Uni is rarely what we expect. You might start out absolutely petrified but by Christmas you’re the happiest you’ve ever been – or you may have headed off to halls thinking you’re embarking on the best three years of your life, but by the end of first term you’re wishing you’d never bothered in the first place. If you fall into that latter category and are already starting to dread spring term, I’m here to help you work out your options in a few easy steps.
I mention a few examples below, but otherwise I don’t deal specifically with particular issues you might be having during your time at uni; that’s because I’ll be tackling common uni challenges more specifically here in the coming months. If you have a particular issue you’d like me to help with, don’t hesitate to get in touch in the comments below, via Twitter, or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Step one: Work out what was difficult about first term
Your first term at university can be incredibly turbulent. It’s easy to be so overwhelmed by everything that working out exactly why you’re struggling can be harder than you might think. Take some time to pinpoint specifically what it was about your first term that you wished was different. It might be to do with:
- your student accommodation and adjusting to living away from home
- your course
- your new environment or city
- your social life
- financial worries
It could be a combination of these, or something completely different. Try to be as specific as you can, and consider the positives too – your bed might be really uncomfortable (pro tip: get a mattress cover! I have a Memory Foam one and it made a massive difference to my night’s sleep at uni), but the view out of your window is to die for, and you love all the storage space in your room. Coming back home can give you perspective on the things you do enjoy about uni, as well as those you don’t.
Step two: Have a rethink
It’s time to get practical and make some lists – this exercise will focus your mind on why you went to uni in the first place and help you to feel more positive about your future there. So: start by listing everything you want to get out of your uni experience. Maybe you want to get a first in your degree, try a new sport, or spend five 12-hour days putting together the campus newspaper (it’s more fun than it sounds, I swear). Whatever you wanted to achieve, it’s still possible – it might feel like an age since you start at uni, but you’re actually still right at the beginning of your journey into higher education.
Next, consider each aim on your list and work out exactly what it was that prevented you from achieving it during your first term. Is it money? Nervousness? Your skill at essay writing? The key here, and with step three below, is to be as specific as you can – once you know exactly what’s stopping you, you can work out precisely what changes you need to make to help you reaching those goals.
Step three: Make a plan with goals
For example, if one of your aims was to meet and befriend like-minded people but you’ve found yourself feeling lonely, you could look up the different societies your uni offers as a way of getting to know people, or send a coursemate a message to meet up for coffee in the first week back. Remember that at this point very few friendships are really secure – people have only known one another for a couple of months after all – and most will be looking to make more friends, so don’t hesitate. If you’ve found yourself falling behind on your course, fire an email off to your supervisor, mentor or a trusted professor to organise an appointment to discuss what you’re finding tricky.
Whatever it is you’re struggling with, the best thing you can do is start organising things for next term right now – it will give you something to look forward to or fixate on as the start of finding a solution. Deciding what you’re going to do now will also give you a bit of peace of mind over the rest of the holidays, and organising specific things will help keep you accountable. Don’t forget to speak to your friends, too – those from your uni or from home. Some of them might also be struggling with the change, and you might be able to work things out together; alternatively if you have siblings or friends who have already been to uni, be sure to ask their advice.
If you’re really worried: Consider getting professional support
Whilst I was at home during the Easter holidays in my first year I realised just how scared I was about going back to uni. It took me until my first night back in halls for summer term to email Open Door, York’s student support service, but once I did a weight really did lift off my shoulders and I felt so much better just for having taken that first step. It doesn’t have to be the support services – it could just as easily be your course supervisor, a student mentor, or making an appointment at your uni’s finance office if you’ve got money worries. They’re here to help you, but you have to ask – and often, that’s the hardest part.
What advice would you have for freshers struggling after their first term? Is there a topic you’d like me to cover in the future? Drop me a comment below!