How students and parents can prepare for a new life at university


With the start of a new life at university fast approaching many first time students will be feeling a mixture of excitement, uncertainty and worry about this new and unknown chapter in their lives.

Change is not always easy to cope with. It can be bewildering, and it is normal to feel overwhelmed, lonely, and lost in the early days. Students will not only be learning about this new independence, a new routine and a different way of learning, but they will also have the added pressure of making new friends and being away from their family home.

It is important to remember that when you are starting your life at university you are not alone, everybody is finding their feet, however cool and confident they may appear. Feeling anxious about this new start is normal, however, a few practical tips for students and parents to help adjust to this new environment can be very beneficial.

Top tips for students:-

Think about the positives

Being positive about this next stage of life can often be easier said than done. However, starting out with a positive mindset and being aware of your mental health will help you to adapt to change.

Despite how daunting the thought of spending three or four years at university might feel, remind yourself that university will be a time of great opportunities – a place to make friends for life, to learn new skills, and to expand your horizons.

Remember self-care

There will be many more responsibilities to manage when you are away from home, and it is important to find time for yourself to unwind and process the changes.

Alongside eating well, getting plenty of exercise, and getting enough sleep, partaking in the following can help to make your transition smoother:

  • Ensure you have a tidy living and work space
  • Set achievable goals for studying and don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t always stick to them
  • Make time to be alone and relax
  • Talk to your new housemates and fellow classmates about how you feel as its likely they are feeling the same or can relate in some way.

Find friends with the same interests as you

University is a great place to find friends for life, but you want to make sure that you find people who enjoy the same things as you. Join groups, societies and sports teams you know you will enjoy, but also explore different and new interests. However, it is important to remember that you do not have to be part of a crowd, stick to what you love and enjoy, and you might find some great new interests and friends along the way.

Don’t feel pressured to do something you do not want to do

Whilst you might find the time to explore new interests, it is important to look after yourself and your mental health. If you find yourself in a situation where you feel like you’re being pressured into doing something you do not want to do, don’t feel embarrassed or beat yourself up for saying no. You can earn from these experiences and move on.

Look after your mental health

If you feel like you might be struggling with your mental health, make sure you talk to someone. Reach out to a friend or family member; a tutor or supervisor. All universities have support teams who can listen and help.

If you have a pre-existing condition, such as Autism or ADHD inform the university student support and wellbeing team preferably before you start, as they can then tailor support to suit your needs.

Top tips for parents, guardians and careers:

Practice and Prep

Discussing hypothetical events with your child can help with learning and finding solutions and coping strategies, as they will face a lot of firsts at university. Some examples of hypothetical events can include:

  • The possibility of running low on money for food shopping and other essentials
  • Getting a part-time job while studying
  • Finding the right friendship groups

It’s about raising awareness of these sorts of situations, so the young person is problem-solving before they get to university.

Help your child to get set up and organized

  • Support your child in finding the right accommodation. Reach out to the student accommodation departments at university if you are struggling.
  • Ensure your child has enough food, toiletries, clothes, and other essentials to get set up.
  • Double check their finances with them and ensure they are ready to deal with their new financial independence.

Agree a plan of communication

There is a very fine balance between being supportive and knowing how intrusive to be when a child sets off for university (especially when ‘empty nest syndrome’ hits). Parents may want to think about changing how they communicate with their child so that it is age appropriate as they become adults. This might be in the form of a weekly phone call, a monthly visit, or perhaps FaceTime with the family pets.

Listen to your child if you feel they are having a hard time

Listening sounds very easy, but if you think your child is distressed, it can be very hard to just listen and not jump to conclusions. Be curious, and non-judgemental and set up that channel of open communication. Instil that trust that you are there to listen and help where possible, not judge.

All universities have student support and wellbeing services that can link students into services available specifically for students. is a national charity for student mental health that can offer advice and support. It is also important that when you arrive at university, that you register with a local GP, so that you can access local NHS services for both your physical and mental health needs.

About Author:

Dr Gabrielle Pendlebury is a child and adolescent psychiatrist specializing in neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and ADHD. She is the Clinical Director for psychiatric services at Onebright (, one of the UK’s leading providers of mental health services.

Contact: Dr Gabrielle Pendlebury