DS1 finding 1st Year of Uni Very Overwhelming

(50 Posts)
BaconAndAvocado Wed 16-Nov-16 21:44:34

DS1 is at Manchester studying Chemical Engineering and is finding the workload incredibly hard.

He said that lots of students are feeling the pressure and going to a "Mental Health Issues" event (not entirely sure what he meant by this)

He facetimed us his evening and I know he was close to tears re coping with the workload.

I don't know what to do. Or if there is anything I can do apart from reassure him and boost him up.

He has always coped quite well with hard work (A levels) but then he was at home and now, being away, I think he is struggling.

Any advice welcomed.

OP’s posts: |
CocktailQueen Wed 16-Nov-16 21:47:47

Is there a specific area he's struggling with, or is it with organising his work? Get him to talk to his tutor in the first instance.

Or the uni may have a pastoral care dept he can speak to.

If he's in halls, there may be a hall 'mother' or 'father' (usually a third or fourth year (in Scotland)) who can help.

If lots of students are under pressure this suggests the course is either pitched at the wrong level, students aren't getting enough support, or they're out partying too hard wink

OohhThatsMe Wed 16-Nov-16 21:49:25

My friend's daughter studied Pharmacy at Manchester and found it really tough, too. I imagine he has a lot of classes, with extra work to do afterwards? She was doing virtually 9-5 plus extra work. My daughter did a humanities subject and found it much easier to manage her time.

Could he come home for the weekend? It sounds as though he'd benefit from going on that mental health course - a lot of students must be struggling if they're running a course like that. He'll see then that he's not alone.

What are his friends studying? I think it really helps if you're doing the same subject as you know where you're up to with your work.

It will get easier for him - I feel so sorry for him!

LIZS Wed 16-Nov-16 21:51:35

Does he have a tutor he could speak to? Student support services?

thesandwich Wed 16-Nov-16 21:53:03

It's good that he's talking to you. Has he been home at all? First term is very intense on so many levels. Does his course have"parents" older student who advise the freshers? Faculties also often have brilliant pastoral people. Check out the website and talk to him about it.
Is he keeping healthy/ eating etc? There is support there if he looks for it but many find it tough. flowers to you. Have a read on the freshers threads- lots struggle for many reasons. It's a major transition. Good luck

TinklyLittleLaugh Wed 16-Nov-16 21:56:05

How much support did he have for A levels? Was he spoonfed or heavily tutored? That can make a difference to the step up.

BaconAndAvocado Wed 16-Nov-16 22:02:58

Yes he's working practically 9-5 mon to Friday then loads of work in the evenings.

He's definitely not partying too much, he hasn't been out drinking for 3 weeks.

He'll be home in 4 weeks, think he's really missing home.

I hope it does get easier for him soon.

OP’s posts: |


YellowPrimula Wed 16-Nov-16 22:04:59


Has he checked out the above link , universities these days have lots of study skills workshops and drop in sessions , I notice one of the workshops is on procrastination and another is on managing coursework .

Also the students union often have support available .Its hard , he us probably pretty tired as well ,making new friends is stressful as is self catering etc .

Mysterycat23 Wed 16-Nov-16 22:12:34

He just has to pass the first year, the marks don't count towards the degree classification. It's more about getting the hang of university level work and settling into a routine of study skills. Knowing that might reassure him about how much time to spend on each piece of work.

Chem eng is one of the most demanding subjects tbh, you're basically doing almost twice the work as a generalist (I did Mech eng, workload more manageable than my classmates doing chem or electrical). He should be able to switch to a different type of engineering if the chemistry part of it is the issue, or, alternatively to just straight chemistry. That would most likely cut down the workload and the pressure.

hellsbells99 Wed 16-Nov-16 23:49:23

Hi op. My DD is doing engineering and finding the work load and difficulty a lot harder than she expected. She has a lot of contact hours and then a lot of work outside of this. She can home at the weekend as she was stressing about an assessment that was due in this week and spent all weekend working. I just keep reminding her that it is only 4 weeks until she breaks up. On top of that, is the stress of finding a house for next year - she is worried about committing to this in case she fails the year.
As DD says, some of her flat mates have less contact hours in a week than she has in a day!

Couchpotato3 Thu 17-Nov-16 00:00:17

Rather than getting him to come home for the weekend, are you able to visit him? A few hours with you, and a chance to get away from uni for a bit, maybe take him out for a nice meal, could be a real boost, without stressing him out further by taking a lot of time travelling etc. Also, it might be more reassuring to you to see him in context at uni. and helpful for him to have a friendly face and a nice experience in Manchester. Coming home could make going back even harder and won't help him to bond with friends etc and cope any better where he is.
DD found her first term of Uni very difficult on all sorts of levels. Coping with the workload (science degree) was part of it, but the social side and being away from home were also really overwhelming for her. It got a lot better in the second term as she settled in and made plans for second year accommodation etc. There is such a lot of change for them to manage in that first term, it's no wonder it is a struggle.
It sounds like your DS is happy with his choice of course, but is finding the workload difficult. Has he explored different ways of working? Is he spending a lot of time doing things that he doesn't need to do, writing copious notes etc? Some time spent on looking at study skills might be helpful?

