Mar 2023 2nd edition

Help for first-time university students

Written by Lia Naidoo

Molatelo Shirley Tala (23) is a third-year chemical engineering student at the University of Pretoria. She is appealing to first-year students at a higher education institution to seek help when they struggle to adjust to university life especially after attending a rural high school.

“I come from a rural area and a disadvantaged background. I had to walk for about five kilometers to and from school every morning,” said Tala who is from Lephalale in Limpopo.

She adds that the high school she went to had no computers or internet access.

“University life moves very fast and it can be emotionally overwhelming.”

Tala says it is common for first-year university students to feel isolated and confused in a new environment. 

Tala advises all first-year students to contact tutors and academic advisors to assist them in drawing out study rosters and time management plans.

“I ensured that I booked myself into the Faculty Student Advisor services at the University of Pretoria to help me cope with the workload.”

Tala explains that being away from home is another struggle for first-year students. She acknowledges that the lack of a solid support structure can be overwhelming and lead to mental distress.

“First year-students should make use of the university’s emotional support services when they feel lost and alone.”

Furthermore, regular contact with friends and family eases the process of coping with the ‘homesick’ feeling. 

For Tala, another major challenge that university students encounter is adjusting to the financial demands that come with the transition from a rural to an urban environment.

“Many students are encouraged to make use of financial support services such as the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

“I rely on financial support from NSFAS, it is helpful because tuition fees, accommodation and food are expensive,” says Tala.

Seeking help

Students in higher education institutions also have the option of receiving assistance from HIGHER HEALTH.

This is a national agency that seeks to inspire the success of students that attend 26 public universities and 50 state Technical Vocational Education and Training colleges by improving their mental health and well-being.

Briefing the media on the state of readiness for the post-school education and training sector for the 2023 academic year, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Blade Nzimande said a conducive environment for learning was important.

“All institutions, working with HIGHER HEALTH, sought to provide safe workplaces and learning spaces for staff and students,” said Minister Nzimande.

For students who prefer to keep their identity anonymous and speak to a professional in times of need, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) is available 24/7. There is continuous counselling provided to students.

For more information contact Higher Health Helpline 0800 36 36 36 or UP Helpline 0800 747 747 and Higher health can be reached at

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