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Eight scary things about university

Happy Hallowe’en!

With the season of frights and callow fearfulness upon us, we thought we should look at the things people find scary or worrying about going to university, so new arrivals know it needn’t be a horror-show.

I’ll be all alone in a strange place

Yes, you will. You won’t know anyone there. But you know what? Neither will anyone else.

Some people are naturally quite shy, and may watch with a little despair while the other freshers gather into small groups and look like they are having a great time minutes after they arrive. Or you may be one of those garrulous people who breezes around naturally gathering an audience. It doesn’t really matter either way: you will spend your first couple of days talking about what A levels you did and where you come from (probably in that order). You will likely spend your second and third years trying to lose the friends you made in your first year. It happens to everyone.

Find out what clubs and societies can bring you into contact with like-minded people. And remember you’re on a university course, which means you’re already surrounded by like-minded people. It’s a very artificial scenario, being plunged into a whole new social scene like this. You wouldn’t expect to make firm friends instantly at any other time, so there’s no need to rush it in the first few days.

Here are some First Day stories from the NUS website to put you at ease.

I want my mummy!

Homesickness is nothing to be ashamed of. You may meet some students who seem not to be missing home at all, and think they must be the coolest people. But you never know about people’s circumstances – if someone has become used to not living with their family, it could be because of some misfortune even if it helps them adjust to uni more easily.

No, it’s perfectly natural to feel homesick. Don’t let it tear you up. Talk about it, either with friends or counsellors – and make time to keep in touch with home so you can talk to them about it, too.

It’s very easy to say: “It will pass.” But it will, especially if you can talk frankly and easily with someone about it. You won’t find any shortage of sympathetic ears! And don’t make arrangements to call or Skype home and then fail to keep them because you’re too caught up in Fresher’s Week, or whatever. That will just cause worry.

Still, when you’ve got too caught up in Fresher’s Week to call home, you’ll know the problem isn’t so big, right?

Here’s some advice from a Daily Telegraph relationships expert on the subject.

Don’t go into that spooky-looking house!

Accommodation is a big worry for many, particularly with ongoing news about high rents and shortages of spaces.

You need to be realistic in your expectations. It may seem that universities are rushing to build swanky new digs for their students and surely everyone will therefore live in luxury, but you need to be careful not to put yourself in difficulty living somewhere you can’t afford. If you’re a teenager or in your early 20s and living on your own for the first time, what on earth are you doing expecting luxury anyway?

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect certain basic standards. Use university open days to really grill your hosts about the accommodation they offer, and don’t leave without seeing it for yourself. Trawl forums like to get honest opinions about halls of residence or parts of your new home city that are good and cheap to live in.

Wherever you end up, it’s going to be small and possibly lack privacy. Some things may be old and tired and prone to not working properly. This is all part of the learning process: making a space your own, finding out how to get things fixed, being assertive to ensure they do get fixed, cooking for yourself, budgeting for your living needs, etc.

It will feel like your place sooner than you know it, probably at the moment you cook a pizza at 2am for the first time. Just don’t set off the fire alarm – that’s really antisocial.

I’ll be broke!

Yup. You won’t have much money, and you will probably spend a lot of time worrying about it. (Welcome to adulthood – sorry to depress you further.)

The best way to mitigate those worries is to take control and keep control. Before you even get to uni, set yourself a budget and then refine it when the real numbers become clear. There are plenty of tools to help you do this (like MoneySavingExpert’s here). Use one to keep track of what you spend and receive.

See what financial assistance your uni can offer – there may be bursaries or grants to help with your particular circumstances. Get part-time work if you can, but make sure it won’t affect your studies.

And if you end up in real financial trouble, don’t let it get any worse. Talk to an adviser about it straight away, because debt (and the psychological effects it has) can impact your quality of life for years to come.

I’m going to check out that scary thing on my own…

Independence is great, but safety is paramount.

Whatever you do, don’t stand for any peer pressure to behave in a way that makes you uncomfortable. You can always walk away. You will find yourself in the company of people you don’t know, and they might surprise you in unpleasant ways. So follow the kind of advice you normally would about staying safe: be with people you trust, don’t leave your drink unattended, register any precious belongings, keep away from social media if you’ve had one too many pints, keep your personal details secret, etc.

This checklist from the Complete University Guide is useful. 

If you see something really serious, the university is going to want you to report it, so others don’t suffer. It’s simply not in the university’s interests for potentially criminal things to happen on campus.

Mental health is a big issue for students at the moment, too. Don’t suffer in silence – there are counsellors on hand to help you. You can read some students’ mental health experiences.

Independence doesn’t mean you have to do everything alone. It only means you have to take responsibility for yourself and your wellbeing.

That reading list – it’s, it’s… huge!

Sure, there is a big workload ahead of you. But it’s not going to be too much for you. The university gave you a place because they believe in you, and you chose this course because it interests you. Now’s your chance to get stuck in!

You may even find the workload is less than when you were studying for A levels, but that doesn’t mean you can slack off – it means you should be filling your hours with your own reading, investigations, creations, or whatever your course demands. Or you may have more tuition than ever before. That’s okay – nobody’s going to expect you to leap seamlessly into it. You will be taught how to learn in new ways, not thrown in at the deep end.

That said, you’re going to be more responsible for your own learning than ever before, so set a timetable and stick to it.

I’m going to be the stupid one who gets left behind

Self-doubt is entirely normal. But your ideas aren’t going to sound as stupid as you fear they will. In fact, university is a chance to explore ideas for their own sake – maybe one of the few such opportunities you’ll get in life.

You’re probably not saying anything someone else in the room isn’t already thinking (and is maybe also afraid to say). If you don’t understand something, again you’re almost certainly not alone. You’re there to learn, so don’t be afraid to ask for clarification – others will be grateful to you for asking, I guarantee it! The stupid thing would be to sit there in silence and go away none the wiser.

You’ve proved you belong at that university by earning your grades and getting that place. Now enjoy it!

Some universities are haunted…

Yes, some are.

Can’t help you with that, I’m afraid. BWAH, hah-haaaah!

Posted by Nicholas Manthorpe on Tue, 14 Feb 2017

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Nick was a reporter for the Eastern Daily Press and its sister weekly titles in Norfolk and Waveney, then served as Media Officer for North Norfolk District Council for 13 years. He now works as a writer and PR and media relations consultant. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, an associate member of the Chartered Management Institute and a member of East Anglian Writers.

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