The transition to university is a real shock to the system. When you accept your UCAS offers over the summer, you have an idea of what you think uni life might be like. You may have heard stories from a friend’s older brother who spent his first year hosting flat parties every weekend or a distant cousin who didn’t step foot in the library until the start of her second year.
So many little anecdotes are passed around about the changes university has on your social life, sleeping schedule and alcohol intake but nobody really mentions the toll these changes often have on your mental health.
Your first year at university, if not your first week, can be the scariest yet most exciting time of your life. There is such a huge shift in your academic life as you enter the realm of higher education, calling your lecturers by their first name and realising referencing is going to cause you more pain than writing the essay itself.
I was under the impression going into my first year that the academic shift from A level to undergraduate learning would be the most challenging aspect of uni life. I already had experience living away from home so didn’t give the move into student accommodation much thought.
Looking back at that year it is probably the loneliest I’ve ever felt. Of course there is loads going on during the first few weeks but you can feel a little bit burnt out trying to make new friends and it can start to feel like you’re not having as much fun as you think you should be.
There is such a huge emphasis on party culture in your first year and although it doesn’t sound particularly anxiety-inducing, it can put you under a lot of social, financial and academic pressure.
One minute you feel like you aren’t socialising and going out enough then the next you realise half your student loan has gone on nights out and takeaways.
As a third-year student I can identify the root of a lot of anxiety and stress I have experienced throughout my degree. First year was a whirlwind of trying to fit in, manage my money and navigate a new city for the first time, which left me feeling incredibly lost.
Transitioning into second year is when I started to experience a lot more academic stress. Exams, coursework and final pieces were get pushed aside as I tried to keep up with my social life from first year and renting a place for the first time. The workload and my lecturer’s expectations dramatically increased and it was hard to adjust to a more demanding academic environment.
Heading into third year was probably when my stress and anxiety reached its peak. The academic expectations increased again and the realisation that graduation is around the corner hit. Embarking on your undergraduate dissertation can be incredibly stressful and it is so hard not to compare your progress with other students around you.
Nobody really talks about the anxiety that accompanies the lead up to graduation where you know you need to start preparing yourself for the next step but you don’t quite feel ready to enter the ‘adult world’.
It is such a confusing time where you feel so many different emotions but every other student is most likely going through the exact same thought process.
Everybody has such a unique experience at university whether you are leaving home to study, commuting from home, working a job alongside your studies or getting into a new relationship. Starting an undergraduate degree isn’t just a change to your academic life but to every aspect of it so it is really no surprise that it has such a massive impact on your mental health.
The health and wellbeing of our students is our number one priority. You're not on your own, we're here to support you. Get in touch with Student Advice and Wellbeing.