Top 10 things to know about university life

This basic guide is written by Jade Archer, who graduated with a BA (Hons) in English Language and Language Development in 2019 

So, you’re thinking about going to university, and you’ve started researching into university life – then read on…

The transition from sixth form, or college, to your new place of study can seem daunting. I’ve been in your shoes; I’ve taken my GCSEs, my A-Levels and have now graduated from university. After lugging everything I owned halfway across the country, I arrived at university a complete rookie. I’d done zero research and felt like ‘Where’s Wally?’ in the middle of a very wild safari park. I was the very definition of a fresher. It was loud, it was busy, and it felt somewhat overwhelming.

But once I found my feet, it was incredible.

I started off my university life with a positive, can-do attitude, behaving like a social butterfly who got stuck into everything and anything – despite actually wanting to or not. Not long after moving in to my 16-bed shared flat, I realised that I just had to be myself. Everyone else was in the same boat, and every individual around you is feeling just as anxious, if not more so, about the idea of starting the next chapter in life. I wouldn’t change my university experience for anything. The only thing I wished I’d done is some proper research before that nerve-racking first day. At university you become extremely independent, so why not start your independent research before you arrive?

To help, here are 10 things you should know about university life. I hope this will help to ease you into what may be one of the most significant changes in your life so far.

1. You’re in charge!
The first point I’d like to make is that you’re in charge of your degree. Outside of your scheduled lectures and seminars, you’re the one who decides whether to carry on studying or whether to spend the rest of your day relaxing. Every decision made is your own; you fuel your own desires, your own dreams, your own future. Yes, you have the support of academic staff, friends and family, but you make the ultimate decisions. So, you have to organise your free time accordingly, especially if you’re a social butterfly like myself. Are you going to be the student who starts their assignment weeks in advance, or the student who pulls an all-nighter before a 10am deadline?

2. Diversity is everywhere
Whether you’re used to living in a small town or a big city, university is where you will meet people from all over the world. For most of us, university is where we start our adult life and our eyes begin to widen to the different cultures, religions, values, and morals around us. Those with travel experience will have the opportunity to reconnect with countries that they may have loved and left, cultures they respect and miss. Everyone is different and all universities are different, but every university is both inclusive and diverse – so, everyone can find somewhere to fit in.

university of essex colchester campus
Campus life

3. You’ll stay in touch with your friends and family
If you’ve decided to move away for university, whatever the distance , you’ll still have time to keep in touch with the people you care about. One of my housemates at university kept in such close contact with his parents that, despite them living more than 50 miles away, they still washed and dried his clothes every other week. What I’m trying to say is, don’t worry about losing contact with your loved ones – you’ll always find the time for a catch-up.

4. Every day you’ll learn something new (and not just in your lectures!)
Being immersed in a new environment, surrounded by new people, and possibly experiencing a different way of living, you’ll find yourself acquiring knowledge every day. You may learn how to use a washing machine for the first time. Maybe you’ll take up learning a new language. You might even learn how to cook food from around the world. Every day you’re at university, you’ll encounter something new and exciting – it’s your decision whether you take up the opportunity, or give it a miss.

5. Up to two thirds of your work will be done outside of lectures and seminars
The lecture and seminar aspects of your course are the least time-consuming activities. Most of the work that you do will be in your own time – yes, your lecturers will expect you to study outside of lecture times! Completing independent research, writing papers, preparing for any quizzes, exams and presentations, making your way through the suggested reading list, completing homework tasks – these are the activities that will take up the vast proportion of your course.

6. It’s not just about getting a degree
Going to university isn’t just about studying – but you have to learn to balance your work-life ratio. You’ll have time to study, and time to take up other activities. Every university will have sports teams and societies that you can get involved with. Some universities offer volunteering opportunities for students. Campus universities have job opportunities in bars, shops and food outlets. Other opportunities may include getting a job as an assistant researcher, where you support your lecturers in their research. You can also get paid to take part in studies at university – and it can feel good to help final year students by taking part in their dissertation research. Every university has a Students’ Union, and that’s where your voice comes in: every student voice matters, and your feedback can have a hugely positive impact on your university.

7. There is always something going on
It doesn’t matter whether you’re thinking of attending a city or a campus university, there is always going to be something going on. Any city-based university will be just a short walking distance away from a vibrant array of restaurants, markets, pubs, and other entertainment. A big plus to attending a city university is that being based in a city centre means you have lots of variety. Campus universities have everything you need within walking distance, like lecture halls, food outlets, grocery shops, a Post Office, banks, and bars. Just don’t expect to find your typical high street retailer like Topman and River Island on campus! Many campus universities have weekly street markets, daily events at campus bars, coffee shops, cafés, and sports facilities. Most societies will regularly arrange social events that you can join in with, too!

8. Universities have sports teams and societies
If you don’t already know what universities offer in terms of sports teams and societies, then go and have a look online now! Societies are one of the best ways to meet new people whilst studying at university – through societies you can meet people outside of your course and outside of your accommodation. Believe it or not, you don’t have to be sporty person to join a sports team, and you don’t even have to play the sport to join in with social events. If you do join a sports team and you decide to host a social event at your accommodation, the one piece of advice that I would give to you is to make sure that all of your housemates are aware of this prior to the event!

9. There is support for you everywhere
Whatever university you’re thinking of attending, there will be numerous ways that the university can support you as an individual, and as a student. You’ll have the support from all of your friends and family back home, but also from the new friends that you’ve made at university, including academics! As a student, you can find support for several different aspects of university life – such as health and well-being, finances, accommodation and it’s always an idea to research what other kinds of support might be available, before accepting your place. Some universities also offer support teams to look out for students on a night out, such as help with finding your way home or running a minibus service. During my time at university, I also had the support of an academic mentor throughout my years of study, as well as a peer mentor who helped me settle in during my first year.

10. Discounts galore!
I left this one until last because you may already be aware of some of the discounts that you can get as a student. UNIdays and Student Beans are just two of the websites that you can sign up to for free in order to get discounts on hundreds of brands, services and websites. Most entertainment, eating out and travel companies also offer a discount for students – all you need is your student card. You’ll usually receive your student card from your university in the first few weeks of joining and if not, you can head over to the NUS website to order one!

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"Once I found my feet, it was incredible."