Coventry University psychologist shares tips on making friends and transitioning to university
Tuesday 16 August 2022
A Coventry University psychologist has shared her top tips to help students make friends and transition to university life.
The Higher Education Policy Institute surveyed more than 10,000 students for its annual study and discovered that factors that contribute most to their sense of belonging at their institution are approachable and accessible academic staff, a diverse student population, and living with or close to other students and campus.
Coventry University has one of the most diverse student populations in the UK, with students from 157 different nationalities studying at Coventry city campus for the 2021/22 academic year.
Coventry University invests in a range of student support services, including student success coaches, and as students prepare to receive their A level and BTEC results. Course director of Childhood, Youth and Education Studies in the School of Psychological, Social and Behavioural Sciences, Nim Bahia, has given her tips on how to adjust to leaving home, making friends and starting your university journey.
Nim has 14 years of health psychology practice experience working across health and education with children and young people and due to that background, she is able to share insight into making the transition to higher education.
University marks the beginning of a change, and often one which comes with mixed emotions ranging from excitement to feeling homesick, or even questioning ‘why am I here?’. It not only becomes a significant year of transition in a practical sense as you encounter new surroundings, managing independence, domestic commitments, but also one at an emotional level as you forge new friendships, and if you’ve relocated, start missing home.
You can find Nim’s top tips to help the transition to university life below:
- Get involved and show up: It is important to turn up to course level or campus-wide induction activities in the first week to meet others who may be experiencing similar feelings, but it is also an open, safe space to ask questions. This helps you to get to know your course peers, and staff community early. I teach first-year students and I’ve heard many students say they were so nervous coming into the building. Some say they saw another student walking into the same room and they acknowledged how each other felt, and this became the instant catalyst for their friendship. Recognise that other people are also having the same experiences and a new start and use it to bond. Look for peers and mentors who are or have been in your shoes. Find a mentor who can help affirm what’s typical of this transition, that you’re not alone and this is a shared experience for many students. A mentor could be one of our staff, our student ambassadors, someone who is in the final year of your course or someone you have met at one of our societies. At Coventry University we have a software platform called Vygo that can introduce peer support and mentoring to all students from day one.
- Stay Connected: The first few weeks can surface feelings of joy, excitement, a little like a ‘honeymoon phase’ where everything feels great but then begins to wane, leading to feelings of imposter syndrome - ‘why am I here, am I good enough?’ This can become exaggerated by missing what you previously knew, your previous circle of friends, comfort of home. Remember to keep in touch with those at home, friends, or family - it’s likely they are just as much thinking about how you are getting on as you embark on this new chapter. Schedule an informal frequency of when you’ll check in with someone, even if it’s by phone call or video call once a week.
- Join a club/society: Check out your student union webpages for clubs or societies that represent an existing interest or even a new hobby. Joining a club or society will expose you to new faces with something in common, while helping you feel part of a wider university community. This can harness a feeling of belonging and it can also help in empowering your confidence in a new context and support you in making new connections.
- Trust in time: Accept the good and bad days and remind yourself that adjusting to your new surroundings does not happen overnight. University has often been labelled as the ‘best years of your life’, and for many students it can feel as though there is pressure for the experience to live up to this from day one. In actual reality making meaningful friendships, getting to know your course staff, the university campus and its facilities and much more takes time. Not every day will feel like an epiphany! It helps to be reminded that you bring a rich experience of education from school, post 16 or college and therefore how you experience transition into university is unique to you. Whether you joined us through Clearing or another route, you earned your spot and you belong. It’s likely that after the first semester you recognise yourself settling in fully and becoming familiar with the people and place that inhabit your new world of university. This time is where you come in to your own and hails much opportunity to carve a future ahead that is bright.
- Exercise Self-Care: The start to university life can be fast paced. Remember it is also important to physically take time to pause, relax, or perhaps even reflect on how you’re feeling. Where possible, be aware of eating well or at least regularly, getting a good night of sleep, integrating physical activity, and connecting with nature or the outdoors. Our university has lots of green study space – we've even got an edible garden where you can pick your own produce.
- Speak up: If you are concerned about how you are transitioning to university flag it to your course staff, your academic and personal tutor or one of the student success coaches. Our staff are as interested as you are in wanting to make this the best experience for you as possible. As course staff we want to know how you are adjusting, how you are feeling and how we can help. Finding a mentor gives you a chance to validate the experience of change - ‘yes this is a change, I may be feeling X, but it’s OK’. It’s likely we have spoken to students in a similar headspace, so you won’t be the first nor the last. It may even be experiences from a while back that you find resurfacing affecting your wellbeing which we would advise you to talk about in depth with one of our trained counsellors. I’d advise any student thinking of going to university to research the wellbeing and student support services and be prepared to reach out if they need it.
If you are thinking of furthering your studies this September but have not chosen your university, find out how you can join Coventry University through Clearing.