Starting university is usually a time of hope focused on bright futures. This year feels different. As cities move in and out of lockdown, new students are starting university in the face of significant uncertainty. A number of easily applied, quick-win strategies can help students to manage stress and succeed in the fluctuating circumstances of COVID-19.
There is clear demand for guidance, and I have been investigating best-practice approaches to enable learning throughout the pandemic. It is important to be able to switch to online learning quickly and effectively, while also making the most of on-campus opportunities to set yourself up well.
Build adaptable digital technology skills
Being well prepared reduces stress. It means you will be able to move quickly to online learning if necessary. Take the following steps to prepare yourself.
First, ensure you have access to a computer off campus. Supportive family and friends might be able to help with this. Tablets and smartphones will support a range of software, but they are difficult to write an essay on.
Next, search your university website for “IT support” for students. You will find a range of relevant software, much of it free for students.
Ensure you have installed the basics. You should be set up to communicate and interact via email, Office and the omnipresent Zoom.
Revisit how to use your phone as a hotspot. Be prepared for the internet to drop out when videoconferencing. If it does, take a deep breath and tether to your phone hotspot.
Finally, organise access to online learning communities relevant to you, so you have ongoing support in place if you need it. Is there a relevant social media group at your university? Can you form a chat group with classmates? Or even connect to a global knowledge community on Discord?
Foster early connections
Make the most of any available interactions on campus and online. Learn the names of key academic and administrative staff in your area. And aim to make at least one friend in your course in the first week and have a way to reach them, whether by Instagram, text or email.
Listen closely to find out how your course co-ordinator or tutor prefers to be contacted. Strive to make a positive impression in the first week by being attentive in class. Set aside digital devices and interact.
You might have only limited time to lay the foundations for peer networks and to build rapport with academics. Make the most of any contact time and introductory sessions you are offered.
Work out where to go for help
Most universities offer a huge number of support services. However, each institution has its own unique structure and a number of quirky acronyms to learn. The quickest way to find things is often through a knowledgeable guide.
As you wade through the information overload of orientation and the first few weeks, pay close attention to advice on how to connect with support. Write down or screenshot contact information, including the specific names of useful departments such as the inclusion unit. Embrace peer support provided to help you navigate these structures, such as uni mentors.
This way you will have a good idea of what is available and who to contact for help before any issues arise. Once you know how to reach these services, many supports will remain available even if you have to shift online for things like draft-checking services or counsellor appointments.
Take care of yourself
Even setting aside the unusual context of a pandemic, the transition to university is a big change. An effective way to manage stress is to focus on what you can control, which includes looking after yourself.
Remember, full-time study is equivalent to full-time work. You need to allow eight to ten hours a week for a standard subject.
Juggling work, study and life is a challenge, so it is important to establish strong time management early on. Set up a calendar, whether on your phone or on the wall, and use it throughout the year to keep you on track.
Allocate time for sleep and exercise, as this will help you manage any other challenges that come your way during the year. Try to have fun too – it is an exciting time and all of these strategies are sound practice to set you up for success!
While we cannot know what the year ahead holds, effective preparation will make sudden changes easier to navigate. With these strategies in place you can progress toward your personal life goals, regardless of the broader context. This focus on technology, connectivity and well-being will better support you to thrive in these uncertain times and give you the best chance to flourish at university.