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Navigating New Horizons: A Guide to a Fantastic Year at University!

Alright. The extended holidays are over. The 26th of January has well and truly flown by and uni is ramping up next week. Surely you're all prepped and ready for the intense year to come? No? Feeling a little overwhelmed coming into your first (or second, or third!) year at uni? Here are a few science-backed tips to support your transition:

1. Acknowledge your nerves! 

  • If it's your first time at university, you're not alone in feeling a wee bit anxious! The butterflies are a sign you are walking a path towards something meaningful and that you care about the process. If you didn't care, you'd feel more indifferent than nervous. Fear of the unknown, academic pressures and social expectations will cluster together physiologically and that's totally okay! Take a moment to accept your emotional state, and how your body is registering this new experience, take a few deep breaths, and trust in your ability to start something new.

2. Build a Support Network

  • Take a leap of faith and sit next to a stranger. Introduce yourself. Fling out a compliment or two to a random peer - they'll pay off in the long run when you need a hand with an essay or quiz! 

  • Pause and notice that (even though some might be masking it very well) everyone is in exactly the same position as you. The first few weeks on campus are a fantastic opportunity to meet new people and co-soothe each other's worries. The first few pro-social weeks when everyone is figuring out their schedules are prime to slot yourself into a new group of friends. 

  • Lastly, don't hide at the back of the lecture hall. Lean into the discomfort and fraternise with the folks who are raising their hands and asking questions... Trust me, surrounding yourself with the go getters and pro-active learners will pay off BIG TIME in the long run.

3. Develop Healthy Coping Strategies EARLY

  • They say the best time to pack for a holiday is when you get home from the last one. Ask yourself - "What has worked for me before when I've been stressed out?" Who are the people I can rely on? What are my strategies when things get tough and I become time-poor?

  • Familiarise yourself with the campus support services such as the wellbeing team, writing and assignment assistance (usually found in the library), and even a quiet space for the odd nap if you need it!

  • Archilochus said "We don't rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training". Training doesn't ONLY have to be physical. Train yourself to get to bed an hour earlier, train yourself to unwind before bed OFF your screens, train yourself to limit caffeine after midday and control excessive alcohol consumption. You will thank yourself when exams come around and you need a few late nights!

4. Embrace the challenge and be compassionate to yourself!

  • Change is good - but learning to cope with the uncertainty that comes with change is even better. You are new to this, and you therefore have little experience in this domain. If your friend was in exactly the same situation, how would you speak to them? You should treat yourself as if you were someone you were responsible for helping.

  • Set realistic expectations for yourself and celebrate the small wins along the way. It's something I wish I did more of now that I'm (almost) done with uni. We so often focus on what we haven't done yet rather than congratulating ourselves for how far we've come. Celebrate your achievements as you would your best friend. 

  • Don't forget: If it came easily, you wouldn't want it.

One final note: it's ENTIRELY okay be uncertain about where this path will take you. You may have started your degree because "everyone else was doing it", or it may be that your parents wanted you to go to university. The most common question we ask young people is "what do you want to be when you grow up?", but the fact is you aren't grown up. Nor do you have the life experience to direct yourself to the exact (still unknown) destination of your future. The goal here is to hone the meta-skills of discipline, time management, routine building, self-presentation and socialisation. Your north star should be abstract and dynamic. The most rewarding element of university is NOT THE CONTENT, but the overarching skills you develop along the way. Be kind to yourself, surround yourself with people who want the best for you, and charge head on into what might be some of the best years of your life. I'll leave you with my favourite Teddy Roosevelt quote which tweaked my headspace to take a few extra risks early on in my career:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”


Sam x

Sam Dreyfus is a Mental Health Coach currently studying his Masters of Clinical Psychology and he works at Change Rooms in a counselling capacity with individuals and groups.

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