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What Should You Do If You’re Falling Behind at University?

There’s no doubt about it: living abroad as an international student is a pretty exciting ride. However, compared to domestic students, international students have also been identified as being at higher risk of stress due to the extra pressures faced when living overseas. So, if you find yourself struggling and falling behind at university, what should you do?

Recognise that it’s OK to feel stressed

Common anxieties among students include financial difficulties, relationship problems, academic demands and pressure to balance work and study commitments. Understandably, these can cause significant stress. What you need to remember is that you’re not weak for feeling stressed. Sometimes, you just need to ask for help – and that’s OK.

Practise self-care

Don’t forget to take some time out to relax, eat well, wash, exercise and socialise. Yes, you’re here to study in Australia, but you’re also here to experience the culture, make friends and lead a balanced life. Success does not always equate to academic perfection. Sometimes, when you’re falling behind at university, you need to make time for yourself to properly recover.

Think about where you are now

It’s easy to look ahead at all the things you have yet to do, without looking at how far you’ve already come. Take a moment to reflect upon your achievements.

As an international student living abroad, you’re already doing something incredibly brave. Dealing with culture shock, homesickness and communication difficulties, you’re always challenging yourself a little more every day. This is just one of the things that make international students so strong.

Reach out to your tutor

If you’re falling behind at university, make sure you reach out to your tutor. While your tutor is mainly focused on teaching you and grading your work, they are also there to support and help you. Letting your tutor know about your situation early on can help them help you. They might be able to offer advice, extra support or even extensions on work deadlines.

Use your university’s counselling service

Are other stressors weighing on your mind? Australian education providers often offer free counselling services to students, which you should definitely take advantage of. The counsellors are relaxed, welcoming and completely confidential, so don’t be afraid to reach out.

Connect with other students

Getting in touch with other students can make you feel less isolated and more motivated to tackle assignments. The more openly you talk with fellow students, the more you’ll realise how common and normal feelings of stress are.

When reaching out to other students, ask about their approaches to study. Doing so may give you fresh ideas for tackling your own work. It’s also a great idea to arrange study groups where you can discuss course topics together.

Talk to friends and family from home

Homesickness may also be a significant source of stress, which can cause you to fall behind in your course. If you’re feeling homesick, get in touch with your friends and family back home. Set up a Zoom session, send letters or emails, or even play games online together.

Create a catch-up plan

Are you falling behind at university and want to tackle your work head-on? Create a plan to help you catch up.

1. Make a master calendar

Buy or print a large calendar, and stick it on your wall. Write out every single deadline coming up and include key dates, such as semester breaks and holidays.

2. Make separate lists for each of your subjects

For each of your classes, write out separate lists outlining the upcoming tasks and projects you need to complete.

3. Combine tasks into one list of main priorities

Look at your subject lists. Of all the tasks on those lists, which tasks and projects need the most attention? From each of your subject lists, pull off the tasks that are the most important and place them on a new list of top priorities. This list will form the basis of your catch-up plan.

4. Create the catch-up plan

Now, it’s time to craft your biggest list: the catch-up plan. Using your list of top priorities, break down each major task into smaller tasks. Work out deadlines for these smaller tasks.

5. Spread work out over a few days

Set aside time each day to tackle each of your smaller tasks, making sure you’re sticking to your deadlines. If you try to do everything at once, you’ll feel overwhelmed, so taking your time is key.

6. If things aren’t working, try another study method

Remember, certain study methods work better for some people, while others might work differently. If something isn’t working for you, don’t be discouraged – there’s always another way. There’s the Pomodoro Technique, the Leitner Technique (a flashcard-based approach) and many more frameworks that may suit you.

Remember – you don’t have to be perfect

It’s impossible to be 100% perfect. Do as much as you can and keep your goals in sight. Do a little each day, and you should soon be well on your way to catching up with your studies.

Good luck!