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Starting from Square One: Navigating Student Life

Starting at the point of ‘square one’ often sounds like a gargantuan task or nerve-wracking at best. However, we do not realise how frequently we find ourselves in this position, meaning we are better equipped for it than we think. As students, we spend many gruelling hours working towards our goals just to return to the point of square one again. Embarking on the journey of university life is akin to standing at the edge of the terrain of endless opportunities.

Embracing the Unknown

One of the unique experiences university offers to undergraduates is the sense of stepping into a wholly new environment. You no longer have the comfort of familiar faces in your surroundings as a source of reassurance. Instead, you are faced with the task of building relationships from scratch within your new shared homes or lecture classes. The National Union of Students shows that up to 70% of UK students feel homesick when first starting university. Yet, these symptoms tend to fade after a couple of weeks. These feelings are to be expected and normal – you are starting from square one, after all.

It is easy to get frustrated, anxious, or even scared in such new situations. However, it is important to take these situations as opportunities for personal growth and development. For example, we are all familiar with the overbearing social pressure we faced when transitioning from primary to secondary school. This pressure has shaped us into the people we are today by developing the necessary social skills we first picked up in childhood. In other words, starting from square one is a vaguely similar scenario we repeatedly find ourselves in and is valuable for us to flourish.

In other areas, student mental health reports have shown more serious reflections. Results from Unite students suggest that as many as 39% of UK freshers suffer from social anxiety in the first few weeks of university. Whilst adapting to new settings causes stress, most universities in the UK have mental health services accessible to students virtually or in person. These services are encouraged for those who feel that their symptoms may be lasting longer than those of their peers. Thus, whether it’s through a natural acclimatisation to your surroundings or seeking extra support, feelings of anxiety related to the unknown are often overcome with time.

Freedom of Navigation

Furthermore, the term ‘square one’ holds the buoyancy of freedom. Square one provides us with the mindset to perform in an upward trajectory where we can produce the results that we want. For students starting university, this may include discovering your work ethic or the kind of people you want to surround yourself with. 

This sudden freedom can lead some students to neglect their studies as there is no longer a parent or teacher to hold them accountable in the same way as during school. Researchgate reports that 85.1% of university students have difficulty completing their assignments. Whilst on average, freshers are not particularly boastful of their work, this is not usually the case as the years progress. With heavier grade weightings as the academic years progress, tutors tend to notice significant improvements in the quality of work in final years of study compared to the first. 

Prior to tertiary education, our time in school is more like a project that builds up to a finale where all the hard work eventually pays off. Psychologist Ryff suggests that for psychological well-being, individuals naturally engage in environmental mastery – the ability to adapt to the demands of a situation. Thus, the majority of students have the desire to surpass previous results when challenged in academia, thereby leading to a natural progression over time. In this way, starting from square one can fuel an individual's motivation to achieve the results that they want, thereby showing how the freedom of navigation at university can and often does yield positive results.

Square one repeated

The reality is that in life, we are constantly going to have to start from square one and be in unfamiliar positions, which is simply the cycle of learning and is something to embrace. Students will become graduates, who will become trainees who eventually acquire leadership roles within their work life, and so on. Although we may not have experienced these scenarios yet, the desire to cultivate good results and relationships will always be the core of our journey from square one and beyond. Therefore, recycling the lessons of previous events and expecting elements like fear and excitement can be useful in preparing us for ‘square one’ scenarios we may encounter in the future.

In conclusion, starting from square one is not just a phase but a continuous cycle of growth, learning, and reinvention. Embracing the unknown, navigating the freedom of choice, and engaging with the challenges of the social and hidden curricula all contribute to a transformative university experience.


Written by Esther Park

The views and opinions presented in this article belong to Esther Park — not TEDxWarwick.

If you have any questions concerning the article, its research, and the opinions expressed, do feel free to comment in the comments section or email

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