About our writer
Emilia Persson is a current undergraduate of Cambridge University reading HSPS (Human, Social, and Political Science), and is an alumnus of the Immerse Education 2014 Summer Programme where she studied the International Relations course.
Going to university for the first time can often be a difficult time even for the best of us. It’s a new environment with new people and new challenges that you can’t really imagine until you’ve experienced them. You’ve just come from a place in which you had just worked your way to the top and where you’d grown comfortable and familiar with the teachers and facilities. Most importantly, you had a support group of friends.
Of course, the same thing will happen at university as well, but that’s little consolation when you step onto campus for the first time to a sea of new faces and only a map to show you around. Add on that the day-to-day real-life responsibilities of paying rent, securing student loans, arranging for things like broadband connections, and things can become quickly overwhelming. And then there’s the workload and the stress of figuring out what to do with your life when all’s said and done.
In short, university is a major life change that can end up being a blow to the confidence until you get your feet back under you. Here are a few strategies you can follow to help speed the assimilation process.
Acquire Real-Life Skills
After the whirlwind of exams and chasing grades to improve your chances at getting into the university of your choice, it’s common to come out of the storm feeling somewhat like an academic automaton. Your entire focus has been on academics for so long that when you arrive at university and realise that your academic accomplishments aren’t necessarily top of the heap compared to your new peers. The qualities and accomplishments that once made you stand out are now the norm, and you’re not feeling as special as you once did.
One way to help turn your confidence around is to learn a few practical skills, of which university students in general are notoriously lacking. Things like cooking, sewing, carpentry, and the like are all skills that will stand you in good stead once you’ve arrived at university as well as setting you apart from a large majority of your fellow students.
When you’re already feeling somewhat inadequate in your new surroundings, it can only make matters worse if you’re also struggling to adequately feed yourself. But, if you’ve garnered the skills necessary to put together a nutritious meal, not only for yourself but for your new friends as well, it can give you a sense of accomplishment and help boost your confidence in other areas of your life as well.
In short, just knowing that you don’t need to look elsewhere for a solution when confronted by some of life’s everyday pitfalls helps you realise that other seemingly insurmountable obstacles may not be quite so bad as you thought.
Tackle Your Problems Like an Assignment
You’ve spent the past several years learning how to be a student. When you’re faced with an academic problem, you know exactly how to approach it. So, why not take that same approach to solving your crisis of confidence?
It may seem daft at first, but given a chance, the academic approach can help clarify and resolve any number of problems. Break a seemingly huge concern down into more manageable, smaller chunks as you would if you were completing a writing assignment or preparing for an exam. Put together a mind map of whatever is bothering you to help clarify exactly what’s weighing upon your mind and where it’s coming from. Be creative. Identify the problem and attack it with whatever study skills you can muster.
Just as your single-minded focus on studies may have contributed to your current crisis of confidence, it can also be harnessed to help resolve it.
That’s the academic circle of life.
Take on Real-Life Responsibilities
It’s no wonder one might feel a bit low in the confidence department when going to university for the simple reason of your station in life. You’re only just over the age of 18, and up to this point, most of the real-life responsibilities of your existence have been handled by your parents. One way to turn things around is to take control of certain responsibilities of life yourself (you can begin small). Taking responsibility for the mountains of paperwork that accompany enrolling in university and securing living arrangements, etc is one good way to begin.
Other confidence-boosting activities you might pursue include choosing and planning an evening’s activities for your family or a group of friends, or volunteering to coach a local youth sports club, or to babysit younger relatives or neighborhood children.
The more you can demonstrate to yourself and others that you are capable of these sorts of responsibilities, the more capable you’ll feel when faced with other, bigger responsibilities. Confidence is built by meeting and overcoming obstacles. The more you can do that in the every-day portion of your life, the more your confidence will grow in general.
Find a Mentor
Part of the loneliness of stepping into university for the first time is the irrational feeling that you’re the only one who ever felt this way. The upper-classmen seem to be so relaxed and happy as they effortlessly navigate the campus with their tight-knit coterie of friends. Even your fellow first-year students seem to be much more put-together than you feel at any given point in the day. Rest assured, however, you’re not the first. One good way to navigate the novel mysteries of beginning university is to look into acquiring a mentor.
A mentor is someone who has been through, and survived, exactly what you’re going through, and then graduated successfully into the real-world. They can be alumni of the university and course of study that you’re entering into or alumni of other similar programmes of study. Most importantly, they can demonstrate for you that what you’re feeling and going through is not unique, and that it is, in fact, just a necessary stepping stone to bigger and better things.
And, of course, you can continue to benefit from a mentor throughout your university career and beyond.
Be Master of Your Own Social Life
It’s a well-known fact of life that, when you move on to university, your social life will consist solely of gazing blearily into the bottom of a pint glass at every opportunity.
Or is it?
While this will most probably be true of many of your fellow students, if the allure of such pursuits is lost on you, it need not be true of you. Just as there’s not one course of study to fit all university students, neither is there just one means of socialising in your free time. If you know for a fact that the drinking culture is simply not for you, consider what kinds of things you do enjoy doing with your free time.
If you’re not accustomed to actually having any free time, ask yourself what interests you in general. At most universities, there are bound to be a plethora of clubs and societies focused on a broad range of topics where you’re sure to find like-minded people with whom to socialise without permanently compromising the integrity of your liver or winding up driving your car into a tree.
University Services are There to Serve
When attending university, it’s easy to forget that University Services even exists. It’s even easier to have no earthly clue as to what it is that they do. To put it briefly, University Services is there to serve students like you – in whatever way they can.
Whether you’re trying to navigate the complexities of campus housing, are having a rough time financially, are worrying about your next steps post-graduation, or even beginning to think you’ve chosen the wrong course of study altogether. University Services is not just some ephemeral concept housed in a building on campus that nobody ever enters, it’s an active component of campus life that offers solutions and resources for these and countless other problems and concerns.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed, or just confused, by any aspect of day-to-day life while at university, University Services is the place to start looking for a solution.
Talk to Someone
As we mentioned in the Mentor section above, it’s easy to become so entrenched in your own worries and insecurities as to convince yourself that you’re the only one who feels the way you do. Humans, in general, tend not to broadcast the fact that they’re feeling insecure, a tendency that may have served us well in the distant past when showing weakness might be a life-or-death mistake, but your survival no longer depends upon being quiet and stoic.
Whether it’s your friends who’ve gone elsewhere, your new friends on campus, a trusted teacher, or a family member, you’re virtually surrounded by people who understand what you’re going through right now. And even if your friends don’t have any more of a solution than you do, it can still be endlessly comforting just to know that you’re not alone. It should also be pointed out that the “two heads are better than one” adage generally holds true; you’re more likely to find a solution to your concerns if you’re working together with a friend
No matter the reason or extent of your crisis of confidence as you venture off to university, the take-aways to remember from the above tips are that you’re most certainly not the first or only one to be feeling as you do at the moment, and that there are techniques, services, and people who are not only able, but willing and specifically waiting for the opportunity to help.
But the most important take-away, if you benefit from nothing else you’ve read here, is not to keep your feelings to yourself. Whether it’s friends, family, mentors, or a stranger on the bus, sharing with others helps you to feel less alone and isolated in your feelings, and also is generally a good first step to resolving them.