How to Deal With Problems at University
A-Levels have been and gone; the summer has drifted away; and finally all that excitement has led you here: to university. And now you've started, you might be finding that university isn't living up to the hype. Maybe it's proving particularly difficult, or you might be finding yourself feeling down due to leaving your friends and home behind. Or, perhaps you're a returning student, and you're still finding it difficult to immerse yourself fully in student life. Maybe you're struggling to adjust to the second/third year mentality where your studies are going to be more important than ever before.
The thing to remember is not to worry. Freshers - Don't worry! This is all somewhat to be expected. University is a very different experience to anything you'll already be used to and the environment might take a while to get used to. Some people simply may not be suited to the lackadaisical attitude toward studying, and the endless partying of halls life. Some people may not be psychologically ready for the challenges this new step in your life will bring. Returning students - Don't worry! Your second and third years will be different to your first, and, regardless of whether you enjoyed your earlier year(s), not feeling so engaged having returned is not a big deal. For most returning students, it's now that your work starts actually counting, so this may be a factor, as may the increased workload and reduced opportunities to go out and get drunk.
Get Student Advice!
On this page, students past and present offer their suggestions and advice on how to deal with some of the problems they have encountered at university.
General university problems
Comment: It's my third week at uni now. And I've been through everything all you guys have too.
My first week was alright. I was so busy I didn't really think about home or anything, I was more concerned with where I had to be and when. Although at the end of the first week I was struggling to settle in. I found myself with about 4 hours and nothing to do and I panicked a little. I felt like I hadn't connected with anyone and everyone else had all cliqued off, meaning I would feel like an eternal tag along.
But, after a few bad moments, I decided to get on with it and do what I could. I joined the rugby team, which has been great to meet loads of people whom I at least share one thing in common with. I started lectures and tutorials meaning I had work to keep me occupied and I tried to make myself understand what uni life really is like.
It's often said that uni is non stop drinking partying and sleeping through lectures. It's not. Sometimes you'll have a couple of hours to yourself with nothing to do. So you need to find some way of spending it! Muck about on the internet or do what I did and start watching random boxsets when you have a spare hour. I've just decided to do things on my own terms, spend my days doing things I need to do rather than getting stressed that there's a party going on somewhere else. Most of the time there isn't.
Don't feel like you have to have made friends for life already. It is going to take time. I certainly haven't made friends for life. Stick at it and remember that terms aren't that long. There's nothing wrong with going home either. On the other hand, if you do feel like it is too much and you have spoken to all the relevant people, there is also nothing wrong with dropping out. You have to do what is right for you, no-one else.
Comment: When it comes to organisation, I find these things help:
- I prefer to keep everything in one place i.e. my mac.
- If i need to show a lecturer any work I just take it with me so I don't have to bother tranferring it to memory sticks or e-mailing it.
- I use ical as my organiser but have a uni diary thing as well which is permanently in my bag so when I don't have my mac I can just use good old pen and paper!
- I seem to write a lot of random stuff in stickies.
- Food shopping is done online, it saves a list of stuff I buy regularly so it doesn't take long and saves me trying to carry a ton of bags back to my flat.
- I tend to back up my work every week just incase.
Struggling to engage with your course?
Comment: Mostly, I love my course. I particularly love my minor as I find the politics department and the units they run wonderful [I sometimes think I should have majored in it but nevermind]. However, there is one unit I am having real problems with as we have very little contact time and the lectures are a bit crazy due to the amount of information the lecturer has to cover. Despite it being the longest unit, in historical terms, on offer, I have less contact time for it than any of my other units. As it is a topic I know very little about [and I imagine quite a lot of people feel the same - Middle Eastern and Islamic history from around 400AD not being on the national curriculum syllabus after all] it is hard to understand/keep up with. Writing this term's essay for it is a nightmare.
Doing as many weekly readings as possible and ensuring attendance at all the lectures is how I am engaging at the moment. The lecturer is willing to help people - although he has been away for a few weeks this term - so that is always an option too.
