Life at university
Going to university is an exciting experience. Student life is an important part of this and you will find some helpful information and tips from other students about their experiences and how they made the most of being a student.
Starting at University can be a nerve-wracking experience. One piece of advice that is given year on year to prospective students is to make the most of Freshers’ week and relish the opportunity to meet new people and get involved in as much as you can.
Read our Freshers guide to find out about other peoples experiences of starting university and making friends.
Our moving in guide offers a useful checklist of things to consider when moving into accommodation.
Disclosing your visual impairment to friends
It can be helpful to consider how you want to talk about your own vision impairment, if at all. Don't feel that you have to answer people's questions, if you feel they are just being nosey. But, sharing some information about ways that your life can be made easier, or giving some advice about sighted guiding, for example, might help you as you develop your independent life away from home.
Questions to consider:
- Are there things around your accommodation that your flatmates should be aware of? Perhaps putting kitchen equipment back in the same place? Leaving lights on?
- Do your friends understand when to help you out (in the dark, in unfamiliar places perhaps), and when to leave you alone?
“It is difficult because… probably one of the difficulties I found is learning how to tell people I was visually impaired, because you wouldn’t, by looking at me, because my condition doesn’t affect my eyes you wouldn’t know I was visually impaired. So learning how to tell people, and introducing yourself. You can’t really introduce yourself by saying ‘Hi, I am Andrew, I am visually impaired’. That’s not the way you make friends is it?…If we were out to eat for example, if there was a menu I clearly wouldn’t be able to see it, I would just say then, but it’s best to do it at the initial stages of the friendship rather than the late stages, because if by the time you are good friends with someone and they don’t know that you are visually impaired, then it can become quite difficult, because when you do say they will wonder why you kept it from them…. If someone had told me beforehand about the struggle, the big struggle which I had with telling people, learning to tell people that I was visually impaired, learning how to explain to people, if had people telling me that beforehand then I would have tried to practice. (Dan, 2nd year university student)
We asked some third year undergraduate students whether they had any advice for other blind and partially sighted students starting university for the first time. You can read their experiences of meeting new people in our Student life – Fresher’s guide at the top of the page.
Additional support (social services, volunteers on campus)
You may wish to make contact with the local social services department near your University to ensure that your needs are met. This usually consists of making a phone call and arranging an assessment whereby aspects such as mobility, independent living and so on can be looked at. Thus, a plan of action can be made ahead of your starting at University. If you feel you would require assistance from social services, the sooner you can contact them prior to starting University, the better.
You could also contact the Action for Blind People’s Independent Living Team who will be able to advise you on how best to arrange an assessment.
In addition to the above, student volunteers may also be able to help with different aspects of student life i.e. students have asked volunteers to assist with sighted guiding and campus orientation. Others have asked for assistance when taking their guide dogs for a free run or when using sports facilities. Don’t hesitate to explore how volunteers may be useful for you – or indeed, to become a volunteer yourself if you wish! Enquire to your Disability Support Office about whether your university have student volunteers.
“Social wise I have joined a few new clubs and societies and I have got a buddy, they have set up a new scheme, like a peer mentoring system, so I have got a buddy to come with me to one of the societies, because it’s like a volunteering society, so I have got a buddy coming there to support me when I am volunteering”. (Aimee, 1st year university student)
Coping with stress
University can be a very exciting time for many people but studying may also be stressful and this is a common concern for University students. In a recent study by UK Healthcare (2015), 41 per cent of students reported feeling stressed at some point during their studies. Stress can occur as a result of money worries, pressures of coursework and examinations, relationship or housing worries, and so on.
Hayley’s Story - Hayley shared her experience of a stressful event and how she dealt with it.
"All was going so well for me; I settled into halls and found some great mates but then half way through it all changed! Due to flooding in the halls I was living in I had to change houses and starting again was very stressful. I found myself sharing with new people, discovering I could not easily find my friends or lectures anymore and struggled to find my way around. On top of the pressures of my coursework I couldn't cope with all the extra things to think about - then I got flu, missed a deadline and ended up really stressed. To cope I turned to my school friends who I emailed lots, I also made an appointment with my tutor, and got in touch with the Student disability adviser who easily sorted out some mobility training so I felt confident in my new routes around campus. I can now look back knowing I survived the experience and even feel proud of the skills I learned along the way but at the time it was really hard going."
Tips for handling stress
With multiple deadlines approaching, we offer some tips for dealing with stress and some sources of support for those of you who find you can’t shake off that stressed feeling.
- Get informed – Finding out about the most common problems associated with student stress can aid in dealing with the problems that are getting you down.
- Talk to your Disability Support Office – they may be able to make suggestions of support that you could draw on, or help you negotiate some adjustments with your course leader to take off some pressure
- Talk to your friends and/or personal tutor – You will not be the only person who may be stressed and it will be comforting to know that you are not alone in feeling this way.
- Use your University’s counselling service – This is a free and confidential service which can be very useful, particularly if you are facing new challenges associated with University or when assessments are approaching.
- Talk to your GP – If you feel that your stressed feeling is not to do with everyday events, but rather is connected to issues surrounding your physical or mental health, chatting to your GP about your feelings of stress can help to work out the root cause(s).
- Contact the RNIB Emotional Support Service (ESS) - This is a confidential telephone support service which can support you to identify what you need and the best way to get it as well as one-to-one telephone counseling. You can contact ESS through our Helpline (0303 123 9999) and ask to be referred to the Emotional Support Service or you can email us at email@example.com.
Panic attacks are also very common around examination time. If you are concerned about this or want to know a bit more you can find further information at www.mind.org.uk or visit your university counselling service.
Sometimes, stress is unavoidable but there are numerous ways that you can alleviate stress and Michelle has this suggestion:
Michelle’s Story - "Writing down how I was feeling often helped me. I keep a journal everyday and sometimes I would write letters to my friend about how I was feeling. I also took up yoga and made sure I was eating a good diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables. Deciding to stick to activities I enjoy whatever else was going on in my life really made a difference. Whatever else was going on, nothing would interfere with my weekly de stress swimming session."
Health and Wellbeing at University
Whilst at University, you should ensure that you are looking after yourself, both physically in terms of academic studies, and emotionally. Vast numbers or organisations are available for you to utilise whilst at University.
Our guide to Health and Wellbeing (Insert link) provides useful information on a number of these organisations with information about what services they provide and details of how to contact them.
They are there to be used so don’t hesitate to contact them if you require support!
Our guide to staying safe at university gives you suggestions and tips with contributions from Emma, a blind student who studied in Manchester.
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