Everyday worries about starting university (and what to do about them)

students talking in halls kitchen

Students and staff at UEA share their tips for anyone feeling unsure about going to university

Starting university brings with it plenty of excitement. But this will be a big change in your life, and it’s only natural to feel a bit nervous too.
We often see posts on The Student Room’s university life forums from students in exactly this position. They're looking ahead at starting uni and suddenly questioning whether they do actually want to go.

In this article Gemma Ebbage, wellbeing training manager at the University of East Anglia (UEA), and Rabab Hussain, a psychology student at UEA, share their advice on these common themes.

Feeling overwhelmed by the thought of going to uni

Anyone else very scared for university? I'm worrying so much my stomach hurts. I can't help it. I've been offered a great opportunity and would regret it if I didn't go.

JerryAttrick, posting on The Student Room, 25 August 2023

Perhaps you can’t pin down exactly what you’re feeling nervous about, but you’ve got anxiety around beginning this first stage of uni life. 
Nerves are very common at this time, says Gemma at UEA, because this is a period of change and a step into the unknown. “When we look at starting new experiences, our brain forms a negative bias by thinking of the worst that will happen and that something new is something to be feared," she says. 
“This is a survival strategy. Our brains are trying to be helpful and keep us safe, but this can lead us to feel anxious and overwhelmed, with a whole host of mixed emotions.
“So, one of the first things you need to do is acknowledge how you are feeling and accept it as part of the journey. This sounds simple but that doesn’t mean it’s easy! 
“Once we re-tune our thoughts to accept how we are feeling, we are then more empowered to take positive action to manage it.” 
Being open to how you are feeling is one way to challenge fears and anxiety. But you can also take action by really focusing on this next stage in your life.

“Find out as much as you can about the university before going,” says Gemma. “Look through those reading lists, start a budget planner, research the support available for you and all the university events planned to help you settle in. 

“The more you can tip the balance of the unknown and take back control the less it will feel a ‘danger’ to your survival instincts.

“If you find your feelings getting worse once you have started university, make sure you ask for help; there will be plenty of advice and support available to you.” 

Worrying about moving away from home

I’m about to start uni in less than a week and I’m super scared. I feel like I’m already homesick. 

Anonymous student, posting on The Student Room, 29 August 2022

Moving away from home to go to university brings a whole new level of independence. This can be massively liberating, but it also brings a bunch of practicalities to consider, such as cleaning and cooking for yourself. With all this change, there’s always the potential for homesickness to hit. 
“The experience of living away from home has definitely been a rollercoaster ride,” says UEA student Rabab. “Sometimes the independence helps you grow and get to know yourself better, but sometimes it also means there are days when my dishes are piled up or I do not remember the last time I vacuumed – daily tasks I would usually take for granted when I was at home.”

Homesickness can also come from a heightened sense of being 'away'. “Missing out on family events and special occasions means there are days which are tougher to get through," says Rabab. "Especially being an international student, being so far away from home has caused me to have quite a few homesick days.”

Despite this, Rabab says that moving away from home has ultimately been a positive experience. “I’m grateful for having the privilege of gaining this experience and becoming stronger and learning from my mistakes,” she says.

Feeling daunted by the academic workload at uni

I’m worried I might struggle with studying at uni. I was good at A-level...but I was often very anxious and struggled to keep up with the work.

username5874344, posting on The Student Room, 30 August 2022

It won't come as a shock to hear that the academic side of university is more demanding than it is at school or college.

“Work at university is definitely a step up from the workload you are used to at school,” says Rabab. “University studies are more complex and in-depth than they were during school or college. 

“You need to learn and master multiple skills such as critical thinking, analysis and academic precision and you need to be deeply involved with your work at university to achieve a first or 2.1.”

However, you’ll also have a new freedom to focus on exploring the topics that truly interest you. 

“At university you’re more independent with how you go about your studies than you would be at school,” says Rabab. “Assignments are usually more open-ended and you can actually indulge in areas you find more specifically interesting.

“But that also means that now you’re responsible for staying on top of your work and making sure you are well-equipped to complete your assignment. 

“This honestly comes with practice, time and trial and error, so allow yourself that time to let everything sink in for you.”

And if you ever do feel like the workload is getting too heavy, your university will ensure there is help available. 

“If you find you are struggling with workload you can speak to your course lecturers who will be able to signpost you to the most appropriate services within the university,” says Gemma.

“There are many root causes when it comes to struggling with workload and getting the support to help you to identify what those are is always a good starting point.”