Coping with the workload/motivational issues
Comment: When I was in my third year with my dissertation and other essay work stacking up, I found getting into a strict routine, though hard to start, really helped. By strict, I mean a rigid routine, not one that works you into the ground or all through the night. I found (and find!) mornings particularly difficult, so I set myself a realistic time to get out of bed, usually aiming to be in the library before 11am. Once there it was a case of setting times when I was allowed a break, so working from 11 until 1, then having a lunch break; then working from 1.30/2 until about 4.30, when I'd take a quick computer break, or go to the coffee shop with a friend. Then it was work from 5 until 7/8, depending on how much I had already achieved for the day. Once this was done, I'd go home, have dinner, and relax for the rest of the evening. Separating work time in the library and me time at home, made it easier for me to focus on the work I had to do, while getting into a routine eventually takes away that horrible shock (and fear) of having all that work to do.
Comment: What I do when I have a fair pile of words to write and not many coming is break it down into nicer bite-size chunks. Incentivising is good, but chaining it to 900-odd words will make it seem like a massive mountain. Maybe try writing, I dunno, 100 words - that's a reasonable lump - then having, say, 10 minutes on Facebook or here, have a cup of tea or whatever, then go back and write another 100, give yourself another li'l treat, and so on. Works for me, though you have to be strict with yourself when it comes time to go back to the page. Maybe disable your internet connection in between breaks or something if it's hard to resist that temptation - it can be undone, yes, but the extra step of re-enabling it might just make you stop and think.
Comment: If the workload feels like it's too much, or if you aren't motivated enough to do it, try adjusting any problems that could be contributing to these feelings. Ask yourself:
- Am I giving myself enough time to do the work?
- Would it be better if I set an internal deadline 24 hours prior to any actual deadlines, to ensure things get in on time?
- Do I just not like X topic, or is it the course itself?
- Am I eating, sleeping, exericising and socialising enough?
- Is there anyway I can realistically lessen my workload? (e.g. my tutorial partners and I now always split reading lists, since there's just too much to do otherwise)
You might be amazed at how simple things can make a difference. I found opening my curtains every morning and letting some natural light in made my room seem like a nicer place to work!
If you've lacked motivation for a while, or have been struggling with the workload for a while, it is important to make this known. Don't just suffer in silence. Speak to your personal tutor or anyone with a pastoral care role: a problem shared is a problem halved. Also, uni tutors/lecturers can't help you if they don't know what's going on
Comment: It is quite hard to find the time and motivation for all the readings involved with my course, plus the seminar work and then the four termly essays. It causes me to panic in a manage way! I've found it is important to recognise when you work best and try to time things so you are working at that time. For example, I often find it easier to work around 1am onwards [especially as I often can't sleep then because of the noise from outside] when I can actually focus and do quite a lot rather than trying to force myself to work in the afternoon when I seem to have a natural dip in interest/motivation/energy. Obviously it depends on other time demands and I can fall into the trap of getting very little sleep if I rely on when I work best. For example, the past two weeks have seen me up until around 4/5am each day working and then getting up between 8/9am to go to lectures/seminars/appointments. Rather, I think it would be better to find a few different times when you work best and try to get as much done then as you can, whilst ensuring you take care of yourself/sleep. So, whilst I work best late at night [and always have] I am trying to cut back to these late night sessions, leaving them for when I don't have early starts the next day so I can catch up on my sleep. If you work best in the morning/afternoon/evening then it wouldn't be so much of a problem...
Balancing your studies alongside part-time work/activities
Comment: For me, I've come to university and realised the awesome power of the diary/planner. I can't recommend getting hold of a diary enough! If you have one with a summary view like a year planner then even better. Mark in different colours when assignments are set and due in, mark all of your lectures and note as many other things in as possible. Mark the whole week out on the Sunday evening so you're ready to go on Monday morning. The earlier you do this, the earlier you can see where your gaps are for relaxing and for studying.
