Starting university can be an exciting time, however, it can also bring some anxiety and apprehension on what to expect. Here we have put together a list of our top tips on how to enjoy and prepare for university life. Not only that we will be referencing our own experiences to show you how our journey unfolded through the years.
Expectations and Perception
There are several “stereotypical expectations” most students have about university, and most of them come from television sitcoms. In fact, a study found that up to 65% of students were surprised at the reality of university life compared to that of “American style”. For me and most of my fellow students, the biggest worry of all was making friends.
It’s natural for everyone to want to fit in, whether at school, work or social gatherings; and university is no exception. The key difference here is that everyone around you shares some sort of common interest. So straight away you have something in common with everyone. No matter how much of an extrovert you are everyone will be feeling nervous on their first few days (its only natural), so we have put together some key icebreaker questions to get the conversation flowing…
- Hi, how are you, my name is (your name).
- Do you stay local?
- What school did you go to?
- Are you living at the halls or at home?
- What made you join this university?
- Tell me about yourself, I myself (say something unique about yourself)
There are of course lots more topics but you’ll find if social awkwardness sets in, relating the conversation to university will certainly get things off to a good start. A survey found that more than 50% of students found it easier to make friends than they thoughts.
This worry is more towards those students living in student or private accommodation. Perhaps the thought of moving out is something that motivates you, which is great however at some point most people feel a little homesick.
In today’s world especially now with the pandemic, the world of technology can make a huge impact on reducing the stress of missing home. It’s the best way of keeping in touch and talking about your thoughts and worries. Surprisingly more than half of students living away found it easier to adapt. They utilised the universities support network and fellow students who were going through the same thing.
What I found was that students who stayed in student accommodation during the week often went home for the weekend to visit friends and family. This is something that could potentially be possible depending on how far your university is. Of course for international students, the chance of going home really only comes about during the holidays.
How To Survive Freshers Week?
Ok I am going to be honest here, I went to freshers week for 2 days, and not because I didn’t like it, more because it wasn’t my scene. When the term “freshers week” comes to mind usually forums and blog posts talk about “surviving” or “getting through” freshers week. This simply there is a negative quality to the experience; this simply isn’t the case. While culture perception is that it’s an excuse to get drunk, this was one of the more surprising aspects of the university journey.
For starters, it was more about getting students together, doing activities that promote conversation and communicating to get a task done. God, we even had a bouncy castle! Reading about it online should be taken with a pinch of salt. You can read more about peoples experiences in places like The Student Room.
One this is for certain don’t feel pressured to drink. This is a huge misconception that you need to drink to have fun. While I do enjoy the odd drink from time to time I was quite happy having a coffee and a soft drink, while others were taking shots; and surprisingly they didn’t question it. This gave me the relief that to fit in you don’t have to drink. The preconception that university life revolves around going out drinking and clubbing is a myth; so don’t worry about this.
How To Prepare Mentally & Socially
We are going to break down the preparation into two distinct parts. The mental and social aspects of university, followed by academic preparation. All of these tips will ensure you are fully prepared and ready to take on this exciting new chapter.
1. Sort Out Your Finances
While not the most exciting task, it is one that should be at the top of your to-do list. When we say finances we are referring to your sources of income and expenditure as well as your university fees and loans.
If you have a current bank account then these steps can be applied to these tips however, if you want to keep your student finance separate then it could be a good idea to get a student bank account. Most major banks offer student accounts so be sure to check out the link above. As a student, you can enjoy exclusive discounts on travel, food, software and other benefits.
It’s important to make sure you have calculated your income and your outgoings to check what you can live comfortably on each month. Now in regard to student finance and loans, these links are based in the United Kingdom however, I would love to hear from international students on their experience of student finances.
Depending on where you reside in the UK you will have different funding governing body. Here are the links to each so you can get the ball rolling…
- Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS)
- Student Finance England
- Student Finance Wales
- Student Finance Northern Ireland
One important thing to note that I didn’t know of is that when you are about to begin your next year you must re-enrol with your finance company to tell them you are still attending and require funding.
2. Arrange Your Accommodation
As a first-year, you are entitled to a place in the student halls. These are managed by the university and are an excellent way of meeting new people. You have the added bonus of being on campus so you can have a longer time in your bed (in fact ignore that). You will usually be faced with the choice of catered or self-catering as well as sociable and quiet to single and mixed-gender halls.
Alternatively, some students go into private accommodation; usually a privately rented flat or house. This can be by yourself or flat sharing with some friends (just make sure you like them)! You can learn more about student accommodation here.
