How you prepare to start a new course will depend on what, where and how you've chosen to study. Starting something new is a challenge for most people, but there are lots of things that you can plan for in advance to make the transition easier. This page covers:
Preparing to study
Studying can be demanding so it is natural to feel anxious about this at first. To help you feel in control, it is useful to get as much information as possible about what is expected of you, and what is available to help you with the course. Try to find out:
- How and when will my work be assessed?
- How many lectures, seminars, lab sessions or other appointments will I be expected to attend?
- How many written tasks will I be expected to complete?
- Will I have to give presentations or explain my work?
Where can I find this information?
You might get this information from:
- an information pack before you start
- an internal website, such as WebLearn or BlackBoard
- a course handbook which sets out what is required of students and how work is assessed, including mark schemes
- the library or an internal website may give you access to past exam papers, to give you a feel for the course
- a course timetable – this may vary between weeks
- your academic tutor or course administrator
Getting used to a new environment
Taking time to get used to the new environment may help you feel more relaxed. Try to:
- Find places where you'll need to study, such as the library, laboratories or venues for your lectures and classes.
- Find the Students' Union and check out what they have to offer.
- Find out how to get important books or other equipment that many people on your course are likely to need at the same time.
- Learn how to access IT services or, if you use your own, is there a student network or intranet you should log into?
Where will I live?
If you are moving away from home, you will need to arrange accommodation. You may be able to stay in halls of residence, or you may prefer to find your own housing. Think about what kind of accommodation you'd like:
- Catered accommodation. You might prefer this so you don't have to worry about food and cooking, and you may have more opportunities to get to know other students.
- Self-catered accommodation. This may give you more personal space and independence, and might be cheaper as you can budget for your food yourself.
- Off-campus accommodation. Some universities may offer smaller self-catering properties, which provide a more independent lifestyle. If you don't want to live in halls, you can also choose to find your own accommodation.
What I found hard was having to make friends and get on with my flatmates, and adjust to communal life which is often noisy and stressful. Also overcoming shyness in order to talk to classmates.
Building a new social life
Finding new friends and building a social life is a big part of starting your course, and can be a challenge for everyone in the first few weeks, especially if you are struggling with your mental health. Try to take things at a pace you are comfortable with, and make time to look after yourself too. You could:
- leave your door open while you are in your room – this will invite people to pop in and say hello
- be on hand in the kitchen to boil a kettle and share a cup of tea
- ask your hall/flatmates if they'd like to explore the campus or town centre
- introduce yourself to the stranger you are sat next in lectures
- join a society at your Students' Union – many have taster sessions at the start of the year.
If you are studying online or doing a distance learning course, try to make contact with fellow students. This may be through an online community that your course has set up, or through informal groups on social media.
For more ideas, check out the Student Minds guide to Starting University.
Coping with homesickness
Many students feel homesick in the first few weeks at university. It is natural to feel unsettled and it might take time before you feel at home in your new environment. Here are some things you can try:
- make your new room your own – put up posters or add a blanket to your bed
- keep busy with new opportunities – give an event or society a go
- offer to make your new flatmates a hot drink – you never know, they might be feeling homesick too
Planning your health care
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 may advise on a new treatment plan.
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 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
Speak to the admissions office at your uni about:
- the GP practice that students use – this may be an on-campus practice
- contacting a university mental health advisor who can support your transition to university
For more information on telling your university about a diagnosed mental health problem, and what protection you have, see the University Mental Health Advisers Network website.
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.
I try to be sensible with my spending where possible – I always ensure I can afford to eat well but do leave enough to treat myself from time to time.
Some things to consider:
- Will you have a reduced income from work? For example, will you be working fewer hours?
- Will you be entitled to any benefits that you have previously received? Speak to your benefits office, Job Centre Plus or Citizen's Advice for more information.
- Will you have to pay Council Tax? Check with your local council to find out about any discounts.
- Are you eligible for a tuition fee or maintenance loan? Check out the UCAS pages on tuition fees and student loans for more information and how to apply.
- Does the college or university you are studying at have hardship funds, scholarships or other funding you can access? Your Students' Union Advice Service may have further information about specific support at your college or university.
Check out The Money Charity's Student Money Manual and The Money Advice Service for more advice on managing your finances.
I do part-time university with the Open University, so I have a full-time job alongside. It helps a lot.
This information was published in February 2016. We will revise it in 2019.