Relax time is very important to your well-being and your work. Your concentration will drop after roughly an hour of solid work so take a 10 minute break to check TSR or w.e., and take some longer breaks to watch TV every couple of hours or so just to break the day up. Everything in moderation. Planning can save your degree!
Budgeting your finances
Comment: A good thing to do if you're struggling to balance your finances is work out how much money you've got and how long it should last and then actually stick to only spending that much per week. A good idea would just be to not go out, but if you're in your overdraft due to too much boozing then this probably isn't an option for you! Try to avoid overspending one week if you underspent the week before, because that little extra really could come in useful. Again, when you get your loans and stuff, don't think "OH WOW" and go spending freely, because it'll come back to haunt you. Finally, and I can't stress this enough, keep an eye on your spending, at least checking yoru balance once a week - because I used to work on averages (i.e. I'd spend £12, £12 and £8 and call it £30. It's only two pounds out, but imagine that over a period of months between actually checking your balance, and you end up with a slightly shocked look on your face.
Comment: I'm doing okay, mostly because I have had a budget sheet since the start of term. I have divided how much money im allowed to spend in a week and try not to go over, and if i do go over I HAVE to make it up the week after. I'd advise other people to work out their finances at the start of term and stick to a plan like that.
Username: Georgia gEoRg
Comment: I record everything I spend, everything goes into my phone and then at the end of the week I put it into a spreadsheet and total each month and record where I've spent the money! This is REALLY useful, seriously try it! Turns out that bar essential misc, I spend the most money on food!
Comment: After my [ever increasing] rent, I am not left with very much to last the term. I tend to work out a rough weekly budget, maybe after deducting costs for items like books, trains home etc. Last year I had a spreadsheet set up to record everything I spent with a running total, so I could always see how much I had in the bank and could cut back if I was spending too much. Last year, I managed to make things stretch just about. This year, I haven't bothered and am already overdrawn. So, I will definitely be returning to that system after Christmas.
Beating away those university blues
Comment: I think the worst time I had was coming home after reading week and feeling really lonely, missing my boyfriend ect. ect. but I found going out with my new friends and having an active social life really helps. There have been times when I have cried and wanted to go home, but the next day I generally feel fine. I know this is what I want to do and have so many good friends, its just a case of letting yourself be upset, and then reminding yourself of all the good stuff.
I do think sometimes it is neccesary to have time to myself, I don't go out every night and feel ok saying, "no I don't want to go out". Otherwise I think I would feel burnt out and exhausted.
Comment:I think the worst feelings you get when you're at university are when you're alone. Especially in the first few weeks, the best thing to do is to keep busy and have people around you. That will make you not think of home so much. If something isn't working, then make a change. If you're tired then it's fine to miss a night out, often someone else will be glad you said it and be happy to stay in too. If you don't get on with the people in your accommodation, it's not the end of the world. Spend more time trying to get to know other people, on your course or in a society.
Make more friends and overcome loneliness
Comment: By far, the best way to make new friends is with societies and clubs! I don't have any close friends in halls because I'm never there, but have plenty from societies in the SU. There are usually plenty of socs to join, they'll run regular meetings, frequent socials and many will offer trips away, which is where you really get to make good mates. If you're into sports, then join a sports team, anything you want. It doesn't matter if you don't make it onto a team, because you'll all still meet up regularly and you won't be looked down upon! Remember that it's never too late to get invovled with the SU - if it's March and you're feeling like you're just not making any friends, join a society. It'll probably be cheaper and soon it'll be like you were there since the start of term.
If you're not into sports and socs, then get down into your halls bar or your JCR. There's always people in there, up until the early hours normally, and you'll end up on nights out and finding chill mates in no time.
Make friends on your course. If you're in a lab and you're struggling with the work, ask one of your course mates for help! If you see somebody else struggling, offer to help them. This is a brilliant way of making friends outside of halls and Students' Union groups.
