The transition to university always invokes a combination of anxiety and excitement in new students. This year, however, those anxieties may be heightened by all the Covid disruption. Here is our advice on how best to support students preparing to start university in 2021-2022.
How schools can help students to prepare for university
1. Communication, communication, communication
The most important thing students can do to prepare for university isn’t to make a head start on reading lists, it’s ensuring they access all the information they need. Encourage students to start checking their university email account and add it to their phone or computer email client as soon as they have access. Many students don’t check their university email until September.
However, there will be a lot of pre-arrival information and support that will be sent throughout the summer, and it’s important for them to get into the habit of checking their email. There may also be opportunities to join pre-arrival Facebook groups or Microsoft Teams channels run by course lecturers, where students can ask questions and meet their future classmates before the course starts.
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2. Digital literacy
The use of Microsoft Teams, Office 365 and Zoom is very common and many may be familiar with these platforms already. However, we find that students tend to be less confident with basic computer skills such as how to set up email and use calendars, or how to manage files effectively. While it may feel like focusing on the content of their course by doing pre-reading should be more important, refreshing these day-to-day computer skills can be a much more effective use of their time before starting university.
3. Learning how to learn
An important element of transitioning to university is learning how to learn in a more independent and self-directed way. There is always more reading to be done, more revision, more research, but it’s important to acknowledge that it will be impossible to do everything. Learning to prioritise, and how to study effectively, is key.
The reality of independent learning at university is often a shock to new students, even those who felt confident before starting. Time management is frequently cited as being very difficult – many will find that their timetable has much less contact time than they are used to, and long-range deadlines that cluster at certain points in the semester are common. Each institution will likely provide its own generic training for study skills as part of induction that students should be encouraged to complete. However, open-access training is available, which students can work through before they register with their institution.
4. Be open about the ups and the downs
Finally, new students can often feel like every other student is coping well, leaving many feeling alienated and isolated from their peers. However, the majority of new students experience feelings such as loneliness, imposter syndrome, doubts about their choice of programme or university, and difficulties making new friends.
These feelings are usually temporary but often heighten around mid-way through the first term, after the initial excitement has worn off. Reinforcing that this is a normal part of adjusting to university life can go a long way in reassuring new students. Encouraging engagement with clubs and societies, sport and other social activities can help new students build essential peer networks to help navigate the ups and downs throughout their time at university.
This year, it will be important to reassure students that if they have experienced a disruption to teaching in their final year of schooling, they are not alone in this experience. We also want students to know that we know that this isn’t a year like any other.
At every university across the UK, planning for 2021-2022 is mindful that this has been a disrupted year and that there may be additional worries and preparation activities that would be beneficial. This doesn’t negate the impact of the disruption, but it can help to know that we recognise that things aren’t back to normal yet – and that universities are doing everything we can to help support students.
Emily Nordmann is first-year lead in the School of Psychology and Lauren McDougall is student engagement and partnership lead in the College of Social Sciences, both at the University of Glasgow, where they also work together as part of the Transitions Working Group