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How to cope with student life

Explains how you can look after your mental health as a student, giving practical suggestions for what you can do and where you can go for support.

Deciding to become a student

There are many decisions to make before the studying begins that could have an impact on how enjoyable and worthwhile you find your course.

You are likely to face decisions such as: what subject to study, what type of course to take, and where? UCAS can help you explore some of your options.

It can also be worth attending open days to get a better insight into the subject, what teaching methods are used and to get a feel for the place of study. Open days tend to run throughout the year but it is worth checking the calendars of a few colleges or universities that you are interested in, as you may need to register for a place in advance.

Whether to study close to home, to commute or to move somewhere new is another decision that you are likely to face when thinking about starting a new course. Check out Student Minds' Transitions guide for some helpful advice on this.

It may be that you decide university is not the right option for you. For information on the alternatives that may be better suited to you, take a look at the Not Going To Uni guide.

If you have a mental health condition you will also be considering how, when and if, to tell your place of study. Take a look at the University Mental Health Advisers Network for guidance on disclosing difficulties.

Planning your healthcare

If you're currently receiving treatment for a mental health problem and you register with a new GP, the support you get may change. You may have new assessments and your new GP or Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) may advise on a new treatment plan. The NHS has more information about registering with a new GP as a student.

To minimise the disruption, it can help to plan early - even as soon as you've chosen a course or accepted a place. Talk to your current GP or CMHT about:

  • the move and the implications for your treatment
  • how your medical notes will be transferred and what they can do to ensure that your new GP understands your medical needs
  • reviewing any medication you are taking that may affect your studying
  • write a summary letter about your medical history for your new GP.

The University Mental Health Advisers Network (UMHAN) are a network of mental health specialists working in the Higher/Further education sector and can provide more information on telling your institution about a diagnosed mental health problem, and what protection you have.

Managing your finances

Studying is likely to affect your personal finances. The money you receive and the way you get it may change. It is important to think about how you will pay for essentials like food, housing, tuition fees and course costs such as books and other equipment.

The change in financial situation can be particularly difficult if you are a mature student who is used to earning a full-time wage, or if you have children or dependents that you support financially. You can find information about extra financial support you may be entitled to here.

"I try to be sensible with my spending where possible – I always ensure I can afford to eat well and leave enough to treat myself from time to time."

Money worries may feel like more of a challenge if you are a care-leaver or don't have financial support from your family. Take a look at Stand Alone for information about applying for student loans and support from your local authority.

Regardless of your situation, it can be useful to create a weekly or termly budget plan to help you keep track of your incomings and outgoings. Pick a method that you will find easy to use such as an app or spreadsheet - there are lots of templates online available for use.

Check out The Money Charity's Student Money Manual, Money Helper and Save the Student for more advice on managing your finances.

If you are living with a mental health condition it would also be worth taking a look at our money and mental health pages for lots of useful information.

"I do part-time university with the Open University, so I have a full-time job alongside. It helps a lot."

Managing your studies

You may be returning to education after a break or continuing on from school or college. Whatever your situation, you may find that you have more responsibility for your own study than you have been used to. This can provide flexibility in how you structure your day, but getting used to planning your own schedule can be a challenge.

Many colleges and universities run study skills sessions for new students. These can be a great way of learning time management and effective planning strategies as well understanding some of the possible requirements from your new course, such as how to write a research proposal or reference other studies correctly. Study skills tutors often work within the library setting, so consider visiting them when you start your course.

"I try to take a step back and assess my workload, write a list and take it one step at a time."

What if things don't go to plan?

Sometimes things don't go as you expected. This can be difficult, but it happens to everyone. You might find it helpful to:

  • have a plan B, an alternate work schedule if your day or week's routine is disrupted
  • proactively schedule in 'spare time' so that you can catch up if necessary
  • talk to your tutor about extensions or flexible arrangements in advance, so that you feel comfortable talking to them if things are not going to plan.
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"What I wish I’d known sooner is how adaptable university is. There is no right or wrong way to do it – because everyone is different."

This information was published in September 2018.

This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published. 

References and bibliography available on request.

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