Whatever you do, don't just mope about in your bedroom. This is possibly the worst way of making friends, for obvious reasons. If you're in your room a lot working, then prop your door open with a doorstop (or a crate of beer!) and people will be more inclined to come in for a chat!
Remember that it's never too late to make friends, but really do try to get talking to lots of different people in the first week or two of term, because groups will form, and although people don't suddenly become unsociable, it makes you less confident about joining in the groups.
Smile, make small talk, and you'll be nattering away in no time at all! :)
Comment: Try to involve yourself more with your university life and you will begin to feel less lonely. That doesn't mean going out and getting drunk all the time, that's a common myth about university life. Societies are the perfect place to meet people, and even if you don't hang out with them afterwards, you get to spend a few hours each week with other people rather than cooped up in your room. Perhaps you could make a bit more effort with your housemates/coursemates. Ask people at the end of lectures "what are you doing now?" See if they want to grab a coffee/drink/lunch, whatever. Even if they're busy, they'll remember you asked and will ask you after a lecture another time.
It's not difficult to make friends and it doesn't take much self-confidence to start talking to new people on your course/at your halls. They're new just like you and will probably be feeling the same way. A smile and an innocuous question like "what's your name? / what hall are you in? / what do you study? / where are you from?" can start an entire conversation.
Comment: Joining a society (for me roleplaying) has been the best way to do this as it means I have met people of similar interets, not just the people in my flat who have completely different interests to me.
Comment: Societies/clubs are the way to go! This year, I'm on the committee for fencing and Italian soc., and it's very nice to have a set role which gives you more involvement in the club. It's also an extra motivator when you feel that you can't be bothered. In fact, I'm doing a lot (perhaps too much this year) - as well as fencing, Italian and karate, I'm also doing DofE Silver, Amnesty international, volunteering at a local musuem and volunteering with the RSPB. Whilst it does feel a bit overwhelming at times, I find that getting involved in lots of different stuff is great. Volunteering, especially, allows me to get away from the student bubble for a little while each week too.
Comment: I'm not exactly having a blast so far at uni either. I'm meeting people but not really clicked with anyone yet, but its early days. The thought of quiting has never entered my mind though. You just have to give it time, and more than just a few weeks. Give it until the first term. I got friends who've told me they were miserable for the first six months but are really enjoying themselves now. Think of it as a challenge to keep at it!
Comment: Basically, i came to university expecting it to be the 'best 3 years of my life', make loads of friends etc, was looking forward to it for so long, the excitement was actually quite intense at times, but eh, 2 & half months in im on anti depressants & getting counselling, so didnt go so well as planned. The main reason for this was the fact i'd made no friends at all, and everyone who seemed to like me who i met online previously backed away from me when they saw how quiet i was in real life. So, the first semester has come to an end, i have made not a single friend, very few acquentences, i blame it on a mix of how shy i am and the transition from home life to university life, the transition hit me hard and i started getting some quite extreme mood swings, resulting in episodes of depression and me wanting to totally withdraw from social life a lot of the time, which of course would then make me even more depressed. How did i go about sorting this? Firstly i went to a GP to get these mood swings fixed, prescribed anti depressants and counselling to help with the social anxiety. Also after christmas i plan to join many societies which should get me back on track. I am positive about semester 2 and i hope it brings better luck. Also lack of sleep was really not helping with the mood, so getting proper sleep is important, im trying to fit in 8-9 hours per night now. (I'll edit this some time after christmas to update how it goes)
Comment: I'm not shy and in two years at sixth form I had built up a brilliant group of friends from scratch. So I thought I would easily make lots of friends at uni and have the best three years of my life. This wasn't the case. I thought things were fine in Freshers Week but after that there's kind of no obligation to make an effort with everyone. You figure out who you want to be friends with, and even though I carried on talking, people just gradually stopped making an effort with me and began not to include me. Half way through my first year and I haven't gelled with anyone. I'm very lonely and it makes me really miss college, especially when my friends have all gone off to various parts of the country and are loving their new lives.
