Problem Page: Uni Counselling Service

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I’m worried that I will not make any new friends immediately to make up for not having my good friends I have at home. I’m also worried that if I do make new friends then I will be betraying my old ones and lose touch with them.

TUGGED IN TWO

Dear Tugged in Two,

You are describing the process of transition, when you take stock of your past experiences in light of what you imagine may lie ahead. It is important to put this into perspective, rather than have absolute or ‘all or nothing’ thoughts about this process.

Understand that going through a transition to a new stage in your life close relationships will change and feel a bit
uncertain; this is part of an ending in one stage and a new beginning. Try not to get too anxious, panicky or attempt to make new friends as you say ‘immediately to make up for’ old friends. Don’t put too much pressure or expectations on yourself and others to prematurely become ‘best friends’.

This usually takes time. Impossibly high expectations would destroy the spontaneity needed to get to know new people who may go onto become friends. Most of the other new students will feel the same and will want to meet and get to know as many new and exciting people as possible. Over time those people who will become your new friends will naturally emerge. However, don’t try to ‘replace’ your old friends or compare those you are just getting to know with those who have known you for a long time and probably shared lots of experiences. That is an unfair comparison. Making new friends is not a betrayal of old ones, just an acknowledgment that you are expanding your life experience. Although, it may mean the nature and ‘rituals’ of your old friendships may change. In most cases it makes life more interesting when you meet up again with old friends to then share your new experiences and new friends together.

I am entering my 3rd and final year at Oxford and am really worried about what to do when I finish. I feel totally unprepared for the real world beyond the Oxford bubble. What’s more I fear that my worries will affect my academic performance in my Finals.

OUT IN THE REAL WORLD

Dear Out in the Real World,
The transition from formal education is a significant one. Up to now your academic career has been mapped out for you, and you have felt in control. Now, faced with the uncertainly of the future, you may well feel that things are beyond your control. Anxieties at any transition are natural, and widely held, indeed if you had no concerns, I would suspect some unhelpful denial might be around. It is important to confront these feelings, which you may have postponed up to now. If you do not they may unwittingly undermine your best efforts. For example, a way of not facing important changes is to fail in your transitional task, i.e. your Finals. As if, somehow by not succeeding we cannot progress. Of course this would be counterproductive. Fear of what comes after university lies behind a lot of students’ decisions to continue studying, and for many, this is appropriate. There may be a wish at some level to defer maturation. The important thing is to consider all of your feelings behind the choices you have to make. To this end, it is important to discuss how you feel with those you trust: friends, family, tutors etc.

Take your time to make your decisions, just because others seem to know exactly what they are doing and are beginning their careers, it does not mean you have to. It is far more important to consider what is right for you. You have over forty years of work before you. Beginning something for the sake of feeling you have to do something, would be to do it for the wrong reasons.
Your new independence will be characterised by you making your own decisions (with guidance from others if necessary), so it is important to consider what is right for you. Remember you will have had an Oxford education, which will afford you more choices, and whilst that can be more anxiety-provoking, ultimately you are favourably positioned to pursue your chosen path.

I’ve just come up to Oxford and I’m really concerned that I will not be as clever as students and that it will be reflected in my grades. Although I was at or near to the top of my class in school, everybody here seems to have been top of their class. I’m dreading feeling just average, if that.

Good Enough?

Dear Good Enough?,

This is a common fear of new Oxford undergraduates. That you have been academically exceptional may well have provided a lot of satisfaction for yourself and others. However, as you imply, not everyone can be at the top. What’s important to remember at this very significant transitional stage of your life is that often new ways of thinking and behaving have to be made to adjust to new, different circumstances.

Whatever has (allied to a natural intelligence) fuelled your academic success to this point may have to be reconsidered and new expectations of yourself put in place. For example, if you have been a perfectionist, or sought the affirmation of others (teachers, parents) and neglected other areas of personal development in your desire to be at the top, you may consider what an opportunity this is to forge more satisfactory way of being. It may be that your fears are unrealistic, and you may remain top of the class, but if they are realised, it is important to consider that this is a disappointment only if you think in terms of how you have always thought.

Achieving academic or any other kind of success is usually a gateway to another challenging level, such as moving from school to a good University. An important fact of life to come to terms with is that apart from in exceptionally rare circumstances someone else will usually be ‘above’ you in the ‘class’. That even goes for Oxford Academics and Nobel Prize winners!
Oxford will of course provide plenty of opportunity to further your academic potential, but it also provides a tremendous opportunity to develop all of your potential; personal and cultural and that striking the right balance will be the key to your success and enjoyment here. Indeed if you worry too much about your work it is paradoxically likely to undermine your academic performance.
It’s important to share your concerns, with others – friends, tutors, family, but do not compare yourself to others. This is a time for you to discover what’s important to you, not to dwell on the fantasy of catastrophe if things do not go exactly as they have before. Remember, you remain academically exceptional, which is why you are at Oxford, as you deserve to be and it was not just by luck.

 

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