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Study abroad : Once you arrive

How to deal with disappointment at university

It's not unusual to feel disappointed by university sometimes – even if you enjoy it, it won't always go as you would like. However, there are ways forward. We take a look at how to find them.

Young woman with a bag over her shoulder looks upwards wistfully from the back of a corridor through which a blur of three other people are walking

So much is written about how enjoyable university is. Often, it turns out to be true. The experience gives many students their first taste of independence and allows them to meet new people and learn new things. But what if it doesn't quite meet your expectations? University disappointment is not uncommon, and there are many reasons why you may feel it. To help you work through it, we have some advice.


Remember that disappointment is not unusual


Lots of people find themselves disappointed at university. The feeling may be strong and long-lasting, or it may be a brief sensation during a period when things go slightly off-track. The important thing to remember is that you will not be the first or last person to experience it. Others have got through it, and others are going through it alongside you. By speaking to them, you may just find that you can help each other.


Of course, as a new international student you may find yourself experiencing problems and feelings that many people do not. Given the unique challenges faced by people in your position, it is completely understandable if things do not always go smoothly. Seek out other international students, and you might discover that some of them are feeling similarly.


Whether it is dealing with the pressure of being a scholarship student or simply being far from home, the shared difficulties of international students are something you can use to bond with people. Making new friends this way could help you work through your disappointment, and lead you on towards some much more enjoyable experiences.


Look at the bigger picture 


Young woman in blue jumper looks to her left while holding a red notebook. She smiles slightly as if coming to a realisation.


When you are feeling weighed down by short-term disappointment, it can be easy to imagine that the problem is much bigger than it actually is.  


If you didn’t receive the grade you were hoping for on one of your assignments, for example, it would be understandable if your confidence was knocked. You may be disappointed with the outcome, and you may have concerns about your success going forward. 


During a time like this, though, it's always important to step back and look at the bigger picture. Is this the only assignment you’ve not done well on so far? Can you learn from it and improve? Will it really matter by graduation day


These are all things to ask yourself when trying to see the wider picture. Often, when you pause to look at the whole story, you realise that the disappointment you’re going through now is just temporary. 


Evaluate your expectations 


Thinking again about what is realistic will often help when you are experiencing university disappointment. When you sit down and consider how you would like things to be, you may conclude that your expectations are too high. If this is the case, you may be setting yourself up for unfulfillment. 


It’s very common to plan your university journey years in advance, so it’s natural to develop an idealised image of what it will be like. The more excited you get by this, the more likely you are to feel let down.


At the same time, if your first three months of university have passed and you feel that the experience has not been as you imagined, there may be things you can do to bring your hopes to life. For example, if you thought that there would be more social events at university than you have encountered so far, why not try joining a society or club? Maybe you wanted to see more of your new city? Using your free time to travel around can be the perfect solution.


Speak to friends or family


Three male students sit around a wooden table as one points out something in a book and the others look towards him. All three have disposable coffee cups.


Keeping your feelings inside tends to only make them stronger. When those feelings are of disappointment, that is not a good thing to do. One of the most effective ways of resolving the situation is to simply speak with the people who care about you most. A good chat with a friend or family member can often be all you need to set you on the path to feeling better.


It may be the case that one of your friends has been through the same thing. If so, they may have good, practical advice from their own experience. Even if they do not, they may be able to help you see things differently. In any case, it is worth remembering the famous phrase: "a problem shared is a problem halved". A conversation about your emotions may well lead to them changing positively.


Seek help from your university


At your university, there are likely to be a range of places you can go to seek support. It doesn't matter if your feelings of disappointment are a small or big problem: people and services are there to help.


You may well have a personal tutor on your course who is there to provide human support in addition to their academic duties. There is a good chance that this person will be an understanding listener with experience of helping many students with a range of problems. The advice they give you could be emotional or practical, but either way, they should want to help.


Beyond this person, you could also seek out specialised support from your university's international office. The people there will know all about the concerns and problems that are encountered by international students in particular. That could be an emotional thing like homesickness, or something as formal as concerns about your visa status. There is very little that they will not have heard before.


Additionally, you may be able to seek help from your university counselling service. It is not always easy or quick to get to get appointments there, but when you do, you will have the chance to speak confidentially with a qualified and compassionate professional about any issues you may have. It is very possible that they could provide you with the right techniques and approaches to get you through your situation.


For more advice on accessing these kinds of support services, read our guide to mental health for international students.


Disappointment at university is not unusual. Between all the good times it can bring, there are many points at which you may not feel like everything is going according to plan. However, situations can always improve. Where you can take practical steps towards making that happen, you should believe that they will. Whatever happens, things are not always as bad as they seem.

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