Understanding the first year

Understanding the first year can help reassure you and your student, particularly if this is your first experience of having a university student.

Every student experiences university differently, but it's useful to understand some of the key milestones of the first year. We've developed this guide over years of experience with new students (and their families!), and know that parents and guardians often find it helpful.

We know that students may feel particularly nervous with the disruption of COVID-19 over the past few years, but we also know that underneath it all their concerns are the same as ever - settling in, making friends, and keeping up with their studies.

Supporting students

We realise that parents and guardians are often students' first point of call for issues that come up. Being aware of the support that's available will put you in a good position to signpost and encourage them if any issues arise.

Discover support for students

Month-by-month

August

  • Worries about making friends and fitting in are key for all new students, though some may be less inclined to admit to it!
  • Students who are moving away from home are likely to be nervous about the responsibilities they will be taking on when they move out.
  • The practicalities of organising everything before they start at university is often a stress for students.
  • For students who have been at school through the COVID-19 pandemic, they may be additionally worried about their ability to keep up with studies and 'normal' lectures.

What can you do to help?

  • Encourage your student to find other new students who will be on the same course or in the same accommodation online - it'll help reassure them that other students are feeling the same as them. 
  • If this is going to be their first time away from home, it might be time for a refresher on some basic domestic skills, such as cooking, shopping, using a washing machine or maybe even changing their bed.
  • Help your student organise themselves by going through our Welcome Timeline and what to pack checklist. Remember that they don't need to buy every single thing before they arrive - they will usually have limited storage space, and there are plenty of shops and online deliveries available!
  • Be honest with your student about the financial support you can (and cannot) provide. Help them understand their budget and encourage them to think about what they can afford. The first term can often be an expensive time for students as they settle down and get into good (or at least, better) habits!
  • Encourage them to plan their time using the Welcome timetable). Using a diary or planner as a designated place to note down all the things they need to do (both study and other things) is a really good idea, whether it's an old-fashioned paper diary or journal, or an online or mobile calendar. 
  • If your student has a disability, encourage them to tell us about it if they have not already done so. A disability may include a long-term health condition, physical or sensory impairment, a mental health difficulty, autism, and specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia. They should tell us even if they do not think they want to access any support yet, as it may help make it quicker to access support if they decide to in future. Find out about disclosing a disability.
  • Encourage your student to speak to their GP about any health concerns or vaccines they haven't had, including the Men ACWY vaccine. See our Health and Wellbeing information.
  • We encourage all students to access COVID-19 vaccines. They can speak to their GP or contact NHS 119 for more detail.

September

  • New students are usually quite nervous as well as excited about starting university.
  • Making friends is key to all students. Students might feel pressure to make really strong friendships and meet their lifelong friends in the first few days and weeks - in reality, things can take longer and friendships will continually change as they meet and get to know more people!
  • Homesickness and feelings of not fitting in are very common for students moving away for the first time.
  • Exhaustion from lots of nights out is very common. Some students may also find that they have spent more money than they intended to during the first few weeks, and may be struggling with their budget.
  • Many students will find they don't keep in contact with family and previous friends as much as they might have thought they would. Some will be in contact daily, whilst others may go much longer without being in touch.

What can you do to help?

  • Reassure them that every new student will be feeling nervous and trying to fit in, even if they appear to be confident.
  • If you are moving your student into their accommodation, follow their lead when it comes to how long they want you to hang around. Some will appreciate spending time with you unpacking, or going for lunch - others may find it easier to get stuck in and prefer not to prolong the goodbyes.
  • Encourage them to get involved and meet as many people as possible, but don't panic if they don't feel like they're meeting the 'right' people just yet. There are lots of opportunities to get involved and start to make friends during Welcome Week and throughout the rest of the year - very few people will meet their best friends in the first few days!
  • If your student is going to be living at home, encourage them to get involved with campus life through societies, volunteering, or even part-time work.
  • Whether they need the money or not, part-time work can be a great way to meet other people, provide some routine and stability, and gain experience. Worklink provides students with opportunities to work on campus. Students can register for job alerts, apply online and find help with CVs and interview techniques.
  • If they are experiencing any problems with accommodation, shared living, their academic course, finances or their general wellbeing, the University’s Student Mentor Scheme can help. Whether it’s a one off problem or a need for more regular support, our fully trained Mentors and professional support staff are here to help our students resolve any issue they may face during their time at Birmingham.
  • Try to reassure students that homesickness is quite normal, but that they are likely to feel better if they stay and work through it, rather than returning home at the first opportunity (although each student is different). Encourage them to make plans for the next couple of days, and take small steps to get involved in activities and speaking to people. A simple plan for each day, such as doing a food shop or going for a walk, can make things feel more achievable.
  • If they are feeling run down after a lot of late nights, their friends are probably feeling the same. Why not encourage them to suggest a more chilled out activity, like a film night or a take away dinner in - their friends are likely to be quite glad of the change too. 
  • Try not to worry if you don't hear from them as much as you thought you would. Some students find lots of contact reassuring, whilst others may find it overbearing or unsettling. Talk to them about what they prefer. You could agree a weekly point of contact, whether it's FaceTime, a text, or a phone call, to reassure you that they are ok! 

