The narrative around starting university is made very clear by teachers, parents, fellow students and even university open days – you’re going to have the time of your life, form life-long friendships, and begin your career.
But too little thought is given to the more challenging side of starting at university. This is often the first time students are leaving home and the new demands on them can be dizzying and alarming – the sudden need to balance working, studying, socialising, cooking, managing their time and finances.
They might find themselves overwhelmed and under-prepared, and these feelings can spiral into more serious issues affecting their overall wellbeing.
We know that the more we can prepare students in the transition to university, the faster we can settle them in, grow their confidence, and help them develop positive behaviours, mind-sets and friendships. So across the sector we all must ask ourselves – how can we ensure that the excitement and thrill of this period is not lost, while also helping new students to realise that their feelings of worry are normal and can often be easily resolved? How can we empower our students to take control of their university experience?
They’re not all the same
In practice, “celebrating the diversity of our students” means demonstrating that we understand that students transition in different ways. That’s partly about asking students questions – what will you have achieved by the time you finish university? What are you looking forward to? What concerns you? It’s also about developing a growth mindset – asking students if they believe that they can grow their skills and knowledge and continually improve their talent. And crucially, it’s about helping students to build connections with others.
At UWE Bristol we’ve developed a whole range of resources within five new induction modules, which students can engage with in a way that suits them – including a short introduction, a film to get students to start thinking, self-reflective tasks, a podcast episode that brings the theme into an academic space with some of our own staff and lecturers, and signposting on to further helpful resources and support. They are informative, thought-provoking, fun, and most importantly, they are addressing genuine student concerns including time management, having enough money, and making friends.
Easing them in
By encouraging students to think about these issues ahead of joining university, we are guiding students to be in control of their own wellbeing, and providing them with tasks and resources to get the very most out of their time here.
I hope other universities will adopt and develop similar methods to ease students into university life. By encouraging students to set realistic expectations ahead of arriving and acknowledge that university is a safe space to fail as well as succeed, I believe we will help thousands of students who may otherwise feel unable to cope and in need of more serious mental health support.
We need to remind students that the true secret to their success at university lies within themselves, and that they have much more power, resilience and ability than they realise.
Our collective responsibility is not just to ensure our students flourish academically, but to equip them with the skills and outlook that will see them in good stead for the rest of their lives too.