Biggest Fears about University and How to Tackle Them

Posted by Megan on May 29, 2014

Journey to the Centre of York

Hello everyone! Today’s post is all about some of the common fears that people have entering university – and what YOU can do to tackle them. Let’s kick those fears about university in the butt! Image reads: Fears are stories we tell ourselves.

Just like the image above states, fears are really anxieties we have about the unknown. Our mental script runs off on it’s own, making it hard to escape. Thankfully, most of the common fears about university are usually satiated once you actually start university. However, I’m going to try to speed up that process for you so can vanquish those fears once and for all. Below you will see three different fear types. You can read through all the fears and tips or you can just read the ones you like. And if you have a fear that wasn’t addressed in this post, please feel free to comment below and I’ll point you in the right direction 🙂 —


“I’m going to fail my classes”

A gif from Fairly Odd Parents. One character received an F, while the other students and even teacher are cheering.
It won’t be like this.

Maybe you will. Is that the worst thing that could really happen? And if you start your university career with a pessimistic attitude like that, don’t you think that it could turn into a self fulfilling prophecy? Did you know that I started my university career with a couple fails and a ton of bad marks? And yet I was able to turn it around and get this far? 🙂 Trust me, you’ve GOT THIS. Believe in yourself! So how do we tackle this fear or failing? I think the important place to start is where this fear is rooted.

Scenario #1 – I’m just afraid of the transition from high school and I’m worried that I won’t be able to handle the harder courses Okay, so here is the root of your fear. You’re right, first year university courses are often a lot more challenging than expected. But that doesn’t mean you can’t handle it. You just have to make sure that you have the right mindset that you can tackle this. Take it one day at a time. The first thing that you should consider is that there are things you can do to start preparing yourself before school starts. Some of my suggestions include:

  • Taking any of the LSS workshops, but particularly the Starting off Strong workshop. The LSS workshop calendar is available here. All workshops are 100% free and attending any 8 will get you a great certificate for your resume (as long as you get your form stamped)! Please keep in mind that the calendar might be empty, however I believe they will be hosting workshops a little closer to the start of school, if not earlier. You can contact them at 416-736-5297 to confirm 🙂 If not they will definitely have workshops starting in September!
  • Searching for your course outlines once you know what classes you have. For example, if you are taking Intro to Psychology, you can just Google ‘York PSYC 1010 Course Outline’. Adding a professor and the year can help, but adding the professor alone should ensure you find a course outline that is close to what you will be using (because this years might not be up yet). This course outline will contain useful information about what topics will be covered in class, how fast, what readings you will have, etc. This can be helpful in scheduling appointed time to do your readings or study. You can also start looking up articles and even educational YouTube videos on the different topics to get a head start.
  • If you are worried about writing university level academic papers – we’ve got a new resource Student Papers and Academic Research Kit, otherwise known as SPARK.
  • Get an assessment of your academic skills as well as tips for what you can do to improve on your weaker areas. LSS offers one on one learning skill counselling so to start, print off this self-assessment and when you’ve completed it, you can stop by N102 Bennett Centre to set up your free appointment.

Scenario #2 – I had a hard time in high school because of my mental health or other disability such as learning, physical, sensory or medical and I’m afraid that it’s going to be even harder to manage in university. Well the good news is,  York has a TON of great resources for you. I strongly encourage you to check out my article Thinking Ahead: University & Your Mental Health as well as Thinking Ahead: Steps to York U, which details a number of different supports in Step 6. No matter your personal situation, you are not alone and you will find success in your university career 🙂 The sooner you take advantage of these resources, the better. Depending on your documentation, York can even provide you with helpful accommodations that can make all the difference to you.

“I won’t like my program”

A GIF from Doctor Who reads: I don't like it.
Well then why… ?!

Hey, this is actually a super possible outcome. I know countless people, myself included, that are pursuing a different degree than they originally applied for. University is all about finding yourself and it’s normal that you discover a passion for something else. That being said, I think you should keep yourself open to the possibility that this can happen and make sure you listen to yourself. By that I mean, make sure you are doing this program for yourself.

Like I’ve mentioned before I originally went to school for a Life Sciences degree to pursue the *doctor dream*. Except that dream wasn’t mine, it was my mother’s. Switching into Psychology, something I’M passionate about made a huge difference not only in my happiness but also in my grades! You might also be pursuing a passion and discover that it’s best kept as a personal passion and not an academic one – that’s 100% okay also.

For those of you that might be worried about wasting all those courses – hope is not yet lost. A lot of programs require the same or similar gen eds and any other courses you take can generally apply to available electives, meaning you might not have to extend your degree at all. You also can take up to 15 credits each summer so that can help you stay on track. And even if you do have to extend your degree because you found something you are passionate about – who cares?! Wouldn’t you rather invest that time in yourself so that you can pursue a career that you will love? I know I would. My 4 year degree has turned into a 6 year with the addition of a new minor and despite some small lingering feelings, I’m really happy I did this for myself 🙂

“I don’t know if my program is a good one”

A GIF from Friends showing one of the characters laughing and pointing as in
I think I know where you are going with this…

I think, perhaps, that you should spend some time defining “good” here. Do you mean good as in it’s a well known program? Or that you are being taught by excellent professors? Or are you asking if this program is going to guarantee you a $100,000 starting salary the minute you graduate with full benefits, a company car, and 6 weeks of vacation? Oh you were going for that last one? Of course. This is a common complaint I hear and even read online. I would like to suggest that you might be going about it the wrong way.