October

  • A big hurdle for many students at this point is managing their time effectively, as they are likely to be juggling a much greater variety of responsibilities than they may have been used to. Simple domestic chores, such as cooking, shopping and laundry can become stressful when accompanied by their increased academic workload.
  • Students are likely to be feeling a bit more settled a few weeks in, and may be settling into a routine where they are getting to grips with independent study. However, students are often still struggling with this several months in, and may feel a bit up and down with it all.
  • 'Freshers' flu' can be an issue for many students in the first few weeks, after all the excitement of Welcome Week.
  • If they are living in shared accommodation, this is the time when students relax a bit and most likely when some tensions arise. 
  • A few weeks into their course students may have doubts about whether they have chosen the correct course for them or worry about their ability to keep up. They may feel like an impostor, and think that everyone around them is coping much better than them.
  • Students start to think about housing for the next year earlier and earlier - we used to put this advice in the December section! Students may feel pressured that they need to commit to living with a particular group of friends, or signing contracts for a particular house. Unfortunately, some landlords and agents may imply there is a sense of urgency and that students will miss out if they don't sort something early.
  • Thinking about housing can be stressful - it is very early to have found a group you want to commit to living with, and friendships can change a lot over those first few months. Students might also find their friends have different expectations and budgets when it comes to looking for somewhere to live, and might feel like everyone around them is already 'sorted'.

What can you do to help?

  • Encourage students to consider all of the things they need to do together (academic, domestic and social), so that they can prioritise and order them in most effective way. Have a look at our time management tips.  
  • Remind students to write down everything they need to do - often having a whole list of things floating around inside their heads can be the biggest distraction from actually getting any of them done. They might find an old fashioned to-do list or paper diary useful, or they might prefer to use apps like Reminders and their phone calendar to help them get organised.
  • Remind your student to look after their health as a first priority. If they are ill they need to take things easy, inform their tutors as appropriate, and if they are very unwell or remain unwell for several days to contact their GP for advice. 
  • If your student is not feeling settled, remind them that they could get in contact with their personal tutor or someone from another support service to discuss any issues and that addressing a problem will not be seen as a weakness. 
  • Remind them that communication is key to shared living, but if they have any major problems to contact the Student Mentor Scheme or the relevant person in their accommodation site.
  • Encourage them to check on other students in their flat, particularly if they haven't seen them that day.
  • Remind students that eating well is key to their health and wellbeing. Encourage them to eat balanced meals - they may find it easier to cook larger quantities in advance.
  • If they are having second thoughts about their choice of course, encourage them to talk to their personal tutor as soon as possible to see what their options are.
  • Don't buy into the panic about accommodation - it can be hard to get out of the mindset of applying to university and feeling like it is always best to sort things sooner rather than later! Reassure them that they don't need to have found their group yet, and encourage them to slow down. There is plenty of student accommodation in the local area.
  • If you are supporting your student financially, be honest and up-front about what you can afford when it comes to housing. It may help to think together about what their budget looks like.
  • When they do start looking at their next year's accommodation, the Guild of Students' Renters' Union provides useful information about what to expect and how to make sure you are finding a good deal. Community Living (part of the University) provide practical advice for every stage of renting privately.
  • Staying in University accommodation is an option for those who'd prefer it - contact Living to find out more.
  • The Guild of Students usually run Flatmate Finder events for those looking to find a group to live with. They tend to start closer to Christmas and into the start of the next year (because it's still very early!). Check the Guild of Students's events page to find out what's happening.

November

  • Many students have a reading or consolidation week around the middle of the term. They may want to come home to see family and friends, while others may want to remain at the University and continue to settle in.
  • Many students find that plans for weekends and reading weeks may change, and might avoid committing to plans too far in advance or change their plans at short notice.
  • First assignments are usually due around this time, which is a big step for many students.
  • Students who are used to achieving 'full marks' on assessments may find they need to adapt their expectations as their assignments may be assessed and graded differently than they have been used to at school or college, particularly in humanities and social sciences.

What can you do to help?

  • Try to avoid placing too many expectations on your student's time and don't be too disappointed if they decide not to travel home for breaks. Not all students will have a 'reading week', and if they do there may be academic support sessions or extracurricular activities they want to take part in.
  • If your student feels they are struggling with their assignments, remind them that there is study support available to help them adjust. Encourage them to ask their lecturers or tutor about the way in which assignments are assessed and graded, and what a good mark looks like for that assignment.
  • Remind them that no-one expects their first assignment to be perfect, and that they will continue to improve throughout their studies. Encourage them to read and reflect on the feedback they receive and to not just focus on the grade, and to make use of Personal Tutor sessions and office hours if they have questions.

December

  • Students will be looking forward to having a good break, enjoying home comforts, and will probably be preparing for exams and assignments in the new year.
  • Returning home can be difficult for some students, as they have become accustomed to their new environment and independence.
  • Being away from University may encourage students to open up about what they are finding difficult and worries that they have.
  • Assessment Support Week takes place at the end of December, with a range of activities and support designed to help students prepare for the January assessment period.

