Starting University

Starting University can be a big step in your life and can be challenging. You might be feeling anxious and nervous about the big decisons in your life.

A recent poll found that 90 % of university applicants reported feeling worried about the decisions they had made. They are worried about the future, and whether they should be going to university at all! 


The first thing you need to remember is that nerves are normal. Change is a challenge and we all often forget that it is the first step on the road to growth. Staying in a job we do not enjoy, a city we are bored with and a routine that has stopped having any meaning or bringing us any joy is damaging and bad for us. We need change, while simultaneously  worrying about the unknown. Take a deep breath. Look at these common reasons for getting cold feet about starting university education – and how to overcome them. With us your choice becomes easier!

I have chosen the wrong course

This is a widespread source of stress. Perhaps you are starting to think that the subject you have studied with so much enthusiasm at school will be too hard at university level. Perhaps you think that you will obviously fail or are actually not sure that you want to study it at all. 

You need to remember that when you are starting university education, universities know the level of your school studies. They are not trying create a gigantic gap in levels between your secondary school curriculum and first year studies. There is continuity in education, and everything you have learned to date has built a solid foundation. It also prepares you for the next stage.

Everyone who is starting their undergraduate studies has the same basic knowledge. Therefore, you are just as good as your fellow students. Yes, the reading list may be longer, the discussions more demanding. The teaching style might be different to what you have become accustomed to, but these are not obstacles. If you loved history at the age of 18, you are just as likely to love it at the age of 18 and a half. Believe in your choice. Look forward to pursuing your interests for the next three or four years.

Changing your course

Remember, that you are not tied to your choice of course. Most European universities can be quite flexible. Students who start off doing a single degree can and do change to a joint qualification. If you are applying to a university in the US, you will not need to choose your major until the end of the second year. As a result you will have plenty of time to decide. Whether the course you originally wanted to take is the right one for you or not. In the UK, you can ask to be released from your first and second choices in the UCAS system and use Clearing to find exactly what you wish to study.

Similarly, the UCAS Adjustment system allows you to ask for a short period of time to look for something new. Thats only the case if you find that the grades you get are far higher than you expected. UK universities are also open to conversations about changing course, as long as you do not leave it too late. Talk to your personal tutor, in the first instance, and explain why you want to move.

I have applied to the wrong university

Starting University can overwhelm us with many feelings. This reaction is a usually knee-jerk response based on fear of the unknown. You have probably spent many weeks researching the university,  discovering what the town or city offers. Reading student reviews, checking what you can do in your leisure time and looking at photos of your new home. You chose to apply here because it appeals to you. Ask yourself what is actually worrying you, and you will discover that it probably not the university itself but:

Understand your choice

Go back over your original notes, and remind yourself why you choose Spain or The Netherlands or Cyprus. Then remind yourself precisely why you opted to apply to that specific university. Was it the course, the internships, the location and culture, the research possibilities? Whatever the reason, you need to focus on all the wonderful possibilities on the horizon. You will love it there and all will be well.

If your anxiety is based on wondering how you will fit into a new culture, turn this thought upside down. Remind yourself how incredibly lucky you are to be given this opportunity. Freedom to sample a new way of life and become part of a different community.

I will miss everyone back home too much

If you are in a romantic relationship, you will worry that starting university education and the distance will destroy it. If you have close friends, you will imagine that they could drift away because you will not be sharing your lives any more. 

It is undeniable that, when you first leave to study abroad, you will feel uprooted and a little nostalgic for what you have left behind.

But hey, it is not the nineteenth century and there is no reason to worry about losing contact when starting university. WhatsApp, Skype, and other apps mean that your loved ones are a few clicks away. You can use social media, video calls and  many messaging services to keep in touch. Air travel is cheap these days and you can either go back home from time to time, or invite friends and relatives to come and visit you – or do both.

Reminders to help you cope with the situation

Pack a few souvenirs to get you through the early days on campus. Photos, maybe a favourite trinket you bought on a family holiday, the t-shirt your best friend  gave you on your birthday, the book you used to read to your brothers and sisters. If you feel a pang of nostalgia, remind yourself that you can ring them – and do so. Distance is nothing in an ever-connected and shrinking world.

I am a shy person and I will not make friends easily

Oh, yes you will.

Universities are aware that the students who are starting university will find themselves living in dormitories, flats and halls with strangers, and need to mingle and become involved in the university community.