Ilovelearning Thu 17-Nov-16 00:29:40

I'm a mature student in my first year and found the first few weeks incredibly stressful. It seemed work was being thrown at me from all directions and it was all very overwhelming. I actually came home during our equivalent of reading week and was sleeping 12 hours a day as I was so exhausted (I usually manage about 6 at uni). What has really helped me, was getting my work files in an easy to follow system and creating an overview of work I needed to do and the deadline dates. I had a chat with my personal tutor (your son should have one), and have also accessed the Academic Skills tutors and the Back on Track office . I was really surprised at just how much help there was available to me, and how helpful everyone is. I also go to a Well-being group and find it helps to find out how others are coping. If your son can't get home, as someone suggested earlier visiting may help, but bear in mind that he may actually feel he can't spare the time to see you, as he may think he has to spend every minute working to try and keep on top of everything. I think the best advice at the moment would be to really try and get him to speak to his personal tutor. They won't think any less of him and may manage to put his mind at rest. Ours are repeatedly telling us to go and speak to them rather than worry about something.

Kel1234 Thu 17-Nov-16 00:42:51

Talking as a student who passed my first year in 2014 (I took time out to have my baby), I know how hard first year can be.
It's great he is talking to you. I found it hard until I really got into it. (My first year did count towards my overall degree). I'd suggest him talking to someone who can help. Or perhaps try working in a group of friends who can support each other.
It's not as easy as people think. I was 250 miles from home and at first it was hard.
I hope things get better for him soon

Kel1234 Thu 17-Nov-16 00:45:53

Mysterycat23- some uni's the 1st year does count. My 1st year counted for 10% of my overall degree classification.

user7214743615 Thu 17-Nov-16 07:42:53

Even if the first year doesn't count for final classification, low marks in the first year make it much harder to do well in later years as the material in later years builds on first year knowledge.

OP, it is normal for engineers to find the workload hard. The sciences at A level are relatively light in workload and most students haven't had to work hard to get good grades in then. University STEM courses are intended to be full-time - at least 40 hours per week of studying - and this comes as a huge shock to many students.

As well as attending mental health events, I would suggest that he looks at his study habits and tries to make them more efficient. There should be help around campus for this, not least from his personal tutor.

Bluntness100 Thu 17-Nov-16 07:56:04

Does he not have to pass the first year to be invited to do the second? My daughter is doing a different subject, law, which is also a hard course work wise, and she had to pass the first year to make it to her second.

Each year gets progressively harder in a degree course basically, so he will need to adjust and understand this is what it's like, I would say my daughter in her second year works probably 9-9, seven days a week, with clearly some exceptions, but generally that's about the scale of it. Last year was 9-5. Five days a week.

Maybe he should talk to some older students, second or third years, but the first term is the hardest as he is having to adjust as well.

There is no doubt kids have a huge amount of pressure on them , it's so hard and it's hard not to worry, i would say talking to some older students, spending some time with uou , managing his workload, planning, and also reminding him it's only for part of the year, they do get a lot of time off as well,

soapybox Thu 17-Nov-16 09:29:19

My DD is studying medicine and at the very beginning of the course the course director pointed out that people at university are a bright bunch and so they have to readjust their ideas as to what a good performance is. He stressed that not everybody will get As on every assignment and that a C is a good steady result when you are competing with lots of equally clever people.

Is it possible that your DS is setting the standard too high for now and that he could ease up a little bit without it affecting his overall results by much? In other words, does he have a bit of a perfection tendency?

I also wonder whether he has settled down in a good friendship group, as the not going out thing might mean that he has no relief from the intensity of it all.

As you say though, he will be home soon and can hopefully relax a bit then smile

chemenger Thu 17-Nov-16 11:23:57

I teach Chemical Engineering in another university. It is a tough course, there is no doubt about that. I also recommend looking at any available courses or support materials on study skills which can really help students to study and work more effectively and efficiently. There will be a department at Manchester that does this, I'm sure or (pm me and I will send you a link to my university's stuff, which is freely available).

I started to write a piece on destructive perfectionism but soapybox has expressed it very well. The students I see who do well and seem happy are those who concentrate on getting things done rather than getting top marks. The students who do best of all often have very time consuming outside interests like high level sport, which constrain the time they can spend on academic work, so they work very efficiently and learn to prioritise.

