Managing uncertainty in the return to university

Written by Development Volunteer Rachel

Coronavirus has created a lot of uncertainty around student life. This academic year is likely to be very different from the university experience you had been used to; considering how you can manage this uncertainty and respond to change will improve your student experience.

Online learning

Universities have been working hard to adapt their courses for this academic year. Many of them have opted for a ‘blended approach’, which combines online and face-to-face teaching and learning, but this may change. Keep checking for updates from your university about what they have decided so that you know what to expect when the new term starts.

With the prospect of partial or full online learning for the upcoming year, you might have concerns about your ability to stay motivated, to absorb the material and achieve. However, just because you may feel this way, it does not mean you cannot be successful. Online learning is a skill, and like all skills, you can improve it over time.  Here are some tips to help you feel more confident about learning online:

· Treat online classes like you would on campus classes

Your learning benefits from discipline and structure, online or not. Make each class time an appointment and protect it as much as you can. You may be able to learn better if you dress and prepare yourself as if going into university. Make sure you are logged in before class starts and have everything you need to hand.

· Dedicate a space to studying

This can be difficult if you live, sleep and study in the same room. Just dividing up your room into types of activity can help you focus when you are studying, relax when you are winding down and sleep when you go to bed.

· Re-watch strategically

One of the benefits of online classes is that you can watch lectures again. You may not need to re-watch the whole thing: you can prioritise the parts you didn’t understand as clearly. If you are watching the lecture online, just note the time of the things that you want to revisit.

· Discuss with your classmates

Your programme may have an online discussion forum where you can talk about your course content with classmates. Take up these opportunities if you can, as these discussions will deepen your learning. If these opportunities aren’t organised, you may want to arrange a study group with your classmates (virtually or in person).

· Ask for help

Your university will provide a wide range of help and support, including your tutors, study skills advisors and Student Services. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them if you are struggling with any aspect of your learning: they want you to be successful and they know students need help and support.


It is ok to be disappointed, angry, frustrated or sad that this year isn’t going to be how you expected. The pandemic has caused significant disruption at a formative moment in your life. You will have had hopes about what your student experience and journey would be like. You may even have imagined some of your future in quite some detail. As a result, you may experience the change and uncertainty as a real loss. Acknowledging that this is how you feel can help you to manage and feel better in time.

However, we also need to be aware that these thoughts won’t actually change things in the real world. We need to find a balance between allowing ourselves to acknowledge how we feel and planning for the actual circumstances in which we find ourselves. This can be challenging at first, but with practice and perseverance you will be able to find a better balance over time. Here are some tips that you may find helpful:

· Acknowledge the positive

Think about what is still good in your life and about being a student. Whatever plans you have lost, there will still be things that haven’t been affected by coronavirus. Try to identify some aspects of your student life that you can still look forward to. This may be about socialising, learning, new experiences or finding yourself back in a familiar routine.

· Make a plan Be realistic about what you can do. There is no way to recreate the year you would have had without the pandemic. Instead, focus on what you can practically do to improve your student experience. Think broadly about your student life but also about how you manage yourself, your own thoughts and behaviours and what you can do for others.

· Look after the basics

Maintaining a good daily structure, sleeping well, getting some exercise and fresh air and eating healthily can help you to feel better overall. When you feel physically better it is easier to be more positive about your circumstances and future and to create workable plans.

· Maintain your support network

Think about who you can reach out to if you are struggling to adapt to your altered student experience. This will also help you to stay connected if you find that you have less opportunities to socialise at university this year than you did in previous years. Remember that many of your friends at university will feel the same way and will appreciate you reaching out to them.

Further information and advice

Student Space - ‘University and your wellbeing during coronavirus’ includes lots of resources to help you cope with and adapt to the changes to your studies caused by the pandemic. - ‘Guidance for current students’ provides guidance from the Student Loans Company for current students and answers common questions related to the coronavirus outbreak.

South East and Central Essex Mind, 112a Southchurch Road

Southend-on-Sea, Essex, SS1 2LX

Charity registration number 1148451