5 Great Ways to Improve Your Self-Confidence Before You Go to University

Image shows a woman with a suitcase in a train station.
Going to university can be a challenge even for the most confident student.

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If you’re a high-achiever, it might be the first time you’ve been in a class where many of your peers are smarter than you. From being the oldest in your school, on friendly terms with your teachers, knowledgeable about everything in your environment from which auditorium seats have the best view to when the canteen soup should be avoided, you’ll go to being the new kid once more. For some, this is a tremendous, exciting opportunity. For others, it’s – understandably – a little scary.
There are lots of new social situations to contend with. There’s meeting a lot of new people who you might want to befriend, or at least make a good impression on. There’s getting to know important lecturers, who might be big names in your field. There’s taking responsibility for your own academic career without being chivvied by teachers. And there’s the fuss and hassle and arranging your student loan, renting a place to live, setting up broadband and utilities that can mean lengthy phone calls and the need to stand your ground.
If you’re a little lacking in confidence to start with, this can all be a lot to deal with. Here are our top tips for boosting your confidence ahead of starting university.

1. Practise easy confidence-boosting skills

Image shows someone holding a telephone.
Using the phone makes lots of people nervous.

If you’re in any way uncomfortable on the phone or nervous about talking to strangers, then the first few weeks of university can be very challenging indeed.
The good news is that these skills can be learned and improved with practice, and they become considerably less nerve-racking the more practice you get. The easiest way to do this is to find some situation that a) requires you to meet or speak to a lot of new people and b) gives you a script for doing so.
Volunteering to do fundraising phone calls for a charity is one way of doing this. You’ll be given a script to follow along with advice and support. The first phone call will be awful, but the fifth won’t be so bad. And by the time you’ve done 20, you’re likely to have conquered the fear of the phone and maybe raised some money for a good cause to boot. There are plenty of variations on this, such as political canvassing or even finding a part-time job at a call centre, depending on what you’re interested in.
If you’re more nervous about in-person conversations, you might want to try other forms of volunteering, such as helping out in a soup kitchen for an evening a week or keeping the residents company in an old people’s home. You’ll soon develop skills like a good telephone manner, a better handle on remembering people’s names, and an enhanced range of small talk for awkward social situations.

2. Pursue concrete achievements

Image shows a sewing machine.
It can be confidence-boosting to have material proof of your abilities.

Preparing for your exams in the year before university can be all-consuming. If you’re chasing those last few marks to sneak over a grade boundary, then it’s sensible enough to let other things fall by the wayside, such as your hobbies or activities, and to spend whatever spare time you might have either relaxing or asleep.
The problem is that once you get to university, you will find that everyone there achieved relatively similar things to you academically – which as a high-achiever can somewhat knock your confidence. However, stereotypes do hold in one area – students tend to have a lack of practical knowledge. Thus working on a practical skill can give you a confidence boost. You could, for instance, learn to make dresses, jewellery, shelves or any other DIY or craft project that suits you. Many people find a tremendous sense of personal satisfaction in putting down their cup of tea on a side table that they made, and if you feel like you’ve been churned up in an exam machine, engaging in something practical with concrete results can make you feel like a more rounded person again.
If DIY and crafts aren’t your thing, learning to drive is a classic pre-university activity, and if you’re able to afford a car will be a very popular one. If you’re low on funds, cooking is also an excellent skill to master. Even relatively simple dishes will impress those who can barely make toast – and give your confidence a boost at the same time. More than simply a confidence boost however, these sorts of skills will give you perspective which others usually don’t get until employment – that no matter how much they may have dominated your life recently, life – and you – are about more than your exam results.

3. Seek out positions of responsibility and authority

Image shows a children's football group.
This kind of activity also looks great on your CV.

One of the confidence-knocking parts of being on the verge of going to university is the odd position you’re in as regards adulthood. You’re over the age of 18, you’re a legal adult with the right to vote – but at the same time, you might only just be moving out of your parents’ house, and you might be financially dependent on them for some years yet.
So one way of improving your self-confidence is to find opportunities to assume adult levels of responsibility. There are lots of ways of doing this. For instance, you might earn a little money by working as a babysitter, a position that carries with it a great deal of responsibility. You might want to volunteer with a local youth group, such as the Girl Guides or the Scouts, where you’ll be in the position where lots of younger people regard you as a responsible adult, even if you don’t feel like you’re anything of the sort.
Being in charge of children is a fast-track route to assuming responsibility, but it’s by no means the only one. Whatever activities you take part in already, try volunteering for authority positions, or taking on extra responsibility where possible. This might mean leading the meeting of your book club, standing for treasurer of your sports group or even just being the one to coordinate all of your friends, book the flights and read accomodation reviews for your big summer trip.
You can try to take on more responsibility in other, smaller aspects of your life as well. Are there small chores like renewing car insurance or filling in census forms that your parents have always done for you? Now is the time to start taking those chores on for yourself. Not only is this very useful practice for the amount of official documents and so on that you will have to deal with when you go to university, it’s also a very good means of establishing yourself as an adult in small but important ways.

4. Try out independent living

Image shows some eggs and baking equipment.
It’s good to know that you won’t have to live off ready meals at university.

Lots of well-meaning parents encourage their children to get involved in the small household chores they don’t normally do ahead of going to university. For instance, if one of your parents is passionate about cooking and would normally chase you out of the kitchen, they might try to get you to cook an evening meal one night a week in the summer before you go to university. This is well-intentioned, but often quite unhelpful, as cooking in a student kitchen that you share with a dozen other people, with little equipment, on a budget of next to nothing, is very little like cooking in a well-appointed kitchen at home where you have a spice rack, fresh herbs, a parent on hand and a dishwasher to deal with the washing up. And this trend holds across a whole range of chores and administrative tasks.
Going away on holiday with a group of friends can be instructive here, especially if you opt for self-catering. Do you struggle with cooking? With managing money responsibly? Or with sharing a space with a group of people you’re not related to? If you can manage any sort of test run for independent living at university, then go for it. It may all come very easily to you, and if so, that’s great. The aim here is to leave for university raring to go and confident in your own abilities from the academic to the social to the tedious administration that is the mark of adult life.

5. Talk to your friends

Image shows a group of friends.
Your friends will probably have the same worries as you.

People gain self-confidence in different ways. For some, it can be a case of “fake it until you make it” – if you can behave in ways that make everyone think that you’re confident and self-assured, then that’s a good halfway step to actually being confident and self-assured.
For some people, though this may be tricky. But the truth of the matter is that nobody is truly confident about going to university. Whether it is the academic work, the new social interaction, living independently or even just being so far from home, everyone has fears about going to university. So talk to friends about what’s worrying you. Chances are, it’s worrying them as well, and you will be able to help and support each other on the days you find yourself unable to “adult”. The conversation can be hard to start, but can be very rewarding in the first few weeks of university, when support from those who have known you for a long time can help you in a place where you’re new to everyone.
These are a number of strategies which you can use before university to build your confidence as you enter a more adult portion of your life. But if you’re still nervous upon arriving, never fear – confidence comes with time, and if you’re patient the confidence you felt after years in education will come.
Have you found strategies that have helped you build self-confidence ahead of university? Share them in the comments!

Image credits: banner; telephone; sewing machine; youth group; baking; friends.