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Off to University?

by Liv – 29th Aug 2018

As a student going into third year at university, I’ve had several points at which my mental health wasn’t so good. University can seem like a big step up from sixth form or college, and it can be really daunting if you don’t know what to expect; I know, as I felt the same way. So, here are some of the things I’ve experienced at university that impacted my mental health.

Doing everything and having to ‘make the most of university

When I first started, I felt this great pressure to join every society that interested me, attend any part-time and careers awareness activities, and have a massive group of friends that hung out every night. I pushed myself to go to every society meetup, asked as many questions about career paths as I could, and was really hard on myself when I didn’t ‘click’ with my flatmates in accommodation. This made me really tired and my mood was really low, so I started to blame myself, thinking that I was a failure for not ‘making the most of it’. In reality, everyone’s experience is different and we don’t all live the ‘uni dream’ that’s sold to us on Open Days and on adverts.

Variety of open day and student print material

I started only going to the society meet-ups that I was actually interested in, such as the Pokémon society, because I realised attending all the meetings wasn’t making me happy, and I didn’t have to go to everything. I also cut myself some slack, that I didn’t have to have a career planned out from the beginning of university and I could just apply for jobs I actually enjoyed and see where life took me. Lastly, and most importantly, I realised that if I didn’t get on with my flatmates that wasn’t a problem, I didn’t have to make friends instantly.

After I was kinder to myself, I actually really started to enjoy university. I realised societies weren’t for me, I’d rather find my entertainment through work and planning events, and by just letting life happen I found out that I’d really like to go into research, as I’d enjoyed all the research I’d done during my degree. I also made some amazing friends at the end of first year, and it doesn’t matter that it took me a while to ‘find my people’, because the friends I’ve made I really cherish.

Readings, assignments and deadlines

I was really overwhelmed in my first few weeks at university, with more readings per week for seminars than I’d done during my A-Levels, and I really struggled balancing all my work with maintaining a positive mental state. I even briefly thought I’d made completely the wrong decision to go to university, that I wasn’t the ‘star student’ I thought the university wanted me to be.

However, what worked for me was, again, that I cut myself some slack. I spoke to my subject tutors who really reassured me and told me that everyone struggles when they first start university, no matter how confident the other students seemed. I created a timetable for myself, so that I could complete the readings for seminars each week whilst also allocating myself some ‘chill time’ where I could really just relax and look after myself. I started my essays in enough time so that when I started struggling with what should an essay have in it, I could talk to my tutors who were able to give me really valuable guidance. I also didn’t beat myself up for not getting top grades; I reminded myself that I was here to learn, and every assignment and every presentation was a chance to learn something new and improve for next time. So, if you feel like you’re the only one struggling and everyone else just ‘gets it’, then you’re not alone; starting university is a really daunting experience for everyone.

Brochure for university students to advertise counselling services and disability advice

And finally…

So starting university is a big step, and you might feel the pressure to ‘do it all’ and have a great social life and great grades. Just remember that your university experience should be unique to you. Only do activities that you actually enjoy and don’t mind spending time on, don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t an academic whiz kid immediately, and if you feel like you’re the only one struggling… you really aren’t, there are plenty of other students feeling the same as you.

If you are still worried, this useful guide on MindMate about going to college or university can help.

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