21 tips for uni students and their parents

This week thousands of young people will be settling into universities across the country, getting to grips with leaving home, meeting new people, and a fresh academic challenge. It can be a nerve-wracking time for both students and their parents. But don’t worry, expert help is at hand.

Don’t feel under pressure to make friends

“Don’t put pressure on yourself to make friends immediately. Often it feels like by the first week, everyone has friends and seems really comfortable. However, there are a lot of people who will be in the same boat as you. You definitely won’t be the only person attending a lecture or a societies event alone, so don’t let that stop you from putting yourself out there.” Chloe Field, vice-president (higher education), National Union of Students

Get involved while you have the chance

“My advice for first years is to get involved with everything. This will be one of the only times at university when you can afford to 100 per cent immerse yourself in everything your university and union has to offer without worrying about deadlines and grades. Go to sports and societies’ taster sessions, and most importantly, have a great time.” Sheldon Allen, president of Reading University students’ union

Your mental health is a priority for your university

“Supporting students’ mental health and wellbeing is an absolute priority for universities, and this means we really want you to get in touch if you are struggling a little or a lot. There are many university support services for students but you should feel able to ask any member of staff for help. And don’t forget you can talk to friends or other students on your course.” Catherine Bovill, professor of student engagement in higher education, University of Edinburgh

Be yourself and hold your head up high

Shakira Martin, head of student experience at Rose Bruford College, Sidcup, and former National Union of Students president

“Whether you are a fresher, second year or third year, hold your head up high. You deserve to be there, regardless of how you’ve got there. Whether you came in through clearing, or if you achieved the entry grades you needed, you got there. Bring your authentic self, because no matter where you’ve come from, what you’ve been through, you’ve made it to university or college.” Shakira Martin, head of student experience at Rose Bruford College, Sidcup, and former National Union of Students president.

Look after your health – and try to get some sleep.

“From 20 years of being a GP to students, I can distil my advice down to three top tips to support your health at university. First, register with a local GP – don’t wait for a crisis before you seek help. Second, check out the university’s student support webpages and see the vast array of services on offer. And third, try to get seven hours’ sleep every night to avoid burning out.” Dominique Thompson, former university GP, student mental health expert and author of The Student Wellbeing Series (Trigger Publishing)

Ask questions to help build relationships

“Build relationships, not only with your classmates, but also with your lecturers. Probe them, ask questions, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable and say ‘I don’t know’. This is where the learning can begin.” Raham Odjegba, president of the University of Central Lancashire students’ union

Don’t leave your career until the last minute

“Don’t leave thinking about your career until the last minute. Join in activities that will develop your employability and spend time investing in the career options where your skills lie. Employers are interested in talking to you whatever stage you’re at in university or in your career.” Stephen Isherwood, chief executive, Institute of Student Employers

Get support if you have doubts about your course

“If you start to feel that your course or university isn’t right for you, then make sure you carefully consider all your options. Speak to family, friends, teachers, other students, or your university to share your thoughts and get their advice to support your next steps. If looking to apply elsewhere, speak to the institution you want to go to instead. Remember, it’s perfectly normal to feel this way when starting something new or moving to a different environment. Don’t feel pressured into making a rash decision.” Sunil Parshotam, service standards manager, Ucas, the university admissions service

This is your new home, so make it feel like one.

Nick Miao, accommodation and housing officer, UCL Students’ Union

“Whether you are living in halls or flat shares, this is your home now – so make it feel homely! Decorate your room, get to know your flatmates, and get to know the area. Find the closest shop, the local cafe, park, library – these will go a long way to help you settle in.” Nick Miao, accommodation and housing officer, UCL Students’ Union

Learn to budget – and make the most of discounts

“Create a budget – prioritising your rent, bills and necessities – and put money aside for these essentials. That way you know how much you’ll have left and won’t run out between loan payments. Free budgeting apps can help. Shop around for a student bank account with discounts and freebies and make the most of other student discounts.” Catherine Winter, managing director, financial capability at the London Institute of Banking & Finance.

