Understanding the first year

Starting university and making adjustments throughout their first year is both exciting and daunting for students, but it is also a time of adjustment for parents. Knowing the type of situations, pressures and issues students are likely to be experiencing at any time should help you understand what's going on and know how you can best help them.

We have pulled together some of the key issues that undergraduate students have told us they face at different points throughout the year and some suggestions of how you might be able to help them. Different students react in different ways to starting university and we realise that parents are often best placed to know whether their son or daughter is coping or not.

We hope these tips will be useful for you and help make the journey easier for everyone!

August

  • Worries about making friends and fitting in are key for all prospective students.
  • 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. 

What can you do to help?

  • Encourage your son or daughter to join some online forums/social networking sites - 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 son or daughter organise themselves by going through our things to do before arriving and what to pack checklists and encouraging them to plan their time using the Welcome timetable (available mid-August). All first year undergraduate students will receive a Student Diary from their school of department. This is usually provided during an induction session.
  • Encourage your son or daughter 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.

September

  • Your son or daughter will probably be quite nervous as well as excited about starting university.
  • Making friends is key to all students. If students have not made really strong friendships in the first few days and weeks they may feel that they're not going to fit in, but these things can take a bit longer, depending on the situation. Friendships will continually change as students 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.
  • Encourage them to get involved and meet as many people as possible - successful transition to university is often dependent on students' level of involvement and social networks, as these can provide much needed support in times of difficulty. There are lots of opportunities to get involved and make friends during Welcome Week and throughout the rest of the year.
  • If your son or daughter is going to be living at home, encourage them to get involved with campus life through societies, volunteering, or even part-time work.
  • Reassure your son or daughter they may need to give it some time before they make their close friends. There are many different ways of making friends at university and once students become immersed in their studies or get involved in some clubs/societies, they are likely to have a wider group of contacts, which should help them find their niche. 
  • If your son or daughter is 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.
  • If your son or daughter is feeling run down with the quantity of late nights, their friends are probably feeling the same. Why not suggest they arrange a quieter social occasion, such as the cinema, a film night or a dinner out - their friends are likely to be quite glad of the change too. 
  • Is your son or daughter looking for a job on campus? 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. Working during university can be an excellent way for students to learn to manage time and budgets, and can provide them with some valuable work experience.
  • Try not to worry if you don't hear from them as much as you thought you would. 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 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.
  • 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.

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. 
  • If your son or daughter 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.
  • 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.

November

  • Many students have a reading 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 night avoid committing to plans too far in advance.
  • First assignments are usually due around this time, which is a big step for many students. They may find their assignments are assessed and graded differently than they have been used to at school or college, and might be unsure about the level they should be aiming for.
  • Many students start to think about housing for the following year around November. They may feel pressured into committing to living with a particular group of friends, or signing contracts for a particular house. Their friends might have different expectations in terms of the type of house they want, or what they can afford.

What can you do to help?

  • If your son or daughter 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.
  • 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.
  • The University and the Guild of Students advise students not to sign housing contracts too early (i.e. before they are comfortable with the group of friends they are considering living with and where they would like to live). Living, the University's accommodation service, has useful information for students looking to rent in the local area.
  • Students may appreciate your support in making the decision about their housing and the process involved. If you will be supporting them financially, agree budgets and expectations early to avoid disagreements or disappointment.

December

  • Students will be looking forward to having a good break, enjoying home comforts and probably 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.

What can you do to help?

  • Make the transition back home easier by being open about any expectations you have on your son or daughter's time from the outset.
  • Encourage them to make time to relax and catch up with friends and family as well as studying.
  • Your son or daughter may appreciate receiving 'student friendly' Christmas presents, such as stationery or online subscriptions.
  • If your son or daughter 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.

January/February

  • Many students feel a bit unsettled about returning to University after their long Christmas break.
  • Lots of students see the start of the new term as a chance to do everything better - keep up to date, get more involved, see more of the city.
  • Some students will have exams at this time. Most students will have more assignments due during this term, and so managing deadlines and workload becomes more important.

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.
  • 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 talk to their tutor to get information specific to their course.

March/April 

  • This is typically revision (study) 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 term three. 
  • 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 your son or daughter to get in touch with their personal tutor or the appropriate support service.
  • Try to remind your son or daughter 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 plenty of opportunities to get involved in the things they want to in future years or even after their exams. This may be a good time to make a list of things they would like to achieve in the following year.

May/June

  • This is exam and finishing up time for the majority of students.
  • Exams 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 haven't had the chance to do throughout the year.

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 results, make sure they are aware of the extenuating circumstances procedure.
  • Make sure your son or daughter 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.
  • Try to encourage your son or daughter to do something over the summer that may help them in the future careers. Internships, work experience, travel or catching up with their reading are all good. Students can talk to our friendly staff in Careers Network about what they can do now to improve their future prospects.

Parent of a first year student "Thank you for addressing something specifically to parents. I feel much better equipped to provide the right level of support to my daughter through the highs and lows of her first year."

Any other ideas?

If you have any suggestions of issues that students face and how parents could help, please email us on welcomefeedback@contacts.bham.ac.uk.

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