Starting university or TAFE (tertiary education) is a big deal. Some people might be really looking forward to this and find the change exciting, while others might feel stressed and overwhelmed, or a combination of these things. Your reactions might also change from or hour to hour, or day to day. Big changes affect everyone differently.
With the right strategies, planning and support, managing big changes like starting tertiary education can get easier.
Common worries and concerns
Change often brings uncertainty and we might wonder how we’ll cope with any new challenges. It’s common to feel some stress or worry when we’re faced with new experiences. Some concerns about starting tertiary education include:
- not knowing anyone and making new friends
- adjusting to independent/self-directed ways of learning
- figuring out course structures, pathways and timetables
- juggling commitments, such as work, family, friends and study
- concerns about finding your way around campus
- meeting assignment deadlines/managing study workloads
- moving out of home or away from family and friends
- managing finances and financial pressures.
So what can you do?
Planning, preparing and supporting ourselves for big changes, like starting tertiary education, can help us cope with any stress or worries. See our tips below:
Universities and TAFEs have a wide range of student services to help with any challenges you might experience. This can include studying workshops, mentoring programs, library services, essay-writing help and counselling services. Your campus might also have first year coordinators to assist with the transition to tertiary studies. Check out student services and find out what’s on offer.
Your campus is likely to run an Orientation Program/Orientation Week (O-Week), where they’ll provide lots of information on student life and show you around the campus.
Having a support network is super important but making new friends can be hard work. Universities and TAFEs usually have clubs and groups that you can join – see what’s available at student services or on the notice boards around your campus.
During O-Week, there will be lots of opportunities to meet people. Check out your student services and see what’s on offer. If you’re worried about going alone, bring a friend along to support you.
It might take time and effort to find people that you connect with, so keep trying different things until you do.
Group Chat: Finding your people at uni
A good way to meet people and stay motivated is to join a study group. Study groups help people understand the topics on a deeper level. You’ll support each other to learn and boost each other when you’re just not feeling it. Check out the forums run by your campus, or ask at student services and see what’s on offer.
Tertiary learning is really different to secondary school; it’s self-driven. You can't rely on getting reminders about homework and no-one will call your house to see why you didn’t show up. It’s your responsibility to make it work.
Schedule study times into your day or week and stick to them as much as possible. Don't get down on yourself if you end up skipping a day though, no-one is perfect, just pick it up the next day. It’s also important to schedule times in your day to do things that you enjoy and that help you relax.
There are many different ways to break down your time, so experiment until you find something that works for you.
Setting goals helps us make positive changes in our lives. Try setting short-term or longer-term study goals. Sometimes the things we want to achieve can seem too big and overwhelming, so breaking down your goals into manageable chunks can help you take those first steps: The first step is often the hardest.
Working and studying at the same time can be really hard, but careful planning can help. See our tips for managing this. These include:
- create a daily or weekly schedule that outlines your study and work hours
- set study goals and reward yourself every step of the way
- make time to do the things you enjoy that help you de-stress
- find a quiet place for study and set up your space
- make sure you have enough time in your week to meet your study and work commitments.
Starting Uni or TAFE can bring challenges with your budget. You might be buying your lunch more often or socialising more. Having a budget helps you control your money and gives you confidence that you can afford your lifestyle. Budgets help you keep track of your spending. There are lots of apps that can help you, and you can also check out our tips here.
We all feel stressed from time to time; it can be useful and help motivate us, but sometimes it can feel overwhelming. It’s important to prepare for some stress – it’s pretty common to feel this when we’re faced with big changes. Often the stress is temporary and we adjust in time, and there are things you can do to support yourself.
- learn about stress and your early warning signs. Stress is our body’s way of reacting to pressure when we’re faced with challenging situations. There are things you can do that can help you cope
- make a list of things you can do to support yourself. Things that you enjoy and that help you de-stress
- notice your unhelpful thoughts. If your worries are getting out of control, try an app like Worry Time
- accept that some things are out of your control, and others might not go to plan
- be kind to yourself. Self-compassion helps gives us the strength to continue when we’re faced with life’s challenges
No matter what’s going on in your life, it’s a good idea to look after your headspace. Our tips for a healthy headspace can support you to live your life in a positive and meaningful way and help you bounce back when times are tough.
These are things like staying connected with family and friends, building your skills for tough times, staying active, getting enough sleep, eating well, and cutting back on alcohol and other drugs.
Where to get help
If you’re worried about starting tertiary education, it can be a good idea to reach out to those close to you and let them know what’s going on for you. Though it can be hard reaching out to others, it can help you feel supported, less isolated, and it can be the beginning of a valuable support network.
headspace Work and Study
If you’re aged between 15-25 years old, headspace Work and Study can help you to navigate this time. The service is all online, free and can support you with everything work and study related. This could include deciding what course to enrol in, through to finding a part time job. The service can also help you to manage your mental health alongside your work and study. Learn more about Work and Study or sign up, and there are also a number of articles full of tips you might want to have a look at.
Additional youth support services
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800: kidshelpline.com.au (5-25 years)
ReachOut: reachout.com.au (under 25s)
SANE Australia: 1800 187 263: sane.org (18+ years)
Lifeline: 13 11 14. A 24-hour crisis service: lifeline.org.au (all ages)
Other useful resources
The Desk has free, online tools and resources on studying and looking after your mental and physical health.
headspace Group Chats hosts many discussions for young people with clinicians on a range of topics. You can join the chat or view the transcripts. Log in or create a headspace website account to see what chats are coming up or happening now.
headspace Peer Support Chats hosts weekly discussions for young people by young people. You can join the chat or view the transcripts. Log in or create a headspace website account to see what chats are coming up or happening now.
headspace interactive activities can help you reflect on your needs, engage in skill building and set meaningful goals to improve mental health and wellbeing. These include unhelpful thoughts, problem solving and self-compassion.
The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.
Last reviewed 8 December 2020