It's a horrible feeling and it's eaten away at my confidence. This term I've got through by going home pretty much every weekend. It's not an ideal situation and it is a two and a half hour journey but going home has broken down the days to get through.
I'm at a university where my social pool is very much restricted to a small group of people in my college. But in other places where there's more opportunity to mix I would recommend talking to absolutely everyone. Talk to people in lectures, invite them for coffee after. Join lots of societies. And remember there are always welfare reps out there to help you :)
Coping with illness/disability
Comment:If you become ill, there's a few things you really should bear in mind. Firstly, extenuating circumstances. Get hold of a form ASAP, fill it in and return it. Some schools have a 7-day policy - that's 7 days from when you learn of your illness, not 7 days after recovering. The sooner it's in, with medical evidence, the better. If you do get ill, tell somebody in halls. It doesn't matter whether it's a friend, your halls tutor, a cleaner or whoever - just let somebody know so that they can keep an eye on you and maybe help you out. Vitamins and supplements will work wonders, as will plenty of rest and water. Don't under-estimate this.
If you find that your mental health comes down, then do something as soon as you can. The university will probably have some sort of counseling service - don't be afraid to use this. It will be confidential and you might even be able to take use anonymously. This can work wonders, can be used as evidence in extenuating circumstances and they will have a wide variety of resources to hand to help you out. Don't try and cope with this alone. Don't under-estimate the power of a hug, and try your hardest to get through, because you'll look back and smile later on :)
For those students with a disability, whether it be physical or mental, get in touch with the university/Students' Union before you attend, or as soon as possible otherwise. You may be entitled to extra time during examinations, assistance with organisation of work, coursework itself or getting from place to place. Rooms can be allocated appropriately in university accommodation and you can get the low-down on any access facilities for the buildings you'll be using.
Coping with homesickness
Comment: Everyone misses home, you just have to do stuff to take your mind off it. If you call home constantly and miss everyone and don't make an effort to enjoy yourself then it's going to be worse.
Comment: No one is in the right state of mind a few days into completely overhauling their life to decide whether or not that new life is the right one for them. You HAVE to give it time. A 'gut feeling' that the place/course/people are wrong for you should not be the basis for such a major decision, feeling homesick and wanting to drop out do not mean anything because 95% of freshers feel this in varying degrees and the vast majority go on to love their time at university. You mustn't lose a sense of proportion in your panic - sticking it out until christmas to see how you feel isn't going to kill you, and tuition fees and living costs as a student aren't by any stretch of the imagination vast, not when compared to the cost of living as an adult in the real world which is what, if you drop out, you are going to have to do, you can't just go back to being looked after by your parents forever. It's easy to say you'll get loads of work experience and find a practical path to your dream job if you drop out, but the reality is that doesn't happen, and the great thing about being a student is you have 6 months of the year to gain a degree and 6 months of the year to gain experience. Freshers week and living with a bunch of strangers are not a basis for happiness, but living with friends, being independent, being secure in the bubble of academia and not having to deal with responsibilities outside of it - those things do make you happy, they are the reasons people love uni, and if you drop out in the first few weeks you are never going to experience them. The reality of going back to live at home for the vast majority of people is boredom, regret and a lack of purpose. Do not drop out in the first term.
Comment: I'm not living with any of my friends from first year, and I feel quite isolated. And I don't have a large group of friends anyway (which is presumably why I'm on TSR on a Friday evening). There isn't really any long term solution for that, other than to roll with the punches. In fact, I'm going to break with the idea of 'the best years of your life', and say that, whilst I don't dislike university, I don't have any particular love for it either and won't be sorry to graduate next year. I'm lonely at university, but I'm a bit of a loner - or as I put it, a 'lone wolf', to make myself feel better - anyway, but that's more my fault than the university's.