While it’s understandable, especially in our society, that you would want to pursue such a lifestyle at any cost, I would argue it’s far more meaningful in the longterm if you pursue something you really enjoy. Med school, for instance, is notoriously difficult. If this isn’t something you are passionate about, it’s going to make it that much more difficult. That’s not to say that it isn’t doable – but you can pursue a degree that you actually like and it will lead to a career and other possibilities that really fulfil you to a deeper level. It might take a bit more optimism and some hard work, but it’s definitely a better option.

And money doesn’t buy happiness – maybe superficial short term happiness. But not that soul deep happiness that you really want to find 😀 If you are intrigued by this, but aren’t sure where to start, I encourage you to start a Career Cruising profile using your Passport York account. Do the assessments. See what careers are given to you. Find some common themes and check out the career educations that you are drawn to. This should help set you on your path. If not, finding part time employment or volunteering with causes you believe in will also help you find your path.


“I don’t know how I’m going to afford this”

A GIF from Bridesmaids reads: Help Me, I'm Poor.
Welcome to university living.

Join the queue 😉 No seriously, figuring out the financial side of things is nerve wracking. I can totally understand your fear here. Thankfully, like always, there are a number of options.

  • You can ask your parents or relatives to help if they aren’t already. This isn’t always a possibility, but don’t be afraid to ask. You also might have more luck if you agree to match whatever they put in – for example some parents go half in with their children, or even 25% or less. Any little bit helps right? And even if they can’t help with tuition, they can help in other ways – maybe by sending you a little grocery money every month, or offering to take care of your cell phone bill.
  • You might be eligible for OSAP or funding from your own province/country. The amount of OSAP tends to be based on your parents income depending on your situation but if you are eligible, OSAP can definitely make a huge dent in your tuition. Some students are fortunate enough to receive funding that covers tuition and enough to put towards living expenses. Just make sure you meet the June 30th deadline to be eligible to have your interest deferred on your student account in September and January – sometimes it comes in a bit late.
  • You can save up money from a summer job and a work study position through the year. Look for summer jobs around where you live but check York’s Career Centre in August for work study positions on campus – most are 10-15 hours a week which is perfect for students. An extra $100-150 a week can go a long way!
  • Remember the SFP you applied to for entrance scholarships? There is another you can apply to in late summer, early fall. This secondary SFP, which you can apply to every year, offers a variety of scholarships and bursaries. For those in financial need, most receive 1-2 substantial bursaries during the year. Last year I was fortunate enough to receive two bursaries worth around $300 that went a long way!
  • You can apply for a line of credit at your bank with a cosigner. A line of credit can be a VERY helpful in funding your education. Most banks offer up to $10,000 a year to a max of $40k. The interest is often VERY competitive to OSAP’s. You just need a cosigner with decent credit and proof of enrolment. While you are in school you will only need to make interest only payments monthly – which work out to roughly $30-35 per $10000 (speaking from my experience). If you have a job, this should be no problem, but this could also be a situation where you ask a parent or relative to take care of your payments until you’ve found a job. You can speak with your bank’s advisor to work out how much payments will cost once you’ve completed your education.
  • You can apply to scholarships on sites like and StudentAwards. For both, the more information you provide them with, the more they can fine tune the available scholarships to wait is suited to your strengths. This is a great option for students who need a little extra help funding their education. And writing the essays for scholarships will be great practice for university anyways 😉

“I don’t know what I can do with my degree”

A GIF of Andrew Garfield shaking his head saying 'No Idea.'
Well, you came to the right place!

Not knowing what you can do with your degree down the line is definitely stressful, and more so as you get closer to graduation. York has a useful resource, What Can I Do With My Degree? that might be of some assistance. You can also use a site like Career Cruising to see what careers stem from your degree. I also definitely recommend creating a profile on LinkedIn and regularly checking job postings online that have your degree as a requirement. This can help you know if you need to supplement your degree with a certificate, experience, a Masters, or something else. Also a lot of jobs exist now that didn’t even exist before and a lot of people are getting creative and are putting their degree to use online. It might be hard but the possibilities are certainly there 🙂

Social Life

“I won’t make friends”

A GIF of a man asking a women
Is this how you do it?

You WILL make friends. You just have to try. Some students are extroverted and this will probably come a lot easier to them. Other students, like myself are more introverted and shy and have a trickier time. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to make friends though. The benefit of going to a school with so many students is that people are so diverse and it can be easier in a lot of ways to find students that share similar interests whether academically or at a personal level. So, where should you start?