What can you do to help?

  • Make the transition back home easier by being open about any expectations you have on their time from the outset. Agree any boundaries beforehand.
  • Encourage them to make time to relax and catch up with friends and family as well as studying.
  • They may appreciate receiving 'student friendly' Christmas presents, such as online subscriptions or gift cards for their favourite restaurant or coffee shop.
  • If your student is experiencing any problems with accommodation, shared living, their academic course, finances or their general wellbeing, the Student Mentor Scheme can help.  Whether it’s a one off problem or a need for more regular support, we have a full range of support services to help our students with issues they may face during their time at Birmingham.
  • Encourage them to check what is on offer from their School and department during Assessment Support Week and to take the opportunity to access support and guidance.

January/February

  • Many students feel a bit unsettled about returning to University after their long Christmas break.
  • Most students will have assessments during January, whether through exams or assignments.
  • UoBe Festival takes place after assessments finish, and is a week full of enriching activities. From Varsity sports, to skills sessions, and ways to get involved in the local community, there really is something for everyone.
  • Lots of students see the start of the new semester as a chance to do everything better - keep up to date, get more involved, see more of the city.

What can you do to help?

  • Again, reassure them that it is quite normal to feel unsettled at this point. If problems become more significant, ask them to seek support through the appropriate support service.
  • Remind students of the importance of understanding exam rules, which may be different from what they have experienced before at school or college.
  • Encourage students to improve their working habits, get more involved etc., but to be realistic about how much time they have and not to become too disappointed if they don't manage it as well as they would like.
  • The Academic Skills Centre offer workshops, one-to-one support, and online resources to help students with their studies. Even students who excelled at school or college often find the step up to university level study and the difference in expectations challenging.
  • There is general information about exams on the website, but students may need to check their Canvas or talk to their tutor to get information specific to their course.
  • Encourage them to check out the UoBe Festival and sign up for the free sessions!

March/April 

  • Teaching and assessment continues. Towards the end of this time, most students will have some form of exam or assessment looming and this is likely to take precedence over many other things in their lives. Many students feel that they would like to be better informed about the process, but are unsure how to get the information.
  • Some students are uncertain about how they will get on with the further reduction in the structure of their time during the exam period, and the need to be more self-disciplined with their study. 
  • Students may feel that they want to talk to someone about their concerns, for example whether they are up to standard, studying the correct content, or worries about their individual circumstances, but think they will be seen as weak or failing if they do.
  • Students at this stage often can't believe that their first year is almost over and worry that they haven't made enough of the opportunities available to them.

What can you do to help?

  • There is general information about exams on the website, but students may need to talk to their tutor to get information specific to their course.
  • Encourage students to think about how and when they will revise. The Academic Skills Centre have prepared some top tips for revision.
  • Try to reassure them that seeking support is not a sign of weakness and that any member of staff should recognise this. You could help by encouraging them to get in touch with their personal tutor or the appropriate support service.
  • This is sometimes the time where your student will open up about things they are finding difficult, and that they may not have kept up with all of their deadlines. Be supportive and encourage them to speak to their Personal Tutor or Wellbeing Officer - they've usually seen it all before and will be able to provide practical advice about next steps.
  • Try to remind your student of all that they have achieved (getting settled in a completely new environment, handing in first assignments, making new friends, and perhaps living away from home for the first time) and that there will be opportunities to get involved in the things they want to in future years or even after their exams.

May/June

  • This is exam and finishing up time for the majority of students.
  • Exams and assessments are key for most students.
  • Many students are making or finalising their plans for the summer, which may include travelling, working or volunteering.
  • Students living in University accommodation will need to clear out all of their personal belongings.
  • After students finish their exams they will probably want to relax, spend time with new friends, and do the sightseeing they have not had the chance to do throughout the year. Many will work through the summer to save up money for the next year, or to support themselves.

What can you do to help?

  • Encourage students to eat well and get plenty of rest during this stressful time.
  • Remind students of the importance of understanding exam rules, which may be different from what they have experienced before. Knowing what they need to do will help them feel prepared and avoid making silly mistakes which could have serious consequences.
  • If they become unwell, or are experiencing problems which may affect their exam performance, make sure they are aware of the extenuating circumstances procedure.
  • Make sure your student is aware of the moving out date for their accommodation and have made the necessary arrangements for clearing out their flat and transporting or storing their belongings over the summer.
  • Chat to your student about their plans and expectations for the summer. Just like Christmas, it can be unsettling to come home when they may have adapted to a different lifestyle, and may have different expectations about things like family holidays, meal times, and how they spend their day. Try to have an open conversation and agree boundaries on both sides.
  • Some students will prefer to stay at University over the summer to spend time with friends, work their part-time job, or generally just to be here. Again, try to have an open conversation early on to make sure you are both on the same page.

What our students think you need to know

What's it like when you start University?

 

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