THE transition to university life can feel like a big leap into adulthood. Not only does it mean a shift to a more demanding level of thinking and reasoning; for most it means the first time living away from home.
Learning to manage money and time, to eat well, and navigating new friendships, a new location and a new course — all at the same time — can make for an exciting, but also challenging time.
“I loved the first term,” Krista Hawker, a final-year biochemistry student at Imperial College London. “Freshers’ week was a lot of fun. Even after freshers’, I loved the way that people would always be around in the kitchen, or games room, in halls. So if you’d finished work for the day, there’d be someone to hang out with. I loved the freedom and independence that came with leaving home, being able to plan my own day, and do what I wanted with my time.”
Israel Bucko, a theology and biblical-studies student at Nottingham University, found that university was a more diverse and accepting place than school. “Everybody’s in the same boat of not knowing anybody. I’ve never been into clubbing, and I worried that I’d be shunned a little bit, and not really ‘in’.
“It wasn’t true. There’s a whole load of people who weren’t into that kind of thing, and even the people who were weren’t exclusive,” he says.
“Everything is set up so you make friends,” 20-year-old Bart Soper, who is studying medicine at University College, London. “I wasn’t really homesick, though a lot of my friends were. For several of them it just didn’t feel like home, whereas I felt like I’d moved to a new home, so it was exciting,”
Emily Keighley, who is now studying nursing at Northumbria University, after completing a geography degree at the University of Newcastle, was homesick at first. “I found starting university really tough,” she says. “But I knew it was definitely where God was calling me to be, and that helped, though I still got upset and missed home a lot.
Emily Keighley“Whenever I got sad I remembered the lyric: ‘And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us? And if our God is with us, then what can stand against?’ It reminded me that God was with me, and that would fill me with peace.”
Sarah Derbyshire, a philosophy, ethics and religion student at the University of Leeds, says: “I think one of the hardest things you have to come to terms with, especially if you’ve moved cities, is that everything is different — your house, location, place of study, friends — and that it’s OK if that makes you feel really uncomfortable and nervous.”
“Try to get involved at university when you first arrive, and not spend all your time thinking about home,” Alistair Herd, a chemistry student at Warwick University, advises. “From my own and my friends’ experience, when you spend lots of time thinking about the things that you miss from home, you forget the things you enjoy at university.”
CALLUM ELWOOD got a place at Canterbury Christ Church University through clearing, a process that he felt confirmed he wanted to pursue student life. “Clearing isn’t fun or exciting. Before venturing down that path, I had to work out if I actually wanted to go to uni, or if I should take a gap year, or resit an exam and come back to it later. I went for it, found out my address, and moved a week later, to a completely new city to live with new people.”
Trinity Smart*, a history student at Bristol University, originally began her studies at Southampton University. Finding herself with minimal contact hours on her course, and in a student flat with people who weren’t particularly sociable — and having better grades than she’d expected — she decided, at the end of the first term, to switch to a different university.
“The deadline to switch is soon in the first term, so you don’t miss out on too much content; but the option is there. If you don’t like your university, it’s ok, you can do something about it. If you think something is really wrong, it might well be, and you don’t have to struggle on.”
Callum ElwoodOnce settled, it was making friends with other Christians which helped Emily and Krista most in smoothing the transition to life away from family. “Church and the Christian Union were a huge part of helping me get settled, and gradually I grew to love university and the city that became, and is still, home,” Emily says. She joined the CU in the first term, and found a church through Fusion, a student mission and discipleship charity.
The Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF), a charity that supports Christian Unions, linked Krista up with someone at the CU before she had even arrived. “I really appreciated this, as it meant I already knew somebody, and had the times and locations of CU events so I could get involved right away. It was great to meet a bunch of like-minded Christians who were already living and speaking for Jesus on campus.”
A York University student, Josh Allan, also found it helpful to connect with someone in advance. “I went to a festival the summer before I started, and met someone from York on Fusion’s student link-up stand. When I arrived in York, he messaged me to see if I wanted to meet up for coffee, and [to] check how I was getting on. It helped me to settle, and get stuck in with a church.”
