Overcoming student challenges during COVID-19

Gareth Hughes, Student Space clinical lead, psychotherapist, researcher and writer
January, 2021

At Student Minds, the UK's student mental health charity, we've been listening to students and hearing about how their mental health and wellbeing have been affected and how they have responded

These are some of the key challenges that you've told us you're facing during the pandemic, and some tips on how to address them.

Making friends

The lack of in-person activities has made it harder to build and sustain friendships, especially if you're a first year student. 

In other years, making friends happened organically as you'd meet people in a mix of social situations. Because of COVID-19, a more planned approach is required. However many friends you have made so far, taking the same approach can help you to increase your social network. Here are some steps to help you do that:

  • Identify all the real and virtual places that you can meet people - are there opportunities to meet people through your course? Are there clubs or societies aligned with your interests that are putting on online events? 
  • Think about how you can continue conversations with the people you meet - if current regulations allow, could you organise a socially distanced coffee, or walk, or play some games on a zoom call?
  • Try not to look for the perfect person or group of people - you are building a network, not seeking out the absolute right person for you. Seek out people who are fun to be around who are a useful part of your network, even if you don't want to see them every day.

Try writing down a plan of action and choosing a couple of steps to do first. You're much more likely to do something if you've written it down.

Find more advice on making friends.

Learning online

One of the major changes to the student experience is that lots of lectures, classes and seminars have moved online. This can be tricky as it can be hard to concentrate and stay engaged for long periods of time over a video call and it might be harder to clarify the things you find hard to understand if your tutors or peers aren't physically present.

But there are things that you can do to make the most of the new learning experience such as:

  • Treat online classes like you would in-person classes - make each class time an appointment and block out time for classes in your diary. You might find it helpful to dress as you would to go to a class in person.
  • Participate - if you view the lecture or class passively, it can be easy to switch off or get distracted. Take part in exercises and discussions, as much as you feel able. 
  • Re-watch strategically - the big plus to online classes is that you can re-watch them. You don't have to watch everything again, though - focus on the parts you didn't understand as well.

Also, remember to reflect on how much you learn and how much more effective you become at learning online. And ask for help from your tutors, peers and university services if you need it.

Discover more tips for studying from home.

The uncertainty of the future

None of us have been through an experience like this before, so we don't know what the future looks like. Understandably, that lack of certainty can be unsettling. First and second year students are concerned about the future of their course, while final year students are thinking about life after university. Consciously trying to address the thoughts and feelings that come up can help you to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

  • Try to accept the reality of the situation - when we accept reality, we can then work to change and improve it. While we avoid it, try to wish it away or dwell on the unfairness of things being uncertain, we aren't in a position to make things any better.
  • Listen to your emotions and concerns - reassure yourself that it is ok to feel this way, because you're living through an uncertain situation.
  • Start to assess what you can control - there will be steps you can take to increase certainty over the things you're concerned about.

Use the action plan template on Student Space to help you think through the actions and decisions you can take to address your worries. 

Support is available

If you're a student and the coronavirus pandemic has affected your life, help and support is available. We set up Student Space to help you through this troubling time.

Here are some ways that Student Space can help:

  • You can talk to trained volunteers by text, phone, email or webchat about whatever issues are on your mind.
  • Discover what support is available at your university.
  • You can access dozens of articles and videos, written by expert clinicians and students, to help you through the challenges of student life.

Find out more

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