Freshers' blues: don't suffer in silence
Wednesday 13 August 2008
If you're having trouble settling into university, support networks are there to make life easier.
The first term of any university course sees the largest number of dropouts for understandable reasons. Some are obvious. Until you get there, it is impossible for you freshers to have any real perception of whether the university or the course you have chosen is right for you and you are committed to being there a long and expensive time. All the pressure through sixth form has been to make the right decision.
If it turns out to have been the wrong one you feel like a failure, particularly if your choice was encouraged by a respected teacher or your parents.
Some blue moments will happen even to the toughest: the case-hardened who have done adventurous gap travelling or those used to being away from home – for instance, boarders. Fortunately, there are simple rules of thumb for dealing with all but the worst worries.
You are not alone
The first is to remember that the hundreds of other new students milling around looking horribly confident are almost certainly feeling like jelly inside too.
Then you need to ensure you make yourself open to the friendships that beckon and be ready to ask for help quickly if you’re unhappy.
The friendship rules are the same as anywhere. Dress to be noticed by the sort of people you want as friends. Always be ready, door open, hospitality on offer, so that people know you are sociable. Remember, you need to offer the hand of friendship as well as being ready to accept it.
Your university will have mechanisms to help too. High drop-out rates damage the institution’s reputations. They therefore have well-tested systems to spot and deal with unhappiness before it becomes a dropout situation.
The new social networking sites that let students contact others about to go to their university will almost certainly help to overcome some inevitable doubts. Then there is freshers’ week. These fairs are not just designed to let new comers get rowdy with their peers. Their purpose is to create the networking links to let students settle into a good university life and learn where support exists.
The freshers’ week stalls will include ones that give all sorts of advice – social, financial and academic. They’ll include the National Union of Students. Its website, www.nusonline.co.uk, includes not just advice but links to www.horsesmouth.co.uk, an impressive mentoring website which people join anonymously to offer advice. The NUS has advice online on topics from health, including current issues such as mumps, to housing, emotional problems and to where to seek help if you really don’t like where you have landed.
The NUS office in each university is staffed partly by people still at or recently graduated from that university, some volunteers, some on a sabbatical year and some salaried. NUS officers will know not just the general problems of university life, but the specific ones of their institution and they usually run a bar on campus. Even if you don’t drink, going to the bar to meet people makes sense.
The university admissions office, the departmental structure for each subject and the medical, psychological and chaplaincy services are all geared to catch those who are unhappy in their first weeks and every university has its own website. Tutors expect to be approached by newcomers who are concerned that they really do not like the subjects they have signed up for. They expect to shift people around, particularly in the first term.
Some universities have specific schemes. The medical school at Nottingham University, like others, has a scheme all medics must join, in which a second year student is allocated to each new student as a “medical parent”. An introduction is made in freshers’ week and your parent gives you the low-down on social activities and courses. And there are family social gatherings, where you get together not just with your “parent” but with their “parent”, your “grandparent”.
These sorts of mentoring schemes offer social and academic help. Each university also has a medical and psychological support network, some designed increasingly to help mature students, who arrive with a quite different set of problems, particularly if they have a family whose needs they balance against their degree course.
Plus, there will always be a special needs department which exists not just to provide support for disabilities that have already been identified, but also to identify problems schools have not noticed. A lot of the newer universities do fantastic work picking up problems like dyslexia and get appropriate support.
Again, it is worth asking for advice. Be proactive in your own help. This is not bad advice for any fresher, with or without an obvious problem. Don’t expect the world to come to you.
- See your university website for links to support organisations
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