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How to cope with university life: your questions answered

Getting into university is no picnic. Once you’ve overcome the hurdle of choosing where you’d like to study, writing applications, personal statements and interviews, passing exams, and finally securing a place you’d be forgiven for feeling that the hardest part was behind you.

And there is no doubt you’ve climbed a mountain to get here, congratulations! 

Girl working late, struggling with pressues of university.

However, we hear from lots of you that university life presents a whole new set of challenges that can be equally if not more challenging to overcome.

Here are a few that we hear time and time again and some of our thoughts on how to cope with university life and its challenges.

"My studies are costing the earth and I’m getting into a lot of debt, should I drop out of uni?" 

It’s true, university isn’t cheap and for many of us, it involves a hefty loan and a requirement to pay it back over time once you’ve graduated. This amount of debt can feel pretty scary and a huge commitment, and if you’re questioning whether it is all worth it you wouldn’t be the first.

Balance out your options

It’s not an easy question to answer and people make a range of different decisions. Lots of students feel that the experience they get from such an intense period of study sets them up for life and gives them skills that will hugely benefit them in their careers and also throughout life. Others decide they would prefer to avoid the initial debt and jump straight into employment. 

Thinking through your own career path and where you see yourself going in life is a good starting point for understanding what is best for you. Only you can make the decision about whether you want and need to study and of course whether you are going to enjoy the process too. 

Talk to your university

Money is one of the biggest sources of stress at university. If you are finding it hard to cope financially at university it’s important to speak to someone at your place of study for some advice and support.

If your studies are suffering because you are struggling with money, they should be able to find ways to ease the burden and help you make the most out of your course.

There are often lots of ways that universities can support you, whether it's financially or with help to manage your time and deadlines whilst working. Some universities also offer paid study-related employment and it’s worth exploring all of these options.

There are also ways to study that are specifically designed to support you to work alongside them, like distance and part-time learning. 

"Living on campus isn’t what I thought it would be like and I’m feeling really lonely at uni" 

For lots of us going to university is our first experience of living away from home and it can be an intense and very different one. University life is not just about learning and partying! There are lots of additional pressures on our time cooking, washing, shopping as well as meeting and forming friendships. 

University accommodation can be isolating and we’ve heard from lots of you that there are days where you feel you haven’t really seen anyone or had an excuse or motivation to leave your room.

That can be really tough. Especially when you are dealing with the pressures of studying and potentially feeling a little homesick too. 

For those living at home and for mature students, the isolation can be equally real. Studying on your own away from other students or the university infrastructure can be quite tough. You're getting all the stresses of university life without some of the key benefits of meeting new people and making connections.

How to feel less lonely at university

It can be easy to feel lonely at university and making friends isn’t always straightforward, and it might have been a fair few years since you last had to meet new people. You might not find people you click with right away but these things take time and you will get there.

Here are some ideas to feel less lonely and live your best university life:

  • Clubs & societies. Joining societies and clubs can feel a little forced but it can be a great way to meet people with similar interests. 

  • Common areas. Trying to find time to venture to common areas during the day and to give yourself structure to the day can help with isolation and you may well find there are lots of people feeling in a similar situation.

  • Study spots. Mixing up your study location and making use of your university or local library can also be a great way to feel more integrated. 

"Everyone here is so exceptional, how do I stop comparing myself to others?"

Moving from school where you’re part of a very diverse group of people to a study environment where you are part of a group of students who have all achieved similar grades can be a bit of a transition.

The academic challenge has often stepped up and it’s easy to look around and think everyone is working so hard, is finding it so easy, and is so… Well, "exceptional". It can be a big source of stress at university when you've just started. But it's far from the truth!

Now that isn’t to belittle anyone in any way. In fact, everyone who has made it this far deserves a huge pat on the back, as we’ve said, it’s no mean feat. However, we as human beings have a natural tendency to sugarcoat things to those around us whilst quietly battling away internally.

So before you panic too much remember that things aren’t always what they seem for people. You might be feeling like you’re the only one finding things tough but we’d bet you that most people are feeling a little like this. 

How to overcome imposter syndrome at uni

There is a term called imposter syndrome, it crops up a lot during working life but it also applies here too. It’s the feeling that we don’t belong, that somehow we fluked it to get where we are and it’s only a matter of time before we get found out.

That feeling that we’re not actually good enough to be where we are. The good thing about imposter syndrome is that it’s just a mirage, a trick our minds like to play on us. The reality is that you do deserve to be here. 

The second reality is that not everyone is the same. And what a boring uninteresting world it would be if we were! But everyone brings something brilliantly unique to life, and that’s why it’s impossible and not really a great idea to start comparing yourself to others. Focus on you. 

"I feel under such immense pressure to do well now I’ve made it here."

You’d be hard-pressed to find a student who doesn’t at some point feel the pressure of university stress. It’s par for the course and a little bit of pressure here and there helps to motivate and drive us to do the best we can.

However, pressure can become overwhelming very quickly and these feelings can spiral. Many students have described feeling paralyzed by pressure. And this pressure can take many forms, from family, from tutors, from friends but perhaps most importantly from ourselves. The stakes feel very high and when it comes to exam time it can feel like our whole futures are on the line. 

This is super tough to manage and for some of us, this can feel almost impossible to navigate, especially as we feel the pressure taking its toll and affecting our performance. Just when we need to excel our bodies and brains seem to go into shut down. We can’t sleep, eat or focus. It’s challenging, to say the least. 

How to reframe university stress

One way to start to overcome this is to reframe things and force ourselves to zoom out a little on life. We can get so caught up in the moment and what is happening right now that it’s very easy to lose perspective and feel that indeed your entire life and future happiness depends on your performance in these next set of exams. 

The truth is that what makes us happy in life is very rarely based on how we perform in exams, the grades we get and to a certain extent even the careers we go on to have. Feeling content with life is much more related to our wellbeing, finding purpose and enjoyment, and spending time with people who we love.

Imagine yourself ten years from now. Will you remember this exact day or exam? Chances are probably not. Your degree and studies are important and of course, you want to achieve the highest grade you can but your future success is just as much based on who you are as a person and your definition of what success even looks like may change many times throughout your life. 

Self-care and taking time for yourself can also really help you manage pressure. Meditation can make a huge difference and with guided apps like Headspace, you can work through at your own pace and even choose meditations specific to how you are feeling. 

Getting enough sleep is also critical to coping. Apps like Calm will play you soothing sleep stories to help you drift off and distract your mind from overthinking until the early hours. 

You're not alone in struggling with university life

We’re often led to believe university days are the best of our lives but that simply isn’t true and it really isn’t that simple! University life can be really tough, for all sorts of reasons.

You will likely have great experiences during your time there and at times you might find yourself having the time of your life! But at times you won’t and that’s okay too.

Remember: you are NOT alone. There is nothing weird, or unusual about how you are feeling and many others will be also feeling the same. It’s not always easy to talk about it which is why sometimes people’s struggles remain hidden. Hopefully, by sharing the realities of university life little by little, we can all start to feel a little bit less alone with its ups and downs.


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