I am currently about to go into my second year at university, and after a very difficult first year I am determined to have a much better second year and to make the most of my time there.
This post is about things that I wish I knew before I started university. Things that surprised me when I started and things that I worried about too much.
I know that everyones uni experience is different, so some of these things won’t be relevant to your experience, but I hope that I can help out some people.
You won’t make lifelong friends instantly.
When I moved to Leeds, I had some high hopes about making some lifelong friends that would be as close as my friends back in Manchester. I was told that, “freshers week will be the best week of your life,” and that, “the first year of uni will be the best year of your life.” For me, this was definitely not the case. I feel like the pressure to have a good time made me feel worse that I wasn’t having a good time. I found it easy to meet people; with the constant flat parties and nights out. But I still ended up spending a lot of time alone in my room. I couldn’t work out why other people seemed to be making such close friends so quickly. I was wondering if there was something about me which made people not want to get close to me. I wrote a blog post about Loneliness at University which goes into this in more detail.
However things did start to get better. I soon realised that a lot of people were in the same position as me, only seeing friends for nights out and spending a lot of time alone. It did take a while but I found a lovely friend group and began to get closer to people that I would now consider as very close friends. I feel like you shouldn’t feel pressured to make friends straight away and you shouldn’t feel down if it takes a while to form friendships as things usually work out in time.
Be careful with money!
I know this is something that everyone tells you but one of the things that caused me the most stress during my first year was money. Although I qualified for the maximum student loan I found budgeting so difficult. It’s hard maintaining a social life and saving money and I couldn’t find a job / felt too unwell to look for a job. However, this year I’ve been applying for jobs over the summer and should hopefully find one soon. I’ve also started using an app called Yolt which helps me track my finances and set budgets for the month. I’m hoping that this year I will learn to be more careful with money so that a huge weight off my shoulders can be lifted and I can enjoy myself without constantly worrying about money.
Prioritise your mental health
As with any form of education, there is often a lot of pressure to focus entirely on studying, even when you’re not in the right head space to do so. Although it is important to keep up to date with coursework / deadlines, it shouldn’t come in front of your mental health! There were times when I considered dropping out of uni to focus on my mental health and although I didn’t, I sometimes found it very difficult to keep up to date with my studies when I didn’t even feel well enough to get out of bed. This year I am going to allow myself to put my mental health first and ensure that I find the right balance of uni and looking after myself.
You don’t need to be going out all the time to keep up with your social life
I had some idea in my head that going to parties and on nights out would make me feel better and feel more connected to my friends. When I felt lonely I thought that drinking and spending time at parties would make me feel better. I realised during my first year that although this is fun it is easy to get into a bad habit of abusing alcohol to find happiness. I definitely think that the whole culture of ‘seshing’ neglects the fact that you have to remember to look after yourself; especially if you’re vulnerable to turn to alcohol when you’re feeling low. I feel like in my second year of uni I will try to do more non-alcohol related things to have fun. However, going out every now and again is okay – as long as you’re not overdoing it to the point where your mental health is deteriorating.
Speak to someone if you’re struggling
This is something that I think is so important. Speaking out about how you’re feeling is something that shouldn’t be as hard as it is. The stigma against mental health makes you worry that you won’t be taken seriously, or that you’ll be looked down on or even classed as “attention seeking.”
I’m really lucky that my university and many others have people to talk to if you’re struggling with your mental health. The wellbeing team at my uni are very helpful and although it is hard reaching out for the first time (and even other times after that) I have learnt that there are many resources available to help me cope when I am feeling low at uni. A big help was letting my course leader know that things weren’t so good so that they could let my tutors know what was going on / why my attendance was slipping. Over summer I have been in contact with the disability team at my uni and now they know more about things that could help me when I’m feeling low and struggling to cope with uni. I’m not sure what the case is with other universities, but I do think more are starting to put in place support systems for those struggling with their mental health. If yours doesn’t yet, there are other people that you can reach out to – including your GP.
Making sure that you’re registered with a GP is also very important – both for physical things and mental health related things. Even if you’re not feeling low at the start of uni, it is useful to be able to book an appointment when you feel like you need to and not having to go through the hassle of registering when you’re in a bad state.
Talking to friends is also something that is so important. However, it is hard to open up to people that you’ve pretty much just met. That’s why I feel like everyone should keep an eye on their friends and reach out to them if you sense they aren’t doing so well. Making sure your friends know that you are there for them and actively showing that you are can be a huge help if someone is struggling.
My first year of university was quite scary at times for me, which makes me anxious for my second year. But I’ve learnt a lot of things and now have better strategies in place for when things aren’t going too well, so I’m feeling more confident for my second year. Good luck to everyone starting or continuing university, and don’t feel bad if your experience of uni is different to what other peoples seem like. Uni is very different for everyone and as you get more used to it you will realise what works for you and what doesn’t. And please, please remember to look out for your friends!