Starting College

Starting College

In order to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to start college during the pandemic, we invited a young person to comment on her first-hand experiences and recommendations.  

Starting college is scary for the majority of people, most likely because people are naturally afraid of change. Imagine moving out of your family home for the first time, living in a completely new city with new people, doing a complicated course with no face-to-face teaching – during what should have been one of the most sociable times of your life. That was the reality for thousands of university students across the country and also my reality when I started college this year.  According to the Raising Children website, it is ‘extremely common’ for teenagers move to new areas and start new places of education. Couple that with facing the grief of losing both parents at the same time and you can appreciate that starting college for me was a big deal. 

I moved to Devon from Manchester on the 23rd March 2020, the beginning of lockdown. The coronavirus made beginning my new chapter really difficult. I was unable to explore my new region and the city my college is in. I remember thinking about my first day feeling sick to my stomach. Anxiety overwhelmed my body, so I’d try to keep it at the back of my mind.

I was scared of being judged. I knew I’d be so different to everyone else as I had a northern accent, different fashion and a completely different lifestyle. I would tell myself to stop getting stressed out because it was months before I started at college. Dealing with grief at the same time made the situation a lot harder, I had so many thoughts about different things at the same time. I would write in my journal most days which really helped me acknowledge my emotions regarding college.

I began to prepare myself for my first week. I’d complete booklets that the college and released for my year. I wanted to have the best start possible. I figured that if I had some knowledge of the subjects I was picking for A-level, then I would avoid the awkwardness of not knowing an answer in the first week. During high school, I wasn’t as motivated as I’d have liked to have been and there were multiple times that I would miss homework. Starting a new college, in a way, was a chance to change myself for the better. Having optional work to do over the first lockdown was the best way I could create a great first impression.

I began to stop thinking of all the negatives of starting college, although the anxiety never went away. Due to the coronavirus, I was unable to make new, local friends through the first couple of months, I knew that starting college would enable me to make friends, so I started to look forward to going. I was desperate to make new friendships with new people so when we were able to go out, I could.

Summer passed quickly as it always does. I had done a lot during the summer holidays: I had settled into one house then moved to a new house with my new family, seen some family friends, finished an online English essay writing course to name just a few. Keeping myself busy was great in some respects as I was completely distracted from thinking about my first day at college. On the 21st of August, it was enrolment day. I headed up to the college with my auntie, I was super nervous. It was starting to feel real, after being out of a routine for so long I was worried about getting myself back into learning mode.

Towards the end of August I began shopping for some new clothes for college. I still had the excitement feeling but the nerves were beginning to creep up on me again. I was about a week away from being surrounded by hundreds of new people in an unfamiliar area. I would stress about not making any friends and being labelled ‘a weirdo’, I was desperate to have a circle of friends down here to go out with. I also didn’t want to over think things.

Although, I knew that the new college was bound to have people who didn’t live in the area there like me, but I still felt lonely, in a sense. I thought that everyone would be able to make new friends easily, but I wouldn’t.  I have a strong northern accent and when I moved to Devon, local people found it hard to understand me. I had heard the term ‘grockel’ which people from Devon used to describe people who were not born down here. I didn’t want to be treated any differently from anyone because I was from Manchester.

I started on 4th September 2020. I was very surprised that I made friends instantly.   I connected with people easily on social media and met up with them at lunch. It was great. People did pick up my accent instantly (no surprise there though), but my friends loved my accent and so did a couple of my tutors. Having a different accent to everyone else does have some pros. For example, one of the areas we study in English Language is region, so I know how to identify a northerner straight away!

Dealing with grief at the same time made it feel ten times harder. I was dealing with so much all at once and it began to get on top of me. My brain was working at 1000 miles per hour thinking of so many situations that probably were not going to happen. As much as I wanted to make friends, I did not want people to be friends with me because they felt sorry for me. I wanted people to like me because of my personality.

Coming out of the second lockdown, I have told my tutors about my grief and a handful of my new close friends.  I’m looking forward to being brave enough to talk to my other friends in a natural way.  I’m hoping that I can get to know people and vice versa, then my story will naturally come out.

Thankfully, I settled into college straight away. I was so anxious before I started but I think that is because no one talks about what it is like to move schools or college, especially in a new location that you don’t know very well. It’s completely normal to worry about change but try not to overthink it and don’t let it overwhelm you.

5 things I wish I’d have known before I started college:

1 Everyone is actually in the same boat as you – going through the same nervous feelings at the same time in the same way. You are surrounded by people just like you.

2 Listen to your body – acknowledge and respect your feelings, try to talk about them. Remember it’s ok to be nervous/ anxious, accept those feelings and try to process them.

3 College has many more students that high schools normally do, it’s easy to make friends if you are brave and start a conversation.

4 Teachers are there to support you, if you ever have a problem, reach out.

5 You usually have lots of free time – you need to use it wisely e.g. do prep work.

Thank you again to this brave young lady for sharing how bereavement, moving home, and school, compounded with the restrictions of the current Covid-19 pandemic has affected her life.

What better way for professionals to understand the causes of anxiety and depression in children and teenagers by asking them to tell us how we can improve.

An excellent resource produced by the Anna Freud Centre is a downloadable toolkit for schools: Five Steps to Mental Health and Wellbeing, which is an evidence based framework so that you can decide your own approach to mental health and wellbeing in five simple steps.  The framework is developed by mental health experts and teachers, for teachers available here >


For more information on how to support schools/ colleges and resources to develop staff knowledge of safeguarding in learning environments, please contact us.

With the ongoing concerns about the spread of the Coronavirus (aka COVID-19) we have changed the way we work to ensure that we continue to deliver high quality safeguarding training courses.  Our ethos of “Doing the Right things to Do things Right” is being achieved via our distance learning courses and we offer video conferencing, interactive training and blended learning on a wide range of Safeguarding topics.  To find out more about the services and training courses delivered please visit our services >>  or contact us >>