Preparing to go back to university

Gareth Hughes

Gareth Hughes is the Clinical Lead for Student Space and is a psychotherapist, researcher and writer on student wellbeing, including the book Be Well, Learn Well

Whatever your level of study or however long the break has been, it is normal to experience a range of emotions about returning to university. Some preparation before you go can help you feel more positive about your return and increase the chances of having a successful and enjoyable experience.

If you enjoyed university before, you may be excited about seeing friends, socialising and learning more. On the other hand, if your experience wasn’t as good as you hoped so far, you may be worried about returning to the same experience. Or, if you have other responsibilities, it may simply be that life in the holidays is simpler and easy to manage without having to find time for university.

Whatever your experience before, it is important to remember that no two years or terms at university are ever the same. This means that you can draw on your previous experiences to shape a better time. Some preparation before you go can help you feel more positive about your return and increase the chances of having a successful and enjoyable experience.

Review your previous experience

Take some time to think back over your previous experiences. Whether you enjoyed university or just got through it, you will have developed your skills and knowledge in ways that can help you in the next term. You will know more about how your university works, about your course and about how to find your way around. You may have developed new study skills, life skills or the ability to keep going when things are challenging.

It may help to think about

  • What went well?

  • What didn’t go as well as you hoped?

  • What skills and understanding have you developed

  • How can you use this to have as good a time as possible when you return? (some of the tips below may help you with other ways you can make this experience more positive for yourself).

Reviewing your time in this way can help you develop a plan and feel more in control.

Prepare academically

Over a break, you can lose contact with your academic studies and this can make the return feel more challenging. Reconnecting with your learning in advance can mean you are better prepared to learn and to respond if the level of challenge increases. This doesn’t have to mean doing a lot of work – just some time connecting with your subject can help. You may want to consider -

  • Reviewing your notes from previous study, to remind yourself of what you have already learned. This can strengthen the foundations of your knowledge so you are ready to learn more.

  • Reading some of the material on your reading list for the next term can help to get you ahead and mean that you are already becoming familiar with the new material you will be learning.

  • Listening to podcasts or audiobooks around your subject can help to re-engage you and familiarise you with more of your subject. You may also be able to listen to them as you do other things.

  • Online lectures and vlogs can also be a useful way of learning more. You might also want to make a list of the reasons why you wanted to study this subject in the first place to remind yourself of the positives of learning at university.

Prepare socially

Whatever your previous social experience of university, there are still opportunities to build friendships and grow your social network. It is still possible to join Student Union or Guild Societies and clubs and to attend social activities where you can meet new people. You may find it useful to read our guide on taking a structured approach to making friends. In advance of returning to university, you can use your university and SU websites to identify opportunities for when you return.

If you’ve got friends from your time at university, then you may want to connect with them and arrange to meet up when you return, so you can re-establish those relationships right away.

Prepare to take care of your wellbeing

New starts, like the beginning of term, are a great moment to establish healthy habits. They provide ‘reset points;’ because you are changing routine in other ways, this frees you up to build new habits and routines.

Making time for self-care is really important, even if it’s just something small, like making your bed or remembering to take your medication. Not only are you getting the benefits from adopting healthy habits, but you are reminding yourself that you are worth the energy spent on improving your health. Some habits I’m trying to follow this month are spending more quality time outside and drinking more water - join me if you like!

Think about healthy changes you could make that would help you maintain your wellbeing during the next term or year of university. You may want to plan and prepare to establish these new habits quickly by, for example,

  • Recruiting a friend to join you in an activity that boosts your wellbeing

  • Bringing resources such as clothes to exercise in, healthy food or downloading useful apps

  • Reading some more about ways to maintain your wellbeing.

Page last reviewed: November 2023