Use YUConnect to search up clubs and associations that fit your interests. One good place to start is getting involved with your programs association! It’s a great opportunity to network and most of the associations host events and workshops that connect you with professionals already in the field or that will help hone your skills and provide information for your future. If you are an athletic individual you can also check out the YorkULions website to join a team! Lastly, getting involved with your college can help you to make friends. The fun doesn’t have to end with frosh 😀 The colleges try to offer some events year round and I think all or most have community rooms where you can go and hang out when you have spare time.

Take extra caution to not fall in the commuter trap either. I realize that sometimes you just want to get home but you are going to have a really hard time making friends if you don’t make the effort. And remember it’s not just about making friends – it’s helping you network professionally, you learn more about your field, you decrease your stress and manage your mental health. If you do just want to get home, I suggest dedicating any breaks in between your classes to spending time with friends, volunteer on campus, and just getting involved in general. Then when you get home, or even on the way home (if you use transit) study.

For those of you that are really shy, don’t forget that you can get involved online also. I do think you should slowly challenge yourself so that your people skills can build up (I have to work on this too) but online is a great place to start. There are a bunch of social groups on Facebook. A ton of York Tumblr blogs, including the one I run with my friends, YorkULife. We even have our own social group if that’s something that interests you. York even has a subreddit that’s pretty active! Getting active online was actually how I met and connected with my favourite York friends so don’t knock it as a legitimate way to connect with people 😀

“How am I going to have time for everything”

A GIF from Harry Potter that reads
Yeah, what Ron said.

One word. Prioritize. You need to decide what your priorities are and you need to figure it out fast – the sooner you do, the better your academics will get. It’s also important to realize that there is no right or wrong blend of priorities – for some people they need to prioritize their social life to manage their stress while others make academics number one. You do need to make sure there is balance but it definitely helps to make a list of things you need to give attention to each day and then figure out how much time you can give to each. Mine currently looks something like this:

  • Up at 7
  • Get ready, spend time with my dog Kirby/feed him & take him out quick.
  • Work/Classes from 8:30-4:30 (which I sometimes have to shift around because of appointments and what not)
  • Break for dinner which I always eat with my partner unless I’m rushing to class and he isn’t home from work yet. I also make sure to feed Kirby, and take him out for a walk.
  • Depending on the night- homework, a show or two, Tumblr/reading, etc.
  • Class 7-10 on some nights
  • Bed by midnight in the week
  • My weekends are for catching up on homework (which doesn’t take long), blogging, hanging out with family and/or friends – or alternatively- staying home and doing things with my partner – we might game, watch movies, do our own thing, go for a walk, try to get a project done around the house, etc.

Because my schedule is so busy right now I have to sacrifice giving myself more time for self care (things that make my mental state really relaxed/happy) in the week so that I can focus on my academics and have some time with my partner. We also are sacrificing on spending more time with our family to spend more time with friends or in our own home. But we do try to rotate weekends so that it’s fair.

It’s also really easy to fall in the trap of giving yourself too much free time or alternatively, too many priorities. Be wary as you can lose your motivation and academic skills with the first and you can get burnt out with the second. I have found using Google Calendar really helpful because I just schedule all my necessary priorities in and it sends notifications right to my phone that I need to be somewhere or do something. When I have a hard time with motivation I also schedule study sessions. The unscheduled parts of my day are for me to decide how I want to spend them. You might also want to check out Jamila’s article 6 Tips for Effective Time Management.

“Campus is so big, I’m going to get lost”

A GIF from Lilo & Stitch reads
Aw Stitch, I’ll help you get to class!

Campus is big. Really big. One thing you can do is print off one of the maps that York has available online. Better yet, you can save the trees and use technology! York’s Safety App has a great map feature that can direct you from building to another. You can also download my favourite map app – Google Maps. Switch to direction mode and it will direct you from where ever you are standing to which ever building on campus you are trying to find.

Finding the building is sometimes only half the battle however. Finding your class IN that building can be a nightmare. So here are some tips for that:

  1. Keep an eye out for any building maps on the walls – I find these particular helpful in Curtis Lecture Halls. Wall directions can also help point you to the wing with the room numbers you are looking for so make sure you are aware of these and look for them.
  2. Don’t EVER be afraid to ask another student for directions. We don’t always know how to help but most of us will try our best to direct you to the right room. And if that student doesn’t know, don’t be afraid to ask another 🙂 We’ve all been there!
  3. Pay attention to the room number – Room 11 would be on the first floor, Room 341 would be on the third. Rooms that start with a 0 are in the basement, and Rooms that start with B are usually one floor below 0.
  4. Don’t forget about REDZone. Located in the middle of Vari Hall these friendly student ambassadors  can often give spot on directions to buildings and possibly even rooms 🙂

Well that concludes my article on some of the biggest fears about university. I hope that you’ve found this helpful. If you have any other fears please comment below and I will try my best to help!

A big thank you to: Navid Khan, Mỹ Kiều Dang, Tori Brownhill, Destiny Pimental-DeFaria, Michelle TC, and Humaira Inam for helping to contribute first year fears.



Megan is a third-year Psychology student. Follow her on her journey of self-development as she explores and ventures through campus.

See other posts by Megan