Firstly, I think it’s really important to take a minute (or longer!) to consider whether moving to university this year is definitely the right decision. For most people, it will be – however, if you are unsure, it is important to explore the idea of taking a gap year. I did this completely last minute, but it was the best decision I have ever made, and one I have no regrets about. As I struggled with mental health difficulties at school – primarily an eating disorder and depression, which were particularly exacerbated by exam and academic stress – I needed to take a year out to remove these pressures and focus on myself, before heading back into the education environment, which at times can be incredibly stressful. During my gap year, I ended up working in a great job at a local tearoom for part of the year (which I have since returned to during the holidays to earn a bit of extra money!), then travelled across America in the summer. Both were incredible experiences in their different ways, and really helped to equip me with a wider range of skills and life experiences that I could then take with me to university.
Equally, during my gap year, I was able to spend more time researching and visiting my chosen university for the following year. However, even if I hadn’t had the extra year out, there is still plenty of time to do this after finishing your exams over the summer. This was really useful for me as it meant that when I arrived in September, not only did I know the university campus, but I was also familiar with the city, and knew where things like shops and cafes were, as well as nearby bus stops.
If you are going to university, like I did, with any sort of physical or mental disability that could have the potential to impact any aspect of your university life, it is really important to inform the university of this as soon as possible. For me, this meant contacting the university myself, as I had not declared this on my UCAS application. As a result, I was invited to a transition day, which was organised by my university specifically for students who might need extra support in any way – I imagine other universities also offer similar opportunities. The main outcome for me of this day was that I was able to arrange extra support to be put in place before I even arrived – for example, exam arrangements. This meant that in September when I moved in, it was one less thing to worry about when I wanted to focus on meeting new people and settling in to the workload. However, if you haven’t been able to sort this beforehand, there will always be the chance to do so when you are at university, at any time you may need.
While these are all practical ways to ease your transition before you move into university, there are also many things you can do to help yourself once you have arrived there. Making the most of freshers’ week is so important, not only as this is a chance to meet lots of people, but also as it is a chance to get organised before lectures start. One thing I would advise to anyone is to get registered with a local GP in this time, as you never know when you will need one! As well as this, I would suggest – as cliché as it sounds – getting involved with societies and extra activities your university offers. While most societies will welcome newcomers throughout the year, certain ones (for example, auditioning orchestras) will only take people at the start of the year. As the year goes on, it can be harder to join a group of people who already know each other. This is also a really good way to meet others outside your halls and your course – I made the mistake of not joining many societies, as I found my close group of friends very quickly in halls, and we did everything together. However, over time, I began to wish I had some different activities to do and other people to meet, which I could have had through societies, but I was too nervous to go alone to somewhere I didn’t know anyone!
My final piece of advice for those transitioning to university this year would be to remind yourself that it is normal to have good times and bad. One of the main preconceptions surrounding university is that you will have the best years of your life, make lots of friends, and party hard, but there will also be times when you feel homesick, lonely, and stressed! If you do feel these things at any point (especially during your first year), it is really important to remember that you are not a failure, and that there are so many networks of support you can draw on for help – tutors or other university services, family, friends, medical professionals, and basically anyone who can listen to you!
Rebekah Dussek, University student
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