Worrying about not fitting in at 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

It is not unusual for many students to get several weeks into term and feel that they have not settled in as they’d hoped - and nor is it a surprise. Coming to university is a major transition with lots of elements to manage and get used to.

As a new student you have to adapt to a new environment, meet lots of new people, start learning at a different academic level, get used to the language and culture of university and you may have moved home, left family and friends and be managing living independently. It is hardly surprising that it takes more than a few weeks for some students to settle in.

This doesn’t mean that you won’t feel settled in soon and there are lots of things you can do to help you feel better quickly.

Steps you can take to feel more settled

Commit to being here - for now.

Students tend to struggle more if they spend all their time thinking about whether to stay at university or leave. Pick a period of time (from now to Christmas say) and commit to being here and doing everything you can to make it work. Remember, this isn’t an all or nothing decision – just because you decide to stay today, doesn’t mean you’re here forever. You can review how things are going at a later date and if it turns out university definitely isn’t for you then you can change your mind.

Maintain a daily structure

Make sure your days have a proper structure with a good balance of activity and time to rest and reflect. Lots of time on your own, with nothing to do, will make you feel worse and non-stop activity will leave you with your head in a whirl.

Healthy Habits

Do things that make you feel good

It’s ok to enjoy yourself and just because you enjoy some time at university, it doesn’t mean you have to stay. Treat yourself to something that lifts your spirits.

Try new things

While you are at university, you may as well try out the opportunities it provides. Trying something new may lead to you discovering a new passion, meeting new friends, having some fun or just distracting yourself for a while.

One way to maintain mental health and alleviate homesickness (which is completely natural and normal), is to get out and try new things in your new city. Go to a restaurant and eat some new food, or just go for a walk around. You’ll find that there’s so much to see and do.

Take a structured approach to making friends

If you haven’t made friends yet don’t worry – Many students assume that everyone else has made friends already and that they won’t be welcome to join those friendship groups. Actually, most of these groups move around for at least the first year, with new people leaving and joining all the time. Remember, even the people who seem closest have probably only known each other for a few weeks. Put yourself in as many situations as possible to meet new people – e.g. by joining Student Union societies.

Look after yourself

It can be tempting to neglect your health when you are feeling low but at times like this it is even more important to take proper care of yourself. Try to eat healthily, get some exercise and get out into the sun every day.

Use support

Support will be available at your university to help you manage the feelings and difficulties you are experiencing. Support staff are used to working with students in your situation and may be able to help resolve things more quickly.

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Find support services provided by your place of study

Page last reviewed: October 2023