Some students experience problems as they shift to university. That's why universities help students with a wide variety of conditions

When your teenager starts university you will probably feel mixed emotions as you head home and leave them to settle in. No matter how independent your child appears to be or how ready they are to move on to the next stage of their lives, most parents have some concerns.

Starting university is a rite of passage but students are not expected to cope alone; there are numerous support systems in place to help them adjust.

Freshers' week, is synonymous for students drinking too much and catching 'flu. But there are useful events as well. When students arrive they will find a whole range of activities, talks and information on hand.

Claire Povah from Lancaster University Student Services explains: "We understand beginning university is a big step, so we work very hard during welcome week to make sure students and parents know how to get support. Welcome booklets and web pages are great, but we find live events work best.," she says.

"We introduce students to their major department, where each student will have an academic tutor. We introduce them to their college, which offers personal advisers and 24-hour security. And we use events to promote our support services, such as disability, welfare and careers. Parents can also attend a reception where they can meet support staff face to face. By the end of welcome week, our students and families know where to turn in any situation."

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Friends relaxing on manicured lawn

 

Making friends

Most new students live in halls of residence which is either a room in a self-contained flat within the hall, with a communal kitchen and living area, or they have a single room in the hall and share facilities. Most halls have a warden who is usually an older student, possibly a postgraduate. They are the first point of contact if a new student needs advice or pointing in the right direction.

Being in hall provides the opportunity for meeting people easily: The Student Room website suggests, 'On the first day or two, leave your bedroom door wedged open so it looks welcoming. Don't shut yourself away. If you are shy, make friends with one other person in your hall - maybe your neighbour - and together you can knock on other students' doors and introduce yourselves.'

Freshers' week is an ideal opportunity to join clubs and societies as a means of meeting other people outside of your degree course.

 

Not coping emotionally

All universities have a support system for students who are lonely, homesick, having relationship problems, or have health issues that may be exacerbated by the transition from home to student life. The first of these is the counselling service. This is confidential - no contact is made with parents or anyone else- without the student's consent.

Counselling can be individual but many universities also offer workshops and drop-in sessions; these coincide with key times of the academic year, such as exams, when workshops focus on managing stress. Nightline is a facility that most universities offer: a free and confidential telephone support service manned by trained students which provides support for students between 7pm to 8am.

 

Managing money

One of the biggest learning curves for new students is managing their finances. Student debt is a real concern and if it spirals out of control it can have a devastating effect on academic performance due to the anxiety around it. Universities have safety nets designed to help.

The University of Nottingham is typical of many, offering advice both on its website and in person. Information covers grants and funding as well as part time work through Unitemps, a recruitment agency for temporary work, which offers opportunities to find work on the campus and in the city. The agency can also help students prepare their CV if they are looking for part-time work. The university's website has advice on budgeting, money-saving tips and paying bills. Additionally, there is support in person at their Student Advice Centre.

All universities will advise students on bursaries, government funding and access to their own funds which can help if students have short term difficulties. These include a student support fund, a hardship fund, and a crisis fund; the latter is an interest-free short term loan for students whose circumstances change. The most important factor is that students ask for help and don't allow financial difficulties to be the reason for dropping out of their course.

 

Students with special needs

Students who have learning needs will find they are supported by the student welfare services. Some students will have diagnoses of certain conditions when they start university - dyslexia, for example - whereas for others, assessment is part of the service offered if dyslexia, dyspraxia or similar conditions are suspected.

All universities provide support and that at The University of Lancaster is typical. Dr Leanne Thompson who manages their disability service explains: "The service provides for students with any disability or medical condition. They may have declared this on their university application form in which case we will be in touch with them before they arrive to discuss support. We use the information we have along with a discussion with the student to devise an inclusive learning and support plan which is then forwarded to relevant academic staff. We support students with a variety of conditions, including dyslexia, and medical conditions such as epilepsy, diabetes and depression."

