Mental move from high school to university

Updated: May 19, 2020

by Langa Mohlala

How the transition from high school to university can affect a persons mental health.


“More freedom.”

“More work.”

“The independence is great.”

All of the above have been established and are frequently spoken about when the discussion about the transition from high school to university occurs. I found it strange that people rarely spoke to me about the effects of this transition on my mental health. So, I would like explore this topic a bit further.

Coming from a large, dispersed city like Johannesburg, I immediately noticed how clustered everything was when I arrived in Makhanda. This was not only convenient for my educational and physical needs, but it benefited my emotional ones as well.

As a person who isolates herself easily, moving to a place where it is easy to come into contact with whatever or whomever you need to is great. The change in environment has also taken me away from people/places that trigger negative thoughts and behaviours.

Not having any friends or peers from high school attending the same university as me made me anxious at first. I was worried about how I would adjust around complete strangers. However, I would not change a thing. Having a blank slate – new place, new people, new experiences ahead – was not only positive for my mental health but also for my growth as a person.

Here, I learnt more about myself than I would have if I was back at home; a small town was teaching me so much and I fell in love with it. Some of the lessons I learnt weren’t fun, though.


Being away from my family and friends was not only strange but it also felt like I was stripped of my identity. Of course I had my morals and beliefs intact, but it was as if I was getting lost in the crowd – like I was a purposeless leaf blowing in the wind. It almost made me forget why or how I became a student at UCKAR. It took me a while to get settled in and get myself to a point where I could grasp how life away from home works.


Everyone talks about how great the freedom is, but they forget to mention how reckless it can make you become. Some flourish, while others can lose themselves completely. I am fortunate enough to be at a stage where I am still grounded, but others are not as lucky.

The testimonies of suicides and self-harm cases are alarming and upsetting to hear. I have been made aware that quite a number of people either drop out or express their desire to. It almost makes you wonder taxing university life can be.

It is not unreasonable to suggest that people should be psychologically evaluated before they decide to study at university. This is not implying that they are unintelligent or mentally incapable of studying, but it would help them gauge how ready they are to study at a higher education institution.

Parents often pressure their children into studying without considering where their child is mentally, and there is a stigma that not going to university results in a person’s failure in life. In society we often forget that not everyone needs a degree to work, even though it does boost our credentials. Studies suggest that for some, honing in on your skills doesn't necessarily require a degree from a tertiary institution.

Gap years are a good alternative to jumping into university life straight away, as they can give a person time to think about what they want to do with their lives. When people are pressured into studying they often choose subjects that they aren’t interested in, and this can contribute to a high dropout rate. A fear of failure and disappointing family can also kick in and make things worse.

The social climate of a university is completely different to that of a high school, and some take longer to adjust than others. It is therefore suggested that introverts should study at smaller colleges/universities so that their adjustment is easier. Seeing that UCKAR isn’t the largest university in South Africa, it is no wonder that I have already adjusted to being a Rhodent.


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