10 challenges you may encounter at university

You got this written on display board

Erin Written by Erin (she/her), student

University is an amazing time in your life. There’s the promise of new, exciting experiences, personal growth, and freedom. But it’s not without its own challenges and growing pains.

So, how do you successfully navigate those roadblocks to make your university experience the best it can possibly be? First, you have to know some of the common problems you may face!

10 potential challenges and how to deal with them

1. Homesickness

One of the first challenges you may face in university is missing home. Even though you’re meeting lots of new people and trying new things, it’s easy to miss your friends and family (heck, even your own bed) back home. This is totally normal and lots of people go through this.

Luckily, we live in a digital age so video calling can help bridge that gap and keep you connected with your folks back home. Personally, I found putting my own personal touch on my residence room helped me to feel more comfortable and at home.

Related article: How to personalize your residence room

2. Transitioning to university life

Another common obstacle is learning to adapt to the differences between university and high school. You may have difficult classes, more homework, and you’re now responsible for managing your own time.

I’ve found it helpful to make friends with people in class, form study groups, and learn how to take effective notes. Waterloo's Student Success Office offers great resources to help with the transition into university life and run workshops like note taking and leadership development.

Another tip is to introduce yourself to your professors and get to know them better. They’re great resources if you’re struggling with class work.

3. Roommates

Although residence teams work hard to pair you with people you will get along with, we all know people aren’t perfect and there may come a time when you face some conflict with your roommates.

A great way to deal with potential problems before they arise is to make a roommate agreement. This helps outline commitments like rent, cleaning, house rules, and other obligations.

If for some reason conflict arises, don’t be afraid to contact your residence life assistant/don. They’re there to support you and can help you solve your problems with roommates.

Related article: Roommate relationships 101

A Waterloo student's desk with notebook and laptop.

4. Effective studying

A big part of transitioning to university life is learning how to study effectively. This ranges from learning your study style (i.e., cue cards, note taking, etc.) to finding your favourite place to study. Personally, I like to study by rewriting my notes out in an organized fashion and I study best away from home in cozy coffee shops.

On the other hand, my best friend likes to make cue cards and study at home where it’s quiet. It’s all about what works best for you. You also need to learn how to effectively manage your time. It’s helpful to set up a schedule for when you need to study so you don’t end up cramming.

5. Time management

If I can pass on only one piece of advice, it’s to tell you the most important life skill you’ll ever learn is time management. This is a skill you’ll need for almost anything you do.

From school to co-op to full-time work, being good at managing your time is really important. I found making a very detailed Apple Calendar or Google Calendar, or even a physical planner is super helpful at keeping me on track.

I put everything from my classes, study time, gym sessions, coffee dates, and everything in between in my calendar. It helps me make my to-do lists for the day and keeps me on top of my assignments and courses.

6. Budgeting

Being raised by a financial advisor means that I’ve had budgeting ingrained in my brain from a young age. And let me tell you, it has been a very helpful skill.

You don’t need to budget everything you’re ever going to spend money on, but it’s helpful to have amounts allocated to rent, groceries, and social spending. This helps you track your money and not go on an online shopping bender (trust me I know from personal experience that it doesn’t go well).

This is also super helpful if you start making money on co-op because you know how to effectively save money for the future! The Student Success Office again is a great resource and offers a budgeting basics worksheet.


Two Waterloo students taking a photo.

7. Relationships

From new friendships to romantic relationships, university is a time to meet new people and have new experiences. It’s important to always remember to love yourself first and not to change for anyone else. Make sure you surround yourself with people who uplift and support you and who make your university experience a positive one.

University is a time to meet new people and have new experiences. It’s important to always remember to love yourself first and not to change for anyone else

8. Partying

Now I won’t tell you not to party, but please make sure you’re partying responsibly. It can be easy to fall into a routine of partying and drinking but make sure it doesn’t negatively impact your studies or relationships. You’re the only one who can control you, so know your limit and party safely.

A Waterloo student doing yoga to relax.

9. Physical and mental health

Firstly, there are lots of amazing services offered at university. From health services to counselling services, there’s lots of support if you need it. Your health should always be a priority, so be proactive about it.

Waterloo's Health Services is a great place to go if you’re feeling under the weather, need a prescription, or just want a general checkup. Anything your family doctor does for you, Health Services can do for you.

If you’re feeling homesick, anxious, overwhelmed or just like you need to talk to someone, don’t be afraid to go to Counselling Services. They are a great support system and your mental health is very important.

Remember to take time for yourself when you need it, don’t spread yourself thin, and make the most of your time at university!


Don’t be afraid to ask for help, take advantage of tutoring or accessibility services if needed, they can be a ton of help

Stephen, fourth-year civil engineering student

10. Cost of an education and student debt

Money can be a huge stressor when paying for your education but there are options to help you finance university. Government aid such as the Ontario Student Assistance Program can provide loans and grants to help with your education. There are also lots of opportunity for part-time work, whether it’s a part-time job on or off campus.

Personally, I worked at a coffee shop one year and I also worked part-time as a student ambassador for Waterloo. Both were great for helping me to pay off a bit of tuition and have some extra spending money. Scholarships are also a huge asset, so take the time to fill them out. I know it can seem tedious, but I was able to pay for my first year of university through the scholarships I earned.

I hope you find these tips helpful and remember that each challenge you face only helps in preparing you for the future and pushing you to become your best self.




Related articles