The first week or two after starting university education is devoted to making sure freshers sign up for events, clubs, societies, and outings. You will be busy, rushing around campus, deciding if you want to go to a jazz concert or a trance club, sign up for tennis or rowing, become a member of a volunteering project or the debating society.

Social networking 

Rubbing shoulders with other newbies, you will soon start to recognise faces or share cups of coffee in the communal kitchen. Basically build your social network. As you begin attending tutorials and seminars, taking part in group projects and teamwork, your circle will expand and, by the end of the first term, all your worries about being friendless will be replaced by having to find a way of balancing out your studies and your hectic social life.

How will I manage living on my own? 

You will have to organise many new area of your life whe starting university. The thought of having to live within a budget, feed yourself, do the laundry, pay bills, find a part-time job and make independent decisions can be overwhelming. And yet millions of students are coping – and you will too.

Planning is everything. You really don’t want to find yourself with no clean underwear, a blocked phone and three carrots in the fridge on a Sunday morning. 

Draw up a budget, listing how much you will spend on food, leisure, books, bills and transport – and stick to it. It is helpful to have some kind of rota. For example, you could decide that you will wash your clothes on a Wednesday and go to the market and/or supermarket every Saturday morning . Make sure you know your academic timetable before starting university and handing out your CV and looking for a part-time job, so there are no clashes. Give yourself plenty of time to get to your lectures and don’t accept working hours which will mean you have to rush between A and B.

Get your priorities in order

Eat well (this does not mean expensively), get enough sleep and keep a running diary of assignments, deadlines and extracurricular activities. Set aside some time every week to review what you need to do. Look through your bank statements and to keep up to date with your assignments, reading and any group projects you may be working on.

Once you are organised, relax and enjoy university life. 

It does not really matter if your attempts to make a curry were disastrous, they will be better next time; if you haven’t got time to iron your collars or t-shirt, just wear them and ignore the creases. No one is looking over your shoulder and you are not being judged. Simplify your day to day existence and do not expect perfection. If you have an essay to finish, the sky will not fall down if you eat sandwiches for supper, two days in a row. 

I do not think I will cope with the coursework and the exams 

Not everyone has self-confidence and it easy to fall into the trap of thinking other people are so much more intelligent, skilled and talented than we are. It may surprise you to realise that they are probably thinking exactly the same about you. Remember that, in order to get a place at university, you have already been assessed at application stage. Therefore, the admissions committee certainly believe in you and think you have promise and great abilities. 

Coursework is nothing more than a series of learning opportunities and, if you keep up and commit yourself to what you are studying, you will steadily expand your knowledge, capabilities and skills.

What happens after

A year down the road, you will be surprised that you ever doubted your talents, and find yourself explaining concepts and theories which you had never met with before coming to university. Each success is another step on the road to becoming a self-confident individual, so acknowledge and enjoy your achievements and stop seeing exams as the Gates of Hell.  You have  been doing exams throughout your entre school life, and university exams are no different. Revise, make sure you ask your lecturers for help if you find a topic particularly difficult, and walk confidently into the examination hall. You have got this!

Fear of the new

Our brains are wired to seek out certainty, so any risk or change  sets off a mechanism which goes through four stages. We do not like the idea of the unknown, so we immediately make up stories or project onto the future, in order to create a tidy scenario. Unfortunately, humans have a tendency to dwell on what makes them anxious and to worry about things which, in our rational moments, we know to be ridiculous. We end up in a state of high agitation , because of the images which we have created ourselves. 


What to do when you feel negative

When you think of starting university abroad, your initial positivity and excitement soon changes into worry, and you begin to dwell on all the negatives and what could possibly go wrong. Time passes and you bounce back from the anxiety and start to see the point of the new, and remember why you decided to make your choices and decisions Finally, the new starts to become the everyday, the normal, and any last vestiges of fear just fade away. This is a classic process. Nevertheless, if you have specific concerns about the new environment you have signed up for, you can take some practical steps :

Instead of fearing the new, decide to embrace it and see it as something amazing which will help you to grow as an individual and enrich your life experiences.

I am worried about getting into debt

There are many small, practical steps you can take to minimise financial stress before starting university education:

Take a deep breath

Take a deep breath and look forward to studying abroad. It is a wonderful experience and one you will never forget. 

Enjoy your time at university – and put all those worries aside. Follow your dreams towards a bright, exciting future. You deserve it…