 

Health care

For students living away from home, being registered with a GP is essential. For many students, knowing when to see a doctor or treat an illness themselves can be difficult.

This is why at Freshers' week students are encouraged to register with a GP as soon as possible; they will be given contact details. Many universities have health centres on the campus. These are 'student friendly' with appointment times and services appropriate to students; they provide advice and support around contraception, sexual health and eating disorders, for example. Some universities also take a proactive role in helping students create a healthy lifestyle and will offer support on eating healthily, managing alcohol use and giving advice on drugs. All of these services are on the Student Support or Student Welfare sections of university websites.

 

Academic support

It's easy to forget that in the midst of adjusting to living away from home with other people, students are at university to study. For many, the transition from school where they have been supported by teachers, to studying independently, managing their time and commitment to studying can be challenging.

Universities recognise this which is why all students have a personal tutor, their first contact if they find they struggle with their course. In addition, many universities run workshops on study skills which can include note-taking, essay writing and time-management, and have drop-in sessions where a student can access individual support.

There is also the option of cross-referrals between support services: with the student's consent, academic staff can liaise with the counselling service, or the health and finance support services, if they can help underlying issues that may affect academic performance.

Universities want students to be happy, supported and achieve academic success. A huge amount of support is available and parents should feel confident that their son or daughter will be well-supported if they seek out the help that is on offer.

Case study: 'The disability service has been very supportive'

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Lee Dickson is a final year history student at the University of Lancaster and was diagnosed with dyspraxia in 2013.

"Before I knew I had the condition, I'd coped with my studies by using certain learning strategies but prior to my diagnosis I struggled to perform at my optimal level.

I find reading, absorbing information, taking notes quickly and organising my ideas when writing essays difficult. I also have an aversion to strong daylight and noise. This holds me back in exams especially as I also have poor motor skills.

The disability service has been welcoming and supportive. I arranged a consultation with them quickly, by emailing them with my concerns, which resulted in my being assessed by an educational psychologist. The support I have includes funding through the Disabled Student Allowance; I was awarded a support package which includes computer software - Dragon Dictate - mind-mapping software and a Dictaphone to record lectures. I am also allowed 25 per cent extra time in exams and extensions for my coursework if required. I have one-to-one study skills support which has helped me apply the learning strategies to my written assignments. Any changes to the support I need are facilitated by the Disability Service and they liaise with other departments to represent my interests."

Case study: 'We focus on preventative strategies with workshops at key times of the year'

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Jackie Head, head of counselling (SCS) at the University of Bristol explains the support students can access.

"In Freshers' week students receive an information pack which includes our contact card. We have a wealth of information on the SCS website which includes a self-help section. Here, students can access immediate support by clicking on links from other organisations or by implementing some of the advice directly on the website.

The kind of support offered addresses the range of issues students may experience, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self-esteem and relationships. We also provide individual counselling, workshops, groups and drop-ins. Last year we saw 10 per cent of the university population, which suggests that 90 per cent of students are able to support themselves through emotional ups and downs, helped by peers and a network of first line support from senior residents, wardens, the Students' Union and tutors.

We try to focus on preventative strategies with workshops arranged at key times of the academic year. New students are catered for in September when living in a different environment may exacerbate existing symptoms in some students, such as low mood, anxiety or eating disorders.

Parents and students can be reassured that academic staff and staff in halls of residence can refer students to us if they are concerned. Senior residents undergo training to help them deal with any crisis situations before our support can be implemented. Counselling is confidential but students can choose which level of confidentiality they prefer; we can liaise with tutors or their GP, for example.

Peer support includes Nightline and the Navigation Network where students are teamed up with another student a year ahead of them. The Student Union also offers advice and support.

It is great to be part of the support services within a university. It is a vibrant and diverse community and this client group are often very able to reflect on their emotional needs and are motivated to make changes, so we see really positive outcomes from the work we do.

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