Sunday 1 November 2020

#FresherPressure: Tips for navigating university life

Caiyun shares her advice for overcoming #FresherPressure.

- Caiyun 

The transition to university can be overwhelming and scary. Although my university wasn’t too far from home, it was still a new environment. As someone who was always shyer and more introverted, it was hard for me to make new friends. Fortunately, I joined a university program the summer before the academic year started, allowing me to get a head start on the university experience. I was able to take two classes, live in the dorms with roommates, and foster relationships with mentors and peers. However, I still remember feeling very unprepared when I stepped into my first class. I was shocked by the rigorous academic curriculum. 
People around you may expect you to go into university, already knowing what you want to do. I believe university is about finding yourself — finding your path, which may be different than what your family had in mind for you. It’s also about learning to be independent and figuring out what your passions are. Like many others, I went in as a “pre-med” planning to study in biology, thinking that my goal was to get into medical school and eventually become a doctor. I think that’s very typical of Asians, especially Chinese students, partially due to family influence and expectations. After two years of struggling in pre-med courses and barely scraping by, I decided to go a different route. I knew I was more interested in social science.  

Although I have already graduated for a little over a year, I often reminisce about my university life. When I was still in school, I wanted to graduate as soon as possible, but now I miss those times. I definitely have some regrets. Having gone through the whole experience myself, I want to give some advice to students who are just starting their university journey amidst these challenging times: 

Network with professors: 

It’s crucial to get to know your professors outside of lectures. If the classes are large, professors may not even know your name, so try to make yourself stand out. Try to form relationships with professors early on by going to their office hours; joining in on their research projects; asking thought-provoking questions during class, or taking more than one class with the same professor. Online classes have limited our face-to-face interactions. You may want to schedule a one-to-one online meeting with your professor to talk about the class, so they know your face. These connections will come in handy when you need a letter of recommendation for jobs or postgraduate study. 
Join some clubs/organisations: 

University isn’t just about academics; extracurriculars are just as important. Joining a club or organisation of interest can be where you can meet new friends. This is an excellent idea if you’re a first-year student and having trouble finding your circle. You can join a club/organisation that’s related to your degree. Not only can you have some fun, but you can also add it to your CV.
Ask for help when you need it: 

If you don’t understand something, don’t be afraid to ask your professors for clarification. If your university has free tutoring services, seek them out when you’re struggling. I find that many new students are afraid to ask for help because they think they’re bothering someone. I used to be like that. I almost failed Organic Chemistry because I thought I could figure out everything by myself, even though I didn’t understand the material. After going to tutoring at my university’s student centre, I performed much better on the final exam and passed the class. Peer support can help a lot, too. You can form an online study group that meets once a week. 
Take on internships: 

It’s tempting to spend your whole summer watching Netflix, hanging out with friends, or just having fun relaxing after a stressful academic year. I highly recommend taking on internships during the summer or even the academic year, if you can. The job market is becoming more competitive, and COVID-19 has exacerbated the competition. Many interns get offered full-time jobs after graduation if they performed well during their internships. Internships also allow you to gain hands-on experience and build up your CV.
Keep a balanced lifestyle: 

University life is stressful, which can take a toll on your mental health. Keep a balance between your academic life and personal/social life. Know your priorities: study when you need to and have fun when you need to. It’s easy to procrastinate if all your classes are online, but it can be hard to catch up once you fall behind. Develop good studying habits to help you stay on track. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, practice self-care, take a break, go out with friends, etc. 

Student Space is here to help you through coronavirus. Explore online resources, access direct support via text, phone, web chat or email and find the support available at your place of study.

Hi, I'm Caiyun and I'm a recent graduate passionate about mental health advocacy and destigmatising mental health. I love writing and hope my posts can help other students!


  1. Mandy Jakic - What a great post! Know what's interesting? I'm in my 40s and returned to school recently to upgrade my skills and education ... and I can tell you I still have insecurities! Many of the things you describe I have thought myself. Focusing on small details and viewing the classes as places where I might fail, ring very true. Unfortunately. Then I reminded myself WHY I'm in school. I want to get a better job for my family. Period. This thinking, which is outside myself, has helped me to reverse the negative ideas. Well-being for me is exercising regularly, spending quality time with my kids, and getting rest. Sleep is very important for over-worked individuals. Thank you for an insightful post.

  2. Thank you for this informative post. As a freshman and an introverted student, these tips helped me a lot. It is indeed important to ask for help at times and not rely solely on ourselves. And this post also reminds me to keep a balance between my academic life and personal/social life. I need to know my priorities well.