What to do if you’re struggling with university?

Aug 5, 2020

Many people claim university to be the best time of their lives! From making life-long friends to discovering new hobbies and passions, these years certainly can be magical!

However, life at university undoubtedly comes packaged with many challenges including managing finances, meeting ever-piling deadlines and being a perpetually hungover student.

If you’re struggling with university, first you’ll need to identify what you are finding difficult. Here are some struggles university students commonly face and some solutions.

#1: Mental health concerns

If your mental health is negatively impacting your academic studies, seek help. Don’t suffer in silence. There are plenty of resources available.

1.1: Counselling and mental health support

The first step is to seek help through your university’s counselling and mental health support services.

Often, this is the quickest way to receive help and advice as a student.

This step is essential if you can’t pinpoint what the underlying problem is or if you are feeling overwhelmed with the numerous resources that are available to help you cope with struggles at university. 

Counselling is designed to be a safe environment where you can share the thoughts and feelings that you are experiencing without being judged.

The details of your session, including the fact that you are in counselling, are strictly confidential.

Counselling is there to help you understand yourself better so that you can make optimal decisions to resolve or cope better with your struggles.

Here are some resources your uni may offer to help improve your wellbeing:

  • Cognitive behaviour therapy
  • Self-help material
  • Psychoeducational workshops
  • Specialist mental health advice

Contact your Student Counselling & Mental Health Service If you are struggling with any concern including (but not limited to):

  • Anxiety
  • Stress and depression
  • Living away from home and adjusting to a new culture
  • Identity issues
  • Family or relationship issues
  • Making difficult decisions or choices
  • More specific problems, such as eating disorders
  • Bereavement

1.2: Yoga

Yoga is an ancient practice that has become increasingly popular in the modern world as students practice yoga for a myriad of reasons. Yoga is very different from other forms of traditional Western workouts, such as going to the gym. 

It helps to develop both inner and outer strength by uniting the body and mind through various physical postures, meditation, breathing work as well as chanting. For that reason, yoga is an extremely effective tool for helping students to create a balanced life and cope with struggles at university.

Yoga is not merely beneficial in improving strength and flexibility, as the benefits of yoga go way beyond the mat. Some of them are particularly beneficial for the everyday struggles faced by university students including:

  • Aids in building resilience to the effects of stress and anxiety
  • Improves sleep quality
  • Helps to maintain and improve mental and emotional health
  • Improves your relationship with yourself, which in turn helps with improving your relationship with others.
  • Increases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which lifts the mood and makes you feel happier

There are different types of yoga. Some of the popular forms include:

  • Vinyasa yoga
  • Hatha yoga
  • Ashtanga yoga
  • Yin yoga
  • Restorative yoga

Have a look at the yoga classes that are offered at university and speak to the instructors to help you select the form of yoga most suited to you. You can also visit reputable yoga studios outside of university including Triyoga

Using yoga to help students who are struggling with university
Photo by Li Sun from Pexels

1.3: Mind Charity

Research shows that many students at university do not seek any form of help when it comes to mental health. The two primary reasons are that they are embarrassed, or because they perceive their problem to be too minor. However insignificant or large you may view your struggles to be, overlooking your mental health may have an even further detrimental effect on your well-being. Mind is a UK mental health charity which provides advice and support to anyone. 

A wide range of resources and guidance can be found for those experiencing stress, anxiety, depression or any other related conditions. 

Visit Mind to find out more about coping with depression and anxiety at university.

There are also numerous mental health organisations and charities that provide support for specific problems, such as relationships or learning disabilities. Visit the NHS website to see which organisation may support you best. 

#2: Learning difficulties and academic struggles

All universities offer learning support to students. If you are struggling with university because of academic difficulties, get support.

2.1: Disability support

If your disability is affecting your studies, there are adjustments that can be made to help you. Help may include special examination arrangements, support workers and funding options such as Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA).

2.2: Neurodiversity support

If you are struggling with university work due to dyslexia and/or other Specific Learning Differences (SpLDs) seek help.

Your uni will be able to arrange SpLD diagnostic assessments, one-to-one support and more. They will also be able to offer advice DSA, Exam arrangements and equipment that may help you.

Many students do not find out that they have a SpLD until they attend university. If you think you may have an undiagnosed SpLD, seek advice.

2.3: Academic skills support

Speak with the academic support team if you are struggling with:

  • Writing essays or reports
  • Study skills or preparing for exams
  • Meeting the assessment criteria of your assignments
  • Completing group projects or presentations
  • Academic referencing

You may be able to receive one-to-one support or to attend group workshops or tutorials.

#2.4: Time Management

No student has more time than another. It is a simple matter of efficient time management that determines how well you do as a student. Time is a valuable resource that, when used effectively, can help you to improve your focus, stay organised, and meet deadlines on time.

This, in turn, leaves you with more leisure time and more time for your social life. Many universities offer study skill sessions that can often be found within the library. 

These sessions can be useful in developing time management skills, as well as for learning effective planning strategies. 

Study skills tutors may additionally provide sessions to address specific course requirements, such as how to write a good project proposal or how to reference other sources correctly. In addition, if you’re struggling with university, talking to your personal tutor may also help to provide you with guidance on what you should do about this.

