How to settle into the first few weeks of uni

University isn’t for everyone – and that’s ok.

Change can be scary, and stepping out of your comfort zone, leaving home, moving into a new place and starting a new life can seem very daunting.

But starting university can be exciting; you get to make friends, have new experiences and gain independence.

‘Leaving home for the first time is always nerve-wracking,’ says Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo, Nido Student’s in-house psychologist.

‘The familiarity you’ll be used to is replaced by new faces, a fresh routine, and getting to grips with a different city. 

‘As Gauthier Van Malderen of Perlego puts it: “You go from having your parents make all the decisions for you to being on your own, and this can be overwhelming”.’

And while there is truth to that, university is an opportunity to have a fresh start and try something new.

With students across the UK all getting ready to start university this month, new research by Nido Student has found there’s been a significant rise in Google searches relating to preparing and budgeting for university life.

Since May, searches for ‘tips for starting uni’ have increased by 100% and unsurprisingly, due to the cost of living crisis, searches for ‘budgeting for student life’ are also up 100% this year.

In light of this, here are some top tips on how to make the transition to university as smooth as possible

Work with the change

‘The best way to cope when you’re moving away from home is to throw yourself into university life,’ advises Dr Tara. 

‘As opposed to feeling daunted by your new environment, look at it as a fresh start and dive in head first. 

‘It can sound cliché, but it’s true that your flatmates and others on your course will be experiencing similar feelings, whether they’re more adjusted to leaving home or not.’

Remember, you are not the only one who’ll be away from home. 

Dr Tara adds: ‘Everyone else, for the most part, is in the same position as you.

‘You definitely have an advantage over your anxiety in this situation, as you’re not the only fish out of water.

‘Work with the change, as the more you go out and experience, the less unfamiliar the situation will feel.’

Join some clubs and societies

Try going to your freshers fair in the first few weeks of starting uni. They will provide information about upcoming events and socials, and you may find a new sport or hobby to take up.

‘Clubs are a great way to meet people with the same interests,’ says Dr Tara.

‘Choose the activities that you’ll enjoy, as you’ll meet like-minded people there. Try to be yourself.

‘Many people sign-up for clubs and societies they aren’t interested in because they have met someone that is, and they feel desperate to retain that contact.

‘There can be pressure to go out drinking, but if that isn’t what you enjoy doing, there will be other activities that are more suitable for you.

‘There are so many ways to meet new people at uni; it doesn’t end with joining clubs and societies.

‘Be as proactive as possible: Go for coffee after a lecture or cook a shared meal with your housemates. Check out peer-mentoring schemes or talks given by your faculty; they can be a great way to connect with people.’

Try not to rely on family contact

This sounds harsh, but it will help you in the long run.

‘Staying in touch with family and friends is a great idea, but only in a way that will help you remain in a positive frame of mind,’ adds Dr Tara.

‘Calling your family or your best mates is a good idea but try not to lean on them too much.

‘If phone calls make you too emotional, try staying in touch over text throughout the day and update them on how things are.

‘As tempting as it may be to phone home, especially in the first few weeks, it could trigger anxiety and leave you feeling worse. Tackling separation anxiety is all about avoiding the triggers and pitfalls, so focus on the new and forget the old for now.’

You may actually find that the busier you are, the less time you end up having to contact family, and hopefully, there will be a natural shift where talking all the time isn’t necessary for you. 

‘If avoiding or minimising contact with your loved ones is out of the question, then you could consider having a schedule, so you’ll at least know when you’ll be in touch next,’ suggests Dr Tara. 

‘Think about phone calls, texts, FaceTime and emails; how often do you want to be in contact? Scheduling times for these can be helpful, so you have them to look forward to.’

Money worries

Going to uni and suddenly having to be financially independent can be daunting, especially because budgeting isn’t something we are taught in school.

Struggling with finances is very common, especially if your schedule doesn’t allow you to get a job. This can start to become a problem, especially once course materials, leisure time and nights out start to add up.

‘You don’t have to fork out for every textbook on your course reading list,’ says Dr Tara. 

‘There’s a chance your lecturers’ books are on there because they’ll get a cut of the money for every book sold. 

‘[For essential reading] see if you can find second-hand copies or online versions.’

Tips for budgeting from Nido Student:

  • Make sure you’ve applied for student finance if you want to receive student loans throughout your time at university. They help to cover tuition fees and maintenance costs. If you haven’t applied for student finance yet, you can still apply for 2022/2023 now (although you may not receive your first payment in time for the start of the term).
  • Some universities have bursary funds you can apply for throughout the year. Check out your university’s website for any information on whether you’re eligible to apply.
  • Buy a student discount card for the year as they’re valid in hundreds of shops, from restaurants to clothing brands.
    See if you can find any second-hand university supplies. 
  • Make a budget planner – work out your monthly expenses and what you’ll expect to spend on freshers week activities. Once you know how much you need, you can see which events are doable and which ones you can do at another time.

Remember feelings pass

The first few weeks are undeniably the hardest, but as time goes on, things will start to become easier.

As you get used to your new home, new timetable, different routine and flatmates things may even become fun.

‘The first few weeks of uni pass at quite a pace. You’ll be faced with all sorts of unfamiliar emotions and situations, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed,’ says Dr Tara.

‘Remember that feelings change very quickly; there is the initial excitement and nervousness about leaving and starting something new, followed by finding your feet and settling into a routine. 

‘So, don’t worry too much in those early weeks if everything is up in the air – this is really normal.

‘Be kind to yourself. Change happens best in small stages. Realise you are in the process of change. Get accustomed to your new environment.’

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

‘University can be a tough time for some people. If things feel really bad, don’t suffer in silence,’ adds Dr Tara.

‘There are lots of people around you who can help – be it one of your tutors, your GP or a university councillor.

‘Make sure you sign up with a local GP. Use the college’s confidential counselling service to voice your feelings. 

‘Sometimes, you might just need to spend an hour with the counsellor. Sometimes you would like to see them for a few weeks. Luckily, they are well equipped to be able to help people who are struggling.’

Preparation

Tom Davis, Principal at David Game College Liverpool, says: ‘Accept that there is going to be a change or set of changes in your life, and mentally prepare yourself to be open to those changes.

‘If you’re a new student, then get yourself organised – whether this is asking for reading lists from the university or signing up for online resources – start thinking about your subject early so that you can acclimatise to it. 

‘Beyond the academic preparation, think about other ways you can feel ready. Every bit of preparation sorted before your first week is a last-minute panic averted.

‘It’s also ok to feel nervous. Everyone does – even especially the ones who don’t seem to be nervous at all. 

‘University is new to everyone, and they all have challenges they will have to overcome. So, focus on overcoming your challenges, and perhaps also on being welcoming to everyone else – then you might be helping someone else overcome their fears as well.’

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