Eight tips for beating your nerves about starting university in 2020

back of student walking towards university

Lots of students will be feeling anxious about starting university this year – here are a few common scenarios you might be worrying about, and how to deal with them

It’s only natural that you might be feeling nervous about starting university this year – leaving school, making the leap up to degree-level learning and potentially moving away from home is a big deal in regular years, let alone when we’re in the middle of a pandemic.

Here are some specific scenarios around starting university in 2020 that you may be feeling anxious or unsure about, along with tips to help you feel better.

university student in an online lecture

Find out how you’re going to be learning

The unknown is always a bit scary, so understanding how you’re going to be learning might help put your mind at ease. Most universities should have either sent you this information by now or published it on their website.

Lots of universities will be offering blended learning, with large lectures likely to be held online and smaller seminars in person – although this could, of course, change at any time depending on the latest lockdown rules.

If you’re not happy about learning online, it’s worth bearing in mind that it could have a few unexpected benefits.

We spoke to some university students at the beginning of June to find out what learning in lockdown was like, and they told us that virtual classes gave them more control over their schedule and helped them develop their time management skills. You can read the full article here.

If you don’t have easy access to the internet or a computer at home, you should get in touch with your department as soon as possible – most universities will have plans in place to help make sure that all students can take part in online learning.

On the flipside, you might be feeling fine about online lectures but full of nerves when it comes to in-person teaching. The best thing you can do here is talk to your university about how you’re feeling and see if they can offer you any alternatives.

stationery, face mask and hand gel laid out

Plan to stay healthy and Covid-safe, but know what to do if you get sick

If you’re feeling anxious about getting sick, it’s good to have plans for both trying to stay healthy and for what you’ll do if you fall ill.

First of all, make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date before you get to university – the big ones are tetanus, measles, mumps and meningitis.

It’s also worth visiting the dentist for a check-up and any treatment you need done before term starts.

If you’re moving away from home for university, make sure you register with a GP or the university’s medical centre and – if you can – a local dentist as soon as you get there.

You might find it slightly trickier to get registered with a local dental practice though, because of the huge backlog caused by the lockdown closures.

In terms of day-to-day life, make sure that you regularly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, try to stay at least two metres away from anyone you don’t live with and keep your hands away from your face when you’re out and about.

You can read the full NHS guidelines on stopping the spread of coronavirus here.

Be aware that you might get freshers’ flu – this is a normal cold that will go away after a few days.

But if you think you could have coronavirus, get a test and stay at home with no visitors until your test results come back – only leave home to have a test. 

You shouldn’t be stuck at home waiting for your results for too long – the wait time is within 48 hours if you get a swab taken and within 72 hours if you send off a home test. 

Here’s all the latest NHS information and advice about coronavirus, including the symptoms you need to look out for.

Additionally, there are a few essentials you should always pack every time you head outside. This thread also lists some useful suggestions.

  • Face masks – pretty much anytime you’re out and about, you could end up needing to use a face mask. If you can, it might be helpful to have a couple of spare or disposable ones that you keep in your most-used bags and coat pockets so you’re never accidentally without one.
  • A travel-sized bottle of antibacterial hand sanitiser – because you never know when you’ll need to wash your hands but there are no working sinks in sight.
  • Moisturiser for your hands – all that hand-washing can be pretty rough on your skin, so make sure you moisturise them regularly to stop them from getting too dry and sore.
  • A packet of tissues – in case you’re struck with the urge to sneeze or cough. Make sure you bin the tissue as soon as possible after you’ve used it and that you either wash your hands or use your antibacterial hand gel afterwards.
university students standing in halls kitchen together

Familiarise yourself with your university’s rules around coronavirus

Getting a handle on your university’s coronavirus-related rules might also help ease your fears around safety issues.

There will likely be guidelines specific to Covid-19, and you might find that some things have been banned this year specifically to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

Students in halls at UCL, for example, are not allowed to have social gatherings or parties in halls, while those studying in Greater Manchester have been warned that they will face sanctions if they break social distancing guidelines.

You can also take a look at our article on what university will be like when the new term starts to get more of a feel for the kind of things your university might be doing to stay Covid-safe. 

student working on laptop

Keep up-to-date on the latest government guidance

As well as having a good understanding of your university’s rules, make sure you’re familiar with the latest government guidance on coronavirus and social distancing.

