A young person lost in thought while sitting with their group of friends who are talking together.

Tips for navigating life as a first-year university student

7 min read
11 November 2022

Topics mentioned: looking after yourself at uni, anxiety, autism and mental health

Authors: Jess, 18, Kerry, 18, and Aimee, 18

About: Moving away from home and starting university can be difficult, but you're not alone. Our bloggers share their tips for first-year university students.

Although university has been a big change for me and it has come with its challenges, I was able to find support and get used to my new surroundings.
Jess

Find out what support your university offers

Jess, 18

Moving away to university is a huge change and can be difficult. As someone struggling with anxiety and on the waiting list to be tested for autism, university is particularly challenging.

My first week at university was incredibly nerve-racking. I felt like I was alone and had no support when I was struggling. I moved quite far away from home and found it hard to adjust to my new normal. Although university has been a big change for me and it has come with its challenges, I was able to find support and get used to my new surroundings.

Be patient with yourself

For anyone who is moving to university this year or has just started their application process, it is a difficult journey, but you can do it. I realised that my university offers a great deal of support for mental health and there are people I can reach out to.

Two young people standing together and smiling, one has their arm around the shoulder of the other.

We are always very hard on ourselves, and we are expected to adapt to change very quickly. While this is easier for some people, for the majority of us, change is very difficult, and that is completely okay. We need to be patient with ourselves as we take this journey at our own pace.

Struggling with things such as change and mental health are completely normal and it is okay to feel this way. There is no right way to feel during this transition, and everyone is going to have a completely different experience of starting university. That doesn’t mean how you are thinking and feeling is not normal.

Struggling with things such as change and mental health are completely normal and it is okay to feel this way.
Jess

It gets better

Even though the first week of university was a challenge, it does get so much better. Take it one step at a time, and give yourself time to adjust. All you can do is try your best.

It’s important to talk to someone you trust and reach out for help with anything you are struggling with. While university is an opportunity to better your education, don’t forget to have fun. Good luck to everyone who has started university - you’ve got this!

Living on my own has forced me to be bold, even if it does mean I have to start small, and I’m achieving so much.
Kerry

Tips to make starting university easier

Kerry, 18

I recently started my course at university. While this is an exciting new chapter in my life, it is a daunting one for students all over the country. I picked a course at a university in a whole new city, so as a person with anxiety who finds comfort in familiarity, moving out has been a challenge. Here are a few tips I’m learning as I go to try and make it a little easier.

Whatever accommodation you’re in, try to make it your safe space. For me, this involved blankets and fairy lights, as well as lots of pictures of my loved ones. Whatever you need to do to claim your space will make it feel more like home. It was also an incentive for me to move in, as I was excited to decorate my room how I wanted.

I was lucky enough to have my family help me move in, so we used the time to explore a little. I won’t lie, this was very overwhelming for me, but having my family with me to make plans to visit each new place helped me change my perspective.

Finding these places meant I could see the semester in windows until someone visited me, instead of feeling like I was moving out forever. Even after they had left, things like Google Maps and the internet meant that I could still find places to show people.

My mum has a little joke about the ‘new me’ I’ll become now that I’ve moved away. While I’ll always be me, it is nice to envision this blank slate. Living on my own has forced me to be bold, even if it does mean I have to start small, and I’m achieving so much: meeting new people, handling busy highstreets, managing my own life.

And when I find myself feeling stressed, I have the freedom to go at my own pace, whether that means abandoning the task entirely, or putting my earphones in to distract myself. Each time I push a little harder, I can feel proud of myself for making the progress.

No one reacts the same to such a huge change, but whatever you’re feeling, know that it’s valid, and there are ways to help you through it. Trust yourself and be brave! This is just the beginning of your new adventure.

It’s so easy to see everyone else having an amazing time with loads of friends and wonder, why don’t I feel the same?
Aimee

How I challenge negative thoughts

Aimee, 18

Starting university can be a wild, exciting and scary experience. There’s a lot of pressure to make friends immediately and understand your course, while also cooking for yourself, doing laundry, shopping, exams… the list goes on. As a recent Fresher myself I completely understand the mixture of feelings when experiencing change.

It’s so easy to see everyone else having an amazing time with loads of friends and wonder, why don’t I feel the same? That’s definitely how I’ve felt over the past month. I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong; was I missing something? What is everyone else doing that I’m not? These thoughts then spiral into, ‘Am I the problem?’

I am still struggling with these thoughts, because I know this is a huge change for me and they aren’t going to disappear overnight. I wanted to share some things I’ve found useful, and hopefully you’ll find something comforting and reassuring too.

Create a memory jar

I love taking photos. I love looking back through them, smiling and remembering all the good times. So unsurprisingly I’m obsessed with getting as many photos as I can whenever I do something. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out, and I stress that in the future I won’t remember all of these happy times.

The solution I came up with was to use a jar (I have many from many failed cooking attempts). Every time I made a happy memory, I’d write it down and place it in the jar. It’s so easy to focus on all the negatives, on all the things you haven’t done or the things you’ve missed. I’ve found this technique has really shifted my mindset when I’m feeling particularly low.

The jar is almost a quarter full and it’s only been a month! Also, writing down the memories can have a positive impact on how you’re feeling. I put on some of my favourite music, dim the lights and sit with the happiness of reliving the experiences. It’s a very unique yet effective form of self-care, and for anyone struggling, I’d highly recommend this.

Learn more about self-care
Try not to put so much pressure on yourself to know everything or have everything figured out immediately. I think you’re doing great.
Aimee

Your journey, your timeline

Give yourself credit for how far you’ve come in such little time. You’ve adapted to change in every way. It’s easy to compare yourself with everyone else, but I promise you aren’t alone in how you’re feeling. You aren’t going to have everything figured out at the start - university is a journey, and it's yours.

It may take a while to adapt, or it might have already happened for you. What matters is that it's yours. Your timeline and experience will be completely different from the person next to you, because these next few years can be whatever you want them to be. Try not to put so much pressure on yourself to know everything or have everything figured out immediately. I think you’re doing great.

More information and advice

We have tips and advice to help you find the support you need. Take a look at our guides.

Where to get help

However you're feeling, there are people who can help you if you are struggling. Here are some services that can support you.

  • The Mix

    Offers online information as well as helpline support to under-25s about anything that’s troubling them.

    Email support is available via their online contact form.

    Free 1-2-1 webchat service and telephone helpline available.

    Opening times:
    4pm - 11pm, seven days a week
  • Youth Access

    Provides information about local counselling and advice services for young people aged 12-25.

    Just put in your location and what you need help with into their 'Find help' search, and see what services are available in your area.

  • Student Minds

    Supports students to look after their mental health by providing information and advice.

    They also provide details about local services offered by universities and information on how you can access support group programmes.

    You can call or email for more information (this is not a helpline).

Thanks for sharing your story Jess, Kerry and Aimee

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