Concerns about keeping up with the academic pace

I'll have 12-20 contact hours per week for my course plus all the private study hours on top of that, and I'll need a part-time job so I can actually survive, and then learning to code on the side.

How on earth will I have time to sleep or do anything fun?

dontknowlol, posting on The Student Room, 14 September 2023

Keeping up with that uni workload can be helped by managing your time effectively, says Rabab.

“It's important to stay on top of your work from day one, by just catching up a little bit everyday rather than letting it pile up for later,” she says. 

“My advisor once told me that instead of thinking of an assignment as 1400 words in a week, think of it as 200 words each day.” 

Keeping on top of your work in this way can be made easier by building out your own personal timetable.

“One thing that really works for me is planning out my whole week on Sunday night and making sure I don't fill it up too much, along with setting myself small realistic goals which give me a sense of achievement when I complete them," says Rabab.

“Having your priorities straight and knowing it is alright to take a day of rest if you need it will definitely help you feel more in control of your work. Taking care of your mental and physical health is also extremely important to make sure you do not fall behind.” 

Worries about managing your money

I have no idea how much people need per week for food/going out/books/everything.

nom06, posting on The Student Room, 31 January 2022

A major part of living away from home is being in charge of your own budget. When your student loan comes in, it can feel like a huge amount of money and it might be very tempting to spend it all at once, leaving you scraping by for the rest of the term. Some forward planning can help you steer clear of this scenario.

“I usually try to set up a rough budget at the start of the month so I can keep my spending in check,” says Rabab. “But there have definitely been weeks where I spent too much on ordering takeaways or going out with my friends. 

“But at the end of the day, I have always found a way to balance it out even if that meant saying ‘no’ to a few plans or not buying that Zara jumper that I really like.

“And one thing that has really helped me is meal prepping – this means I eat more at home rather than ordering out on a lazy day.” 

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Feeling unsure about making friends at university

I'm nearly done with sixth form and will be going to uni this September and I'm worried about making friends. 

Guitar_Nerd, posting on The Student Room, 12 May 2023

Finally, a really common concern. In fact, this one is so common we're tempted to say everyone experiences it. Will I make any friends?

It's natural to feel a sense of trepidation about going into an environment where you don't really know anyone. But guess what? Pretty much everyone else is in the same position.

“Getting lost in the crowd was one fear I had, especially because I was travelling half-way around the world to attend university," says Rabab. "But when I finally got here I realised there are so many people in the same boat as me.

“University honestly provides you with so many opportunities to mingle with others and make friends, all you have to do is put yourself out there. 

“I would strongly recommend joining a society, taking a taster session for a sport you have always wanted to try or sitting in the kitchen for a bit and getting to know your flatmates, even if it is a little awkward at first.” 

If you want to get a headstart on making friends before university even begins, Rabab advises “finding out if there are any social media groups you could join which have students from the same course, accommodation or interests as you.”

In fact, new UEA students are signposted to online groups where they can meet their coursemates before they arrive at the university.

Remember, there will be always be help available at uni

For any of the common concerns that we've looked at in this article, your university will have student support services to help. If you're feeling worried about the idea of starting uni, one way to feel reassured is by researching these support services before you go. 

“There are lots of different avenues of support available at universities, as ensuring you have a successful and positive experience is at the heart of most universities’ values,” says Gemma.  

“Make sure you do your research on the universities you are planning to attend, so you know what support is available and how to access it should you need to.” 

And if you find yourself struggling with your mental health, you don’t need to be afraid to ask for help. 

“Generally, universities will offer specialist support for mental health through one-to-one appointments, therapy sessions, signposting to external services and much more,” says Gemma. 

“Looking after your mental health is so important while at university so accessing support as early as you can means you can employ strategies to feel better sooner. 

“If you have a pre-diagnosed mental health condition, it’s important to find out how you can be supported to manage this whilst at university and to also know who to contact if you are struggling. 

“Equally, if you do not have a pre-existing diagnosis but are starting to notice a decline in the way you are feeling, ask for help.

“The most important thing to remember is, if you are experiencing any difficulties which are negatively impacting your ability to study and your overall student experience – the university will be able to help.” 

More help if you are feeling nervous about starting university

If you feel like you need more support in managing university worries, the following organisations are among many that can provide help. You might also find it useful to join in with the discussions in The Student Room's student life section

Remember, if you need medical help you can speak to your GP or dial 111. For urgent medical help, dial 999.

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