the time in the world (having been there, I know you don’t), at least take the time to make sure your basic needs are being met.
Manage your workload.
If you take anything from this guide to university, it should be that university is academically challenging. It’s difficult, can be overwhelming and many students suffer from chronic stress. But in my final year I learned how to break my assignments, studying and dissertation into bite sized chunks. In fact, i use that same technique now in order to manage my writing, illustrations and day job simultaneously.
Find a schedule and routine that works for you. If you keep a diary, this could be writing down your priorities for each day in bullet points, going as far as to write your world goals for assignments. It could be keeping a visible wall calendar with important deadlines, or setting alerts on your phone.
Use your first year as an opportunity to find something that works for you and will see you through until your final year!
Use positive self-talk.
Self-sabotage and negative self-talk is fuel for anxiety. They work together to drive your self-confidence into the ground. Don’t let them! Instead, re-frame those negative thoughts into more positive ones.
This may sound as simple as changing ‘I can’t‘ to ‘I can‘, but I assure you it’s not. It takes practice, courage and constant communication with yourself. You need to constantly remind yourself that you are as capable as anyone else. You were accepted to university in the first place, so of course you deserve to be there!
The following phrases were my most commonly used during my time at university. Here’s how I could have changed things.
- “I can’t manage this. It’s too much.“ I could have said ‘How can I break this up so that it’s more manageable for me?’
- “I’m so lazy, I didn’t tick off all of my to-do-list.” This could have been changed to ‘I wasn’t able to fit everything in today. I can add it to tomorrow. And adjust what I expect from myself to be more realistic.’
- “I’m not smart enough.” Change this to ‘I am smart enough to be here. I deserve this as much as anyone else.’
Quite often we are the one placing massive amounts of expectation on ourselves. It’s important to be realistic and adjust our time where needed. We can stand out of our own way as easily as we can stand in it.
Take it one day at a time.
- Rome wasn’t built in a day.
- Not everyone was born a blacksmith.
- The road to success was paved with a single brick.
Use any of these age old quotes to remind yourself that it just takes one step to start something. If you take it one step at a time, you’re further than you were yesterday. Anxiety often stops of making progress out of fear. It stops us in our tracks even before we lay them down. If you find ways to fight back against it and are proactive about how you approach this new stage in life, you’re already making big waves!
Take it easy, go at your own pace and learn how to put your anxiety into a box.