As a new student, you can get plenty of help from your university - even before you start there
Starting university is a time for both excitement and nervousness. You’re surrounded by so much that’s new: the course, the people, living away from home – and when you’re experiencing something for the first time, it’s natural to feel apprehensive.
This year, you can add all kinds of questions about how university life will be affected by Covid-19 and the associated lockdown.
As you’d expect, universities are used to settling in new students and they’re ready to help. You’ll find financial advisers, counsellors, academic helpers and more – a big part of university is having support available in whatever area of your life you need it.
To help you envisage what that’s like, we spoke to staff and students at City, University of London about how university support services work.
Tom Glynn, senior student advisor at City, is part of a team that helps the university’s students. His team’s remit goes beyond those who are already at the university - they also provide help to people still at the application stage.
“We take calls from our students and prospective students all year round and we have a very proactive community,” he says. “We can either help there and then or find the right specialist who can.”
For many students (and would-be students) going online is the simplest way to track down the support needed.
Tom advises starting with your university’s student hub. From there you are likely to be directed to specialist pages, for example health questions, career advice or information around lockdown learning.
“We also offer online appointments where students can speak to an adviser and get to the bottom of whatever they need,” he says. “That might be accommodation or visas for international students, or anything really.”
Among the specialists at City is a funding team who can provide support on any financial concerns.
“They are experts in knowing what’s available to students, whether it’s travel discounts or childcare grants and council tax reductions,” says Tom.
Mental health and learning support are also freely available: mindfulness sessions, academic writing help, workshops on how to make the best use of the library – you can take your pick.
At City, freshers are invited to a lecture early on where staff from the various support services explain exactly what’s available. “Student health is really important to us, and we want to make sure that they are aware of everything that’s available,” says Tom.
A big part of being happy at university is feeling settled, and many universities offer buddy schemes where new and prospective students can get advice from those a year or two ahead.
At City, freshers can sign up to be paired with returning students (usually who are on the same course).
While the coronavirus continues to change our lives, plans are also afoot to create lockdown-friendly social meetings, where students can get to know people on the same course, or with similar interests.
People who care
New students often need support, but how about those who are settled into university life?
Once you’re established at uni, all those support services are still available to you. But for second year speech and language student Bernadine Buckley, her personal tutor is the one she turns to for help.
“It’s their job to look out for you, but it’s clear they really do care,” she says. “I was really struggling at the end of my first year during exams, and I ended up freaking out.
“I spoke to my personal tutor and said, ‘I think I’m going to fail’. Very quickly I was set up with the counselling people and mental health team.
“Meetings were set up and I felt that I had someone with me every step of the way. You just need to say, ‘I need some help’, and it all falls into place.”
Bernadine has also been keeping in touch with City’s student advisors during lockdown, having been diagnosed with dyslexia just before the university closed in March.
“We’ve been having online meetings to make sure I’m all set up and have what I need. They’ve been so gentle and accommodating.”
Bernadine advice to students is very simple. Whatever stage you’re at, whether you’re still choosing what you want to study, or you’re already a year or two into your degree, if you need help, then ask for it.
“If you want the support it’s there, if you need it it’s there,” she says. “It’s not uncomfortable at all, in fact it’s a bit like talking to a mate.”
About our sponsor
City, University of London is a leading global university based in the heart of one of the most vibrant cities in the world and committed to creating a strong and sustainable student body and workforce. For over 125 years, City has been using education, research and enterprise to transform the lives of its students, community and the world.