Starting university is a huge adjustment for most people: living in halls, being more self-reliant (doing your own washing! getting up on time!!), homesickness maybe, finding your tribe, let alone starting a degree. Your brain is bombarded with lots of new information very quickly and furiously processing the new environment can be absolutely exhausting. Some take to university like a duck to water, but lots of people find it really tough at first, even questioning whether they are on the right course, at the right university or whether they can keep up with the booze and parties. So, hang in there and don’t panic if you don’t find uni a walk in the park at the start!
In my experience, very few people breeze through university without needing to lean on support at some point and I really can’t fault the support on offer here at Birmingham – there’s no need to struggle in silence.
- You can drop into the Chemistry welfare office. The welfare team can really champion your needs and act as a buffer between you and the Department. They are great at providing practical support, such as asking for an extension to a deadline on your behalf or helping with exam arrangements (some have 25% extra time, do exams in a small group or alone). They also run wellbeing activities such as free yoga and dog therapy.
- Some students have a document called a RAP (‘reasonable adjustment plan’). These are created for students who have conditions such as dyslexia, deafness, mental health difficulties, learning differences etc. The document signposts members of staff to your needs to save you having to explain them. I think ‘reasonable adjustment plan’ is a great term: it conveys the sense that providing a bit of support for someone who has a particular struggle is straightforward and something they are perfectly entitled to.
- In my first year, I found labs really challenging and ended up missing a few. When students miss things for a good reason, they can fill out an absence form and are not penalised when it comes to attendance or grades.
- Another source of support is your personal tutor who you can call in on at any time. In my experience, staff tend to meet you without judgement, respecting cognitive diversity and trusting that you are trying your best – this is something I have found so refreshing.
- Another obvious source of support is friends. University is a golden opportunity to forge deeper, caring friendships with like-minded, interesting people. Finding your authentic self and showing vulnerability in wobbly times can really strengthen those friendships (thank you Rhys and Hatti!).
- If you reach the stage where you feel you are really struggling and want to talk with a professional, the Student Hub offers a counselling service. People access counselling for a variety of reasons and it can be very helpful to unpick an issue over a series of focused sessions. Just bear in mind that there is sometimes a long waiting list.
- A great source of support for me is my mentor, Laura, who I meet with weekly to talk about anything and everything. She has been instrumental in helping me to feel settled and supported at University. Funding for my mentor came through Student Finance England – I would recommend looking into this if you have a diagnosed condition. They can also fund a study-skills tutor who can help with organisational and revision skills and provide a whole host of resources to help with learning (you’d be amazed at what’s on offer!).
I hope I have provided you with reassurance that if there are bumps in the road at University there is great support available and a network of people around you who are rooting for you to succeed – don’t forget that!