3. Learn To Cook
Now this one is no joke. Learning to cook will make you one of the most popular students in your accommodation, and for good reason. The stereotypical view of a students diet consists of pot noodles, super noodles, beans on toast and other simple and non-nutritious dishes. Imagine being the Gordon Ramsey of your year. Dining like royalty compared to other accommodation.
Learning to cook should be an enjoyable experience and there are several student and professional cookbooks to choose from. Now I’m not saying to be the next Gordon Ramsey however, being able to pick a set of ingredients from supermarkets such as Morrisons who have a student club and making a decent meal can make all the difference on those hard lethargic days.
You don’t have to substitute quality either, you’ll find that the own-brand supermarket food is often the same as the branded at a fraction of the cost. Besides, you will get to try out things you probably wouldn’t living at home.
How To Prepare Academically
1. Read About Your Subject
Before starting out its always a good idea to get a general overview of the sort of topics you will be covering. Like most things i.e. an interview, you would always research the company prior to going, that way you can be confident in what they will ask. University is no different, with the exception however that you won’t teach yourself the entire course but rather get the highlights and a taste of what’s to come.
A word of caution, don’t let it scare you into thinking you haven’t got a clue or these sound really hard. Instead, use it to get excited about your subject and see what things you find interesting.
2. Get Organised
Organisation is the key to success in most cases. I was always particular in how I would lay my work out and created a system that worked for me. However, some of my fellow students were as organised as (all you maths fans will get this) Caspar Weesel, the man who developed complex numbers! And they paid for it later on.
How You Organise Your Notes
This is ne of the first things you will be doing at university and one that should be planned from the beginning. Having clear and concise notes makes life 100 times easier when it comes to finding key points either for coursework or exams. Keeping a good filing system both online and offline will serve you well in the long term.
There are several different methods such as q-cards, postage notes, handwritten copied notes and printed notes. All of which have their advantages and disadvantages. some students prefer using ring binder folders with dividers to separate either different modules or different topics within a single module.
One thing that is key is to keep your notes and questions separately. This helps in finding the answer in one book and transcribe it into the other, thereby forcing you to look through your notes and test if your system is efficient and easy to use.
The bottom line is whichever method works for you, stick with it for your entire course because you will find in later yours you will need to look back at old notes for help.
Use Dates, Calanders and Timetables
Time management is an important skill to have not only at university but in working life too. Sticking to a schedule and meeting deadlines is important to ensure all your work is done on time and you don’t get penalised for late submissions.
This was one thing I couldn’t understand how some of my fellow students were happy to submit coursework late and take a 10% hit, even though they had 5 weeks to complete it. Granted 3rd year was tough, with 10 pieces of coursework due throughout the semester it would be easy to get them mixed up and turn them in late.
Use things like Google calendar or the calendar built into your phone with alerts set for a couple of days prior to the deadline. Go old school and have it in a physical diary too, it’s always best to be over-prepared in these situations.
If you arent used to keeping a log of your activities and to-do list then it can be tricky to get into the rhythm however, be persistent as you will need this skill during your later years.
3. Set Yourself Goals
Having goals can get you in the right mindset for being a successful student according to an advisor from the University of Huddersfield. Simpy ask yourself at the beginning of the month, “what do you really want to accomplish this month”.
This links in with getting organised as if you know what is due and what needs to be complete, you can tailor your goals to suit. Now I don’t mean just academic goals, also go for social and personal goals too. For my I enjoy a game of golf and at times I didn’t get to play for some time. So I eventually set goals like play gold at least 3 times, meet friends for a catchup 3 times etc.
4. Learn How To Reference Properly
This is something that most students struggle with or simply don’t want to learn, as it can be a mundane task and often not very interesting. However, as I have learned during my Masters and PhD, referencing is immensely important especially for publications.
The sooner you grasp how to reference properly, the easier your essay writing will become. You just have to pay attention to the reference style as it depends on your course and country. For example as a Chemical Engineering in the UK the style we use is Harvard.
While universities will teach you roughly, it’s important you take some time to go through it and practice. Microsoft Word has a built-in reference system which is good for small numbers of references. However, the best in my experience is Mendeley.
And Finally One Last Thing
University is a fantastic experience and one that I will treasure forever. I met some fantastic people and made some life-long friends. I honestly didn’t think I would have enjoyed it as much and it was mostly down to the people you meet and truly get to know.
Regardless of how difficult times will be don’t forget to make time for yourself, enjoy the experience and look forward to the new opportunities that will come your way. I wish you every success in your studies and if you need any more information and advice please feel free to contact us at any time!