LIFE AT university or college can be a lot of fun. For a lot of people "they were the best years of their lives". Studying, socialising, looking after yourself and experiencing life to the full. But what happens if it all goes wrong?

In these circumstances the temptation to throw your hands in the air and scream "I can't cope", may seem like the only alternative. But the reality is that you are surrounded by people only too willing to help.

"Colleges have become a lot better in providing support services," says James Asser, welfare vice president of the students' union. "Most student unions have a student counsellor for dealing with personal problems. Or there are welfare officers to deal with housing problems and financial advisers if it's money.

"The important thing is find someone to talk to before you feel it's all too much and you want to leave."

In fact, your first port of call would generally be your personal tutor.

He or she will listen to you and either help you sort out the problem, particularly if it involves aspects of your academic course, or point you towards others who have more suitable resources to deal with it.

This may be the SU, which, as well as having individuals to help with specific difficulties, will probably also have produced a handbook with useful phone numbers and addresses for anything from rape counselling to drug addiction.

If you're showing signs of depression, your tutor will probably recommend you make an appointment with college's health centre. Likewise if you're concerned about any aspect of your physical health, such as fears you may be pregnant or have contracted a sexually transmitted disease.

If it's something of a more spiritual nature - perhaps you feel you've become distanced from your family, yet still don't feel settled with your new "family" - you could have a chat with the college chaplain. It doesn't matter if you are not religious.

The important thing is don't feel too embarrassed to ask for help or feel as though you've failed. And don't ignore the situation until it gets so out of hand that sorting it out will be three times as difficult. Every year thousands of students experience the same pitfalls, which is why so many support services now exist. One of life's hardest lessons is that bad things happen, and when they happen to you the first time, it can seem as if your world is about to cave in.

With the right support and guidance you'll be able to overcome obstacles that, at first, seemed insurmountable. Not only will you be able to put the troubles behind you, you will also gain strength and self-confidence in knowing that you succeeded. College is all about gaining new experiences. You will experience good times. You may experience not so good times, but if you learn from them, they will be just as valuable.

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