LEARNING to handle the work — and the work-life balance — is among the other new challenges of university life. “Every society is launching events, your lecturers put on lots of induction classes, and everyone is trying to make plans — plus you’re learning how to navigate a new place,” Sarah says. “It’s really easy to get overwhelmed. My advice would be: have a look what is going on in the city and university before you move there. All of the events are advertised weeks before Freshers. That way, you already have some sort of a plan of what you might be interested in, and it doesn’t seem too much.”
“Going from the strict structure of school, or even a job, to the vague, directionless days of university can be quite overwhelming, so planning roughly what I was going to get done each day helped make everything run a lot more smoothly, and certainly made me a lot less stressed,” Alistair says.
Elliot SlomanA Lancaster University student, Elliot Sloman, used Google calendars to map out his time. “I planned meal times, sleep times, socials, quiet times, travel time, and more. Although I didn’t stick to it fully, and I don’t recommend doing it to the extent I did, it helped me keep a bit more on top of my academic work, and the rest of my life.”
“There’s always so much going on — with friends in halls, with coursemates, with church and the CU — that I really struggled to focus on work,” Krista says. “I often, wrongly, saw church and CU things as the ‘Christian’ activities God would probably rank more highly, so I didn’t work as hard as I should. It took me a few months to realise that we’re actually called to work hard for the glory of God in everything we do, including academic work.”
Jenny Butt, who is currently studying for a second degree in adult nursing at King’s College, London, found the step-up academically hard. “My course was slightly more challenging than I had anticipated. I’d previously studied theology, so training to be a nurse on a science-based rather than humanities course, took some adjusting to.” She found that having a friend to sit down and study with really helped her to work and meet her deadlines. “I wish I’d found one earlier,” she says.
For others, the challenges were more mundane. “I’m an awful cook, so understanding the kitchen was one of the biggest obstacles for me,” Krista says. Alistair agrees: “It was very easy to forget I needed to actually go shopping and wouldn’t just find food had magically transported itself into the fridge.”
In terms of budgeting and handling money, Jenny found that doing the CAP money course before university helped. “I wouldn’t say I’m rolling in money, but I have been able to manage. I make sure I have my tithe set up as a standing order at the beginning of the month, and I’ve always found God has really honoured me in giving my first fruits to him by providing for me. I also use an app and pre-paid debit card called Monzo, which has really helped me keep an eye on my spending and budget.”
Israel BuckoBart says: “A lot of people, including me, find that the government loan isn’t always enough to cover even your rent, so without some help I wouldn’t have been able to do much. It’s definitely worth budgeting if you can. I did a budget at the start of the year, so I knew how much I had each week, which I’ve largely stuck to. And I shop at Lidl and look for deals and freebies, so it’s not been as much of a worry.”
“STARTING university was a challenging time, spiritually, for me,” Sarah says. “I think it is for most people, because you have to pick a new church, and finding one identical to your old one is pretty difficult: no two churches are the same.”
She found her university chaplaincy service really helpful in this respect. “The Anglican chaplain was able to point me in the way of a few churches that might be a good fit. My university also has both a Student Christian Movement (SCM) and a Christian Union, both of which are great. I soon found a home in the SCM, a student-led movement inspired by Jesus to act for justice and show God’s love in the world. As a community, we come together to pray, worship, and explore faith in an open and non-judgemental environment.”
“A lot of university can feel ‘anti-following Jesus’,” Israel says. “I found my Christian friends and the CU a saving grace. But also, as a Christian, I found people gave me respect because I was someone who knew what they’re about, when everyone else is still trying to figure that out.”
Bart found that, if anything, starting university made his faith stronger. “Being at uni gave my faith a chance to develop away from my parents’ faith. It made it more my own and deepened a lot of my beliefs, while also shaking some others. I definitely was able to think through why I believed what I believed, and that’s been really helpful in helping me grow in my faith.”
Jenny suggests not taking too long to find a church: “Everyone is in the same boat at the beginning and is feeling the same way as you are. There’s no perfect church, so just find one and get stuck in as soon as possible. Don’t be too picky: if it’s local to you, loves Jesus, and isn’t heretical, commit.”
“Remember that your identity is in Christ,” Krista says, “and he wants you to just be yourself. He’s gone before you to prepare the way and is with you, however you’re feeling.”
* Name has been changed