Key tips for managing your time

An important tip for effective time management is to plan your time and prioritize commitments, in terms of work as well as your social life. In order to make scheduling easier, create an online calendar that you can access from your phone.

This means you’ll have access to your calendar no matter where you are. Setting reminders or notifications will prevent you from losing track of time and help you meet your commitments.

Furthermore, colour coding your calendar will allow you to quickly view the tasks and commitments you have planned for the day. For example, set green for leisure time, such as meeting up with a friend.

It’s also good to review your calendar at the end of the day and at the end of the week. This is so you can check to see whether you have met your commitments and gives you a chance to fit in any tasks that you have not completed later on in the week, ensuring a productive week.

➡️ Key takeaway: If you are really struggling with university life and managing your workload, reassess your time management and productivity levels.

#3: Physical Illness and health concerns

If you are struggling with university due to ill health, get support.

Always put your health first. If necessary you can speak with your tutors or head of your course/department about getting deadline extensions.

You may need to provide evidence of your illness to get an extension or postpone your exams without being capped. Your GP will be able to provide such evidence.

Be sure to register with a GP and dentist on/around campus if you are living away from home.

Health services on campus will be able to advise with:

  • General health advice
  • Smoking cessation
  • Immunisation
  • Travel health
  • Disabilities
  • Counselling
  • Sexual health

#4: Being a young carer whilst at university

If you are a young carer between the ages of 16-25. Support is available to you if you are caring for a relative or friend with a long-term health condition without receiving payment for doing so.

As a young carer, you may struggle with university at times. However, support is available to you from the time you apply through to graduation.

Your university may be able to help with financial difficulties and much more.

Find out more about being a university student with carer responsibilities and the help available.

#5: Struggling with finances at university

Managing your finances at university can be a difficult task!

However, help is available!

Here are some financial resources that you may find helpful:

Many students have to balance their academics with maintaining a part-time job. However, on the bright side, having a part-time job will boost your employability!

#6: Missing Friends and Family

For most students, moving away from home and living in student accommodation is a vital aspect of university life. However, from time to time, this may be accompanied with homesickness.

From experience, it appears relatively easy to push away these uncomfortable feelings of homesickness during the initial few weeks at university, due to the numerous freshers’ activities and the excitement of being at university; however, suppressing these feelings will not have eliminated them permanently.

If you’re suffering from homesickness, amongst other struggles at university, reaching out to family who know you well, and who care about you, can provide you with a sense of comfort and the support you need.

How to keep in contact with family or friends whilst at university

Whether it is a phone call, a letter in the post or a weekend trip back home, keeping in touch with family can help you to maintain a good level of mental health during your time at university.

Perhaps, set a routine of a regular check-in with your family throughout the week to help you battle feelings of homesickness or other struggles at university.

As well as family, friendships are one of the most valuable resources we have and tend to take for granted. Humans by nature are social creatures and our friendships can have huge, positive impacts on our lives.

For that reason, if you are struggling with university life, reaching out to close friends and sharing your worries can help leave you feeling supported and happy.

We may also share things with our friends that we wouldn’t confide in with our families. Or it could be as simple as just your friends being there for you, being a positive distraction and leaving you with a smile at the end of the day.

However, you do not have to disclose to your friends what you are experiencing if you are not comfortable with it.

However, despite that it may be tough, discussing your feelings and having the issue out in the open with close friends can be important for you and a huge relief. 

In this way, if you are behaving a particular way, for example, if you are feeling very stressed with your work, it may make it clearer to your friends as to why you are behaving in a particular way. 

Good friendships can have a number of positive benefits including:

  • Increased levels of happiness
  • Reduced levels of stress
  • Improved confidence
  • Increased feelings of belonging
  • Improved self-worth

Despite that, for most of us, friendships tend to change or fade away as life simply gets in the way. Get past the first hurdle by reaching out to your best friend about your worries. This can have a tremendous impact on overcoming your struggles at university.

Two suggestions to think about before you ask your friend so that you will both feel comfortable, including whether:

  • the area is quiet or noisy (you are on your own or in a cafe)
  • you are doing an activity together or simply sitting down for a chat

#7: Considering a Gap Year?

If you’ve already tried all of these tips, but are still struggling with university, perhaps a gap year may be worth looking into. University life isn’t for everyone and a gap year provides an opportunity to pause and take a break from studying.

It can give you breathing space to consider options and potentially even open up new career pathways.

Here are some benefits of taking a gap year:

  • Broadens your cultural awareness
  • Raises your confidence and independence
  • Learn a new craft
  • Obtain work experience
  • Develop your language skills

The global pandemic has significantly impacted worldwide travel in 2020 with many gap year opportunities being put on hold. 

Despite this, there are viable alternatives to select from, so your gap year is not wasted. Virtual gap years are an option, as well as virtual work experience and volunteering.

Visit prospects for more work experience ideas

Summary: What to do if you are struggling with university

Thanks for taking the time to read this post! We hope it has provided you with some actionable tips if you have been struggling with university. Before you go check out our post on how to enjoy university life!

Here at Graduate Coach, we offer one-to-one career coaching services for students, graduates and career changers.

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