How to prepare for university: dos and don’ts | Education

We asked university lecturers, personal tutors and doctors for their top tips to avoid stress from the start:

Don’t expect to excel at every aspect of your course. “That can lead to burnout,” says Dr Hinnah Rafique, a lecturer in public policy at Oxford University. “You don’t have to be good at everything. You’ll have strengths in different areas and eventually find one or two aspects you do better at – this is normal.”

Don’t commit yourself to a part-time job in the first term. “Wait and see how you go before agreeing to do more than a few hours’ work here and there, and be prepared to warn your manager you will need certain weeks off,” says Dr Aleksej Heinze, of the University of Salford Business School.

Do expect to feel homesick. “Use Skype and social media to stay in touch and consider ways you can be involved in family life without being physically present,” says Rafique.

Do prioritise sleep. “Disrupted sleep patterns are closely related to anxiety and depression,” says Dr Fredrik Johansson, a consultant psychiatrist for Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust.

Do use the rest of the summer holidays to research the content of the first term. The more you know now about your course, the more confident you will feel.

Do organise yourself. The biggest new challenge students face is to manage time and organise all their social and academic activities. Get into the habit of keeping a planner, noting down deadlines and commitments so you feel on top of things. There are useful apps such as Listastic, Any.do, Finish and To.do for making lists and scheduling tasks. Nothing is better, however, than an old-fashioned planner.

Don’t compare yourself to others. “Often the people who seem to be hitting the library for 12 hours or partying all the time are not the happiest, and those students who appear to be mastering everything immediately are not actually doing so,” says Dr Ewan Jones, director of studies in English at Downing College, Cambridge. “Don’t put unnecessary extra pressure on yourself.”

Do register with a local GP as soon as you arrive. “A lot of access to mental health services goes through your GP,” says Johansson.

Do exercise to relieve stress and reset your brain, or just go for a walk. “I tell my students that if they take a walk when they’re feeling overwhelmed, the ideas will come to them,” says Jones.

Do make time to socialise and make friends. “Having at least one person to confide in helps increase resilience,” says Johansson.

Finally, don’t ever be afraid to seek help. “University pastoral teams are specially trained and, trust me, they won’t think you’re wasting their time if you decide to stop by for a chat,” says Rafique.

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