University Post
University of Copenhagen
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Opinion

A counsellor’s advice to stressed students

Stress — Study-progress reform and heart flutter. Programme realignment and memory loss. Education cap and sleepless nights. Three of these things can be purged from students’ lives

Heart flutter, memory loss, difficulty concentrating and sleeping trouble are just a few of the ways that the stress of university life is manifesting itself for an increasing number of students. It appears that study-progress reform, programme realignments and the most recent education cap have left an indelible mark on the lives of students at Danish universities.

The reforms mean that students today must work noticeably harder than those of just a few years ago. Combine that with the chronic lack of housing, the unavoidable part-time job and unfamiliarity with what counselling options are available, and it’s no surprise that even the most optimistic students find themselves in doubt.

Fairly brutish

The changes the educational system has undergone in recent years requires students to have a good idea of what they want to do with their futures starting almost on their first day at uni. Their studies need to be carefully planned, and preferably completed within the allotted time. The straight and narrow is straighter and narrower than ever before.

They [the students] need constantly to be aware that there is small army of competent university employees who are ready to help them find their way.

When discussing university studies today, the first thing that needs to be said is that the vast majority of programmes require as much effort as a full-time job. This is only fair, given that, on to free university attendance, students get paid in the form of their SU stipend. But, in addition to their studies, students are engaged in any number of more or less mandatory outside activities.

In addition to working to build up their CV, students need to keep op top of their finances and make sure they have a part-time job that is relevant to their studies. On top of all that, students also need to regularly update their educational profiles to make sure that their studies will qualify them for a job once they graduate.

Put another way: students are expected to be able to use what they have learned to make a contribution to society as quickly as possible after graduating. These are fairly brutish expectations.

The changes also mean that some students are forced to make existential decisions about their future, which means they have a lot on the line. The question we should be asking is whether it is fair to require someone to plan their lives so minutely at such a young age.

Unattainable luxury

For many of today’s students, the constant need to perform has become second-nature. This competition mind-set undermines good student life. One could fear that this will create students who are unconcerned about those around them, unaware of their own needs and desires and unable even to recall just why it is they started at uni. Once they lose sight of their goal, interest and motivation withers.

Specifically, what I’m referring to here is the enthusiasm that all university students should have as they embark on a process of academic and personal development. The way I see it, everyone should be able to get as much as they possibly can from the indescribably enriching experience of learning and getting an education. Unfortunately, I find that the joy and the enthusiasm that should accompany students throughout their education is gradually being left behind. For today’s student, time constraints make self-reflection and enrichment unattainable.

Say ‘no’ more often

Identifying the problem is one thing. More important is coming up with a constructive way to deal with it. A counsellor can help students cope by addressing the situation systematically and patiently. They can learn to say ‘no’ to things that, when it comes right down to it, aren’t necessary, if the result is that they can get through a semester without buckling under.

The question we should be asking is whether it is fair to require someone to plan their lives so minutely at such a young age.

In reality, there is a lot of help for students, and there are plenty of people who are looking out for them. They need to be constantly aware that there is a small army of competent university employees who are ready to help them find their way. This is something I can attest to as not just a counsellor, but also an administrator and instructor.

All three positions offer their own insights, and all three can help out with most situations students find themselves in, either during or after their studies. All of the university’s employees have it as their goal to give students the best educational experience possible, and, in the end, make sure they are as happy as they possibly can be.

Help is a request away

Good planning is one way for students to head off problems. So too is not being afraid to ask for help navigating the educational system. Students who can address issues in a timely manner, study their options and find the right person to help them can go a long way towards obtaining a balanced university life, and hopefully finding the energy, the motivation and the joy that comes with learning.

 

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