How to cope with student life

Explains how having a mental health problem can impact upon being a student, and suggests ways of coping and where to go for support.

Your stories

Coping with depression at university

Helen blogs about the challenges of getting a university degree while struggling with depression.

Posted on 17/02/2015

My university life with anxiety

Kerrie blogs about how her anxiety impacts her university life and her decision to live off campus.

Kerrie Wilkinson
Posted on 23/09/2015

Talking about anxiety at university

Emmie blogs about her experiences of managing relationships and anxiety whilst at university.

Emma Togneri
Posted on 24/09/2014

How can I choose my course?

Choosing the right course for you can make it easier to cope with student life. Higher education is a fantastic opportunity for new experiences, however the demands of student life can be a challenge for all. When deciding what to study, you might want to think about:

How can I decide?
You don't have to make any decisions on your own – there are lots of ways to get support. You could:
  • talk to your school career's office
  • contact a university or college's admissions office – they will usually be able to help you consider your options and will be happy to provide more detailed guidance
  • use an online forum, such as The Student Room, to get advice from other students

Full-time, part-time or online?

Some subjects and some universities will only offer full-time courses, however universities are becoming increasingly flexible. If you don't think the full-time route is for you, there are other options. Many universities offer part-time courses or online options.

  Benefits Challenges
Full-time There may be:
  • more support from other students and tutors
  • more structure to help keep you motivated
  • this could be a new and different environment for you
  • the course may be less flexible
  • you may be less able to set your own pace of study
Part-time More free time and flexibility could help you:
  • work alongside your studies
  • manage other responsibilities
  • have time for medical appointments
Evening-only courses may be particularly useful if you take any medication that makes mornings difficult.
  • the course will usually take longer to complete
  • it may be difficult to concentrate on your studies if you are juggling other priorities
  • you don't have to live near or travel to the university very often
  • you may have more flexibility and be able to complete work at your own pace
  • you may need to be more self-motivated to complete your work
  • it may be harder to meet course-mates, which could leave you feeling isolated

How will I study?

Different courses will require you to do different kinds of work as part of your course. It's useful to think about what kind of work you'd like in your course.

  • Exams, coursework or presentations? While many courses focus on exams, some will assess your work through coursework and placements. This may be helpful if you find dealing with the pressure of exams very challenging.
  • Is there a year abroad? This usually involves spending a year living in another country. You might like the idea of getting to travel with some structures of university in place to support you, or you may find it hard to move away from your support network and any treatment you're receiving. Student Minds provides more information about planning and managing a year abroad.
  • Is there a work placement? This may be essential for some vocational courses, e.g. teaching, medicine, nursing, or an opportunity to learn about an industry and build up skills and contacts. You might find this a good opportunity to get used to a working environment, or you may find the change more difficult to manage.
  • How many contact hours are there? Courses vary in the number of contact hours they provide. A high number of contact hours can feel demanding, but courses with few contact hours place a high responsibility on you to structure your own independent study.

Some practical courses can be difficult to cope with if you suffer from something like anxiety. Studying Journalism, which requires me to interview people, has been really difficult.

Where do I want to live?

Deciding where to live during your course can make a big difference to how you find your student experience. Here are some useful things to consider:

  • Do I want to stay at home? Staying at home may provide more support if you have an established support network, and make it easier to continue to get any treatment you're currently receiving.
  • Do I want to move away? This might be necessary to study at your preferred university, and it might make it easier for you to engage with all aspects of university life.
  • Is it easy to travel home from university? Being able to travel home easily could help you take short weekend breaks if you are feeling homesick or the university environment is challenging.

What sort of university do I want?

All universities have their own atmosphere. Checking the university and Students Union website, or joining an open day, can help you get a feel for this.

  • At a campus university, most buildings (including halls of residence) are close together. Some campuses are in the city centre, on the outskirts or outside the city. A campus may provide a stronger community, making it easier to meet other students, but – depending on the location – it can make it harder to access shops and other amenities.
  • At non-campus universities the buildings might be spaced out across a city. This can make it easier to access amenities, and have more of an independent life outside your university, but can also involve a longer commute or travelling between buildings.
  • Larger universities with big student numbers could feel intimidating, or less personal, but they might also have more support available for students and larger students unions, providing a wider range of extracurricular activities.
  • Smaller universities may specialise in certain courses and provide teaching in smaller groups, but may have fewer opportunities for socialising or offer fewer student support services.

What support can I get?

The support offered by different universities and local NHS services can differ, so it's useful to think about what kind of support you would find helpful.

  • Almost all universities provide a counselling service but can usually only provide a limited number of sessions, and they're unlikely to offer specialised talking treatments like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) (see our pages on CBT for more information on how you can access it).
  • Some universities employ a Mental Health Adviser to provide ongoing support to students with mental health difficulties. You can find out more from University Mental Health Advisers Network (UMHAN).
  • Different NHS mental health services offer different types of support – for example, different talking treatments or support groups. See the NHS service finder to search for local services.
  • NHS services have different rules about whether you can refer yourself to them, or if you need your doctor to refer you.

What if I don't get the grades?

If you don't achieve your university or college's offer grade – don't panic. This is not uncommon. If you've been unwell at school, you may be in a position where you haven't been able to perform as well as you expected, or you haven't completed enough courses to apply for the subject you want to study. There are several options to consider:

  • If you are concerned about how your mental health might affect your grades, talk to the university or college admissions office as soon as they offer you a place to discuss your concerns. There is a possibility that they may be able to be flexible with your offer grade.
  • If you don't get the grades you were expecting, the UCAS clearing system offers students a second chance. UCAS has lots of information on how this system works.
  • If you'd like to study a course at university that you are not currently prepared for, you may find that further study is helpful. For instance, the Access to Higher Education Diploma is a qualification that prepares people for higher education.

This information was published in February 2016. We will revise it in 2019.

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