Your student flat or house will count as a household under coronavirus guidelines, meaning that you don’t have to follow social distancing guidelines around your flatmates.

You will need to follow social distancing guidelines when it comes to spending time with people who aren’t in your household though, and this includes how many people you are able to meet up with, and whether you’re allowed to be together indoors or if you’re meant to keep it outside.

Be aware that the government guidance can change fairly often – one day you might be allowed to meet up with mates from a few different households and the next you could be limited to just hanging out with your flatmates again.

You can find the government’s regularly updated FAQs on coronavirus restrictions in England here. Here are the guidelines for Scotland, the guidelines for Wales and the guidelines for Northern Ireland.

university students laughing together

Have a plan for handling awkward situations

You may be worried about ending up in a situation where you’re facing pressure to do something you’re uncomfortable with. Your new housemates might be pushing you to go to a massive house party, for example. Even a gathering of a few different households in a park could be breaking social distancing guidelines, depending on the current rules.

The most obvious solution is to let them know that you don’t want to catch Covid-19 or potentially contribute to spreading the disease, so you won’t be joining.

It can feel scary to stand your ground and say no like this, especially when you want to make new friends. Most people will be perfectly reasonable though, and accept how you feel without making any fuss.

If you’re worried about missing out on socialising or seeming standoffish, you could offer to do something else with them once you’ve explained why you don’t want to join their plans. You could suggest a pizza and movie night in your flat, for example, or a mini housemates-only party.

Some of you might also be nervous about drinking alcohol – whether because it feels too risky during a pandemic or you just wouldn’t fancy it anyway. We’ve written some tips for not drinking during Freshers Week.

university student making notes at her laptop in the library

Don’t worry too much about getting back into the swing of academia

You probably haven’t set foot in a classroom since March, so you might be feeling nervous about coping with the demands of your course.

Everyone will be in the same boat here, though, and universities know that this year’s intake will have had a longer gap after finishing school or college than usual. Most will have plans to help support you through this – both academically and in getting used to university life more generally.

We spoke to a selection of university lecturers, admissions teams and current students to get their tips for feeling prepared for university life after the school closures.

university students wearing face masks and talking to each other

Know that you’ll still be able to meet people and make friends, even with social distancing guidelines

Every year, the prospect of making friends – or not – is a common concern among freshers. And in 2020, it might feel particularly pressing.

With most universities moving the majority of their freshers events online, how are you meant to even meet new people, let alone make lifelong pals with them?

Again, the key thing to remember here is that everyone is in the same situation and will be equally keen to forge new friendships.

You’ll be able to socialise with your flatmates, for starters – under government coronavirus guidelines, your flat or house will count as a household.

And when it comes to meeting people who you don’t live with, you can get involved with online events and join societies. Get an idea for the kind of stuff that might be happening with our article on what Freshers Week will be like this year.

You could also try following your students’ union or any societies you’re interested in on social media to virtually meet other members.

On TSR, you can find your university and chat to other students here, start a conversation with other students taking your course here or just talk about life as a university student generally here.

For more practical advice around getting buddied up, take a look at these tips from TSR members and these Freshers Week suggestions from students.This thread is also full of suggestions to help you make friends at uni

university student sitting alone on laptop and wearing a face mask

Stay on top of your mental health

It’s really important to stay on top of your mental health, especially when we’re living in such a climate of uncertainty and constant change.

If you feel like things are getting on top of you and you’re struggling to cope, you could get in touch with your university’s wellbeing service. They might be able to offer you counselling, as well as advice on general issues such as settling into student life and handling your finances.

We have articles with expert advice for students dealing with depression and for students dealing with anxiety – although neither of these are specific to coronavirus.

If you need urgent help and you’re in the UK, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 or email [email protected]

More useful links


Is there anything else you’re feeling stressed about that we haven’t covered here, or do you have any words of reassurance to share? Let us know in the comments!

Ask a question in the University life forum
Your question will be posted in the University life forum
Awesome! Your question has now been posted. View your post here
  1. Please choose where you want to post your question.
    Please choose your study level.
    Please enter what your question is about.
    Please enter your question.
    Your message must have two characters or more.
People are talking about this article Have your say