Reach out if you feel you are struggling

“There is no shame in speaking out about how you’re feeling. If you are ever struggling, speak to a friend, student rep, university staff member or student union staff member. Your students’ union will have great guides and tips on who you can speak to and who can support you, so please reach out because you’re not alone.” Esyllt Rosser, president, Swansea University students’ union

Apply for funding and grants if you qualify

“Apply for any funding you can possibly get. Apart from the regular loans, you may be surprised to find you qualify for other grants, scholarships and bursaries. Minimising your spending is about finding somewhere cheap to live, not buying stuff you don’t need and getting a discount whenever you can. If you do need help, get it fast. Speak to your bank, student union or other support.” Johnny Rich, chief executive, Push, an advice and outreach organization for school leavers

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Don’t measure yourself against others

“Resist the temptation of thinking that you ‘should’ be able to handle everything that’s going on or that others are doing better than you are. Instead, focus on doing things you enjoy, connecting with others and learning new things.” Louise Goux-Wirth, program manager (Student Space), Student Minds

Grades are important but so are your other skills

“Remember that your degree result will help to get your application looked at by employers, but in interview they are most interested in your broad professional skills and behaviors, your experiences beyond your degree programme, the ideas you bring, and your capacity to continue to learn.” Deborah Longworth, pro-vice-chancellor for education and Celia Greenway, director of student engagement, University of Birmingham

Make friends from all around the world

“For international students, studying in the UK is an unforgettable experience. Make the most of your time here and join a society at your students’ union to learn about different cultures and make friends from all over the world. Remember, it’s completely normal to experience culture shock and homesickness, but these feelings are temporary and will pass.” Anne Marie Graham, chief executive, UK Council for International Student Affairs

Pursuing hobbies will impress employers

“There are lots of ways you can develop skills and to impress employers after you graduate, including formal work experience, volunteering and short courses during the holidays. Pursue your hobbies too. Having enthusiasm in something beyond your studies shows employers that you are motivated and gives them an insight into who you are.” Chris Rea, graduate careers expert for Prospects

Create a work schedule… but it can be flexible

Grace Etheridge, community engagement manager at The Student Room

“Create a schedule at the beginning of each term with dedicated hours for revision and essay writing planned in advance. Try and to map them around when you are already in university for lectures and remember to have some flexibility in the plan for times when life gets in the way.” Grace Etheridge, community engagement manager at The Student Room

Don’t neglect your outside interests

“Keep up to date with your course, but do get involved in things outside your studies. Find things you feel passionate about and be a part of them. Everyone benefits from feeling like they’re doing things to make their university, local area, country or world a better place.” Rachel Thomson, pro vice-chancellor for education and student experience, Loughborough University

And for parents…

Assess your own life and dive back into a hobby.

“This ’empty nest’ time provides a brilliant opportunity for you to assess your own life. It’s important, if you’re in a couple, to assess whether intimacy or friendship with your partner has been neglected, and it is the perfect opportunity to dive back into an old hobby.” Lucy Beresford, psychotherapist and author of Happy Relationships at Home, Work & Play

More on Wellbeing

Talk about money, and what you can contribute

“The majority of students will leave home to go to uni, which means learning how to handle money. There’s so much you need to know and most of it isn’t taught by schools. This is why it’s important to speak to your child about money, not only in the way of advice but also what, if anything, you can give to help them during their studies.” Jake Butler, operations director at Save the Students

Discuss how much contact they want or need

“The move to university can feel daunting or lonely, for students and parents alike. Discuss expectations about how often you will stay in touch before your child leaves for university, so you’re on the same page. Be aware that they will be getting used to new routines and structures, so try not to take it personally if they’re not in as regular contact as you’d like early on.” Stevie Goulding, senior parents helpline manager at YoungMinds

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