Needmoresleep Thu 17-Nov-16 12:17:47

DD is on a gap year but is in touch with quite a number of peers who have headed for top Universities. Observation seems to be that:

1. Most are having to work very hard.
2. It can be difficult for scientists who will often have a heavy timetable, if their friends are studying non science subjects. (Those Eng Lit students who can lounge around all day reading novels!) Scientists need to work as hard as other scientists.
3. Some go on demanding courses because they were very able, others because they worked very hard. Some of the latter now appear to be working at an unsustainable pace. They may get through the course but the personal cost will be high.
4. There are examples of kids either wanting to remain at the top of the class, or to be perfect.
5. There is a lot to be said for working smart, rather than simply working hard. It is a life skill.

DS found his first year quite tough, but really seems to be enjoying his final year, now he has worked out an approach. Pacing is important. A steady routine of going onto campus and into the library, often seven days a week (students really do work hard). But regular activities with friends, societies or sport as a counterbalance. Make sure you understand each concept as you go along. If you don't, use the academic's office hours (apparently UGs rarely do, but most academics are happy to help.) He is advised for his maths courses to look at the material in advance of lectures so he has a level of familiarity. Use the Christmas holiday to go back over the first term's material. Maybe a couple of hours a day? It is normally possible to arrange to use the library of the University closest to you, if working in a library helps. This is especially important if you are not examined on the material till the summer.

DS is probably helped by the fact that his University has a high proportion of overseas students who often work very hard indeed. I think it would be harder if he was on a heavily loaded course somewhere where quite a lot of the other students have relatively light timetables.

Bobochic Thu 17-Nov-16 12:23:30

I think students today have to work harder than they did a generation ago. My DSSs tell me that they think that A-levels do not prepare students as well for the demands of university than some other secondary school leaving diplomas (IB, French OIB), yet that students with A-levels are sometimes a little arrogant versus students from other backgrounds and believe, erroneously, that they don't need to work as hard.

Bobochic Thu 17-Nov-16 12:24:02

than as

TheHighPriestessOfTinsel Thu 17-Nov-16 12:28:26

If he's in University of Manchester Halls, there will be a pastoral tutor within halls whom he can go and see. They are by and large postgraduate students, so will have some understanding of what he's going through now, and will be able to provide tea, sympathy, and perhaps some advice around good study routines and techniques.

Bluntness100 Thu 17-Nov-16 12:47:14

I also agree there is lots of help available that he can speak to. I know in my daughters first term she struggled with various things like writing essays, so she saw the tutor involved privately and it was explained how to write from a different perspective, it was not like writing an essay in English a level.

Outside interests and socialising also helps. And lastly, the other important thing is enjoying what you study, my daughter loves it and finds it interesting. This makes a huge difference to their desire to do it. She also studies in groups, so they go to the library together ( much reading in law) and camp out for the day, but then they go for cocktails or whatever after.. They have lunch, they camp out in costas for a leisurely coffee and then they go back to the library, they go home for dinner, they then go to networking events and different things.

They do adjust, she is at Birmingham, but loving what you are learning, having a natural interest in it, being able to balance with other activities, but also a recognition that it is hard work, and you need to keep abreast of it or ask for help, is key, there is no two ways about it, it's hard work and not like school.

Is chemical engineering the right course for him, does he naturally enjoy it and find it interesting?

Needmoresleep Thu 17-Nov-16 12:59:29

Bobo - not DS' experience at all. There are plenty of French students at LSE, but no obvious indication that they are better prepared for the course than British or Asian students coming in with A levels. And to a surprising extent Francophones seem to stick together, so it may be both Anglophones and Francophones see the other group as arrogant.

Where differences may lie, is that French students appear much more career focused. They have come to the LSE because they it provides a good foundation for a career in international finance. They know which courses will be of most benefit and what grades they need to get. English students more normally turn up having chosen a University and subject and not much more, and looking for a wider University experience. They will get there eventually, and perhaps there are arguments to suggest the straight path is not always the best path.

Oddly the London experience is that people are not very happy with the French system, or perhaps specifically the Lycee CDG, and there is an awful lot of voting with feet, either at sixth form or before. And not from parents who would be seeking an easier option for their DC. The Lycee almost certainly trains students in how to handle a large workload, but this seems to come at a cost in terms of initiative and creativity. It is not really fair to suggest that Op's son is struggling because he did not take the Bac. He is probably struggling because University is different, and once he works out where the effort is needed, and how much, he should adapt.

Dozer Thu 17-Nov-16 13:03:14

That's a hard work degree and it's early days.

As PPs say there is all kinds of support available - from study skills to mental health - it's really good that he was able to speak to you about his mental health.

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