University Counselling Services

Adjusting to university life

Many people start out at university thinking that they are going to make lot of friends and have a very full social life. Sometimes that happens, but it can take time, and even then there are times people feel lonely.

Having left behind the close support of friends and family, it can all seem far more daunting than was imagined. For new students, feelings of homesickness can occur alongside feeling awkward, isolated or on the edge of groups rather than feeling they fully belong.

It is a time of enormous change and readjustment: new lifestyles, new study demands, and coping with the pressures and opportunities of greater independence. This can be a challenge even for those who are normally confident.

Loneliness and feelings of homesickness tend to lessen over time, but can persist or make it very hard to engage with university life - which can further erode self-esteem and create a reluctance to even attempt to make friends, take part in social activities or be assertive when they need to be. Some people find it helpful to go home more often than they planned, some find that makes it harder to settle in.

If the problem persists or is causing distress, talking to a counsellor may help and you can contact Reception: counsellingreception@sussex.ac.uk for details. There may be unresolved worries about family situations or deeper self-esteem issues that could be usefully explored. Not everyone needs help of this kind. Students who remember things that they found helpful in combating loneliness have supplied a number of tips:

  • It's a mistake always to wait for others to speak to you first. The chances are that if you take the risk and make the first move, the person will be pleased to talk. After all they may be going through the same things.
  • Join clubs and societies that will enable you to encounter others in a non-pressurised way. It's often easier to talk when sharing an activity with someone than in a more artificial bar situation where people often feel they must make an impression quickly.
  • Beware of relying on alcohol too much - either as a way of feeling relaxed about talking to others, or as a way of trying to make friends by buying rounds of drinks!
  • You may not have had much practice at spending time on your own before leaving home. It's normal to have some time when you are alone, but it might take a while to get comfortable with it, and find out the things you like to do just in your own company.