If you are starting university this autumn, apart from making sure you get the A Level grades needed to take up your place, you’re probably starting to think about accommodation, what to take, student loans, and maybe even Freshers' Week!
But another important thing to get your head around before starting is that learning at uni takes a whole different set of skills to do well than you might have used whilst doing your GCSEs and A Levels.
At school or sixth form, you’ve probably been used to being guided in your studies – what to learn and when – but at university you are expected to be an independent learner.
What’s that I hear you shout?
Well, it means that ultimately your success (or not!) is entirely up to you; you decide exactly what, when and how you learn, with no recourse to anyone but yourself!
Depending on what subject your study, and, indeed, what institution you attend, your actual contact time on campus will probably involve a combination of lectures, tutorials, seminars, workshops and practical or lab sessions. All of these will teach different subject knowledge and skills, but the study skills needed to make an effective use of the opportunities are the same, whatever aspect of the theory you are studying!
Our tips will help you make a smooth transition from school/college to university.
1. Get organised
The first challenge is organisation! (unless you're lucky enough to already be a fairly organised individual).
With no parents or teachers there to nag you, it’s your responsibility to make sure you know when and where you need to be, to have the right equipment to study (including the right texts and any photocopying!), and to know when any important course/university dates and deadlines are.
2. Optimise your contact time
With tuition fees currently around £9,000 a year, you should make sure you get your money’s worth!
It can’t be stressed enough that making sure you attend your scheduled sessions is important.
At the start of your studies, it might feel not to challenging, but the depth and intensity soon ramps up, and it’s difficult to catch up on missed sessions.
Another important issue is that sometimes important information related to your programme is given out during timetabled sessions, and this could mean missing out on deadlines or other opportunities.
Timetabled sessions are also a great way to network with your peers and university staff!
3. Do more than just the basics
So, as mentioned previously, school studies are pretty much guided, and you are instructed as to what to learn and when.
However, uni is all about you being in the driving seat. The basic level of your programme might seem easy, but to develop the depth of knowledge needed to get a top classification, you’re going to need to do much more than the basics!
Reading around your subject can be helpful to gain an understanding and depth of knowledge, as a first-class degree will require more than just lecture notes.
Further reading expands on the core material, but you also need to evaluate what you have learnt – both in-class (so don’t be afraid to ask questions as you can be sure others are thinking the same!) and more formally – by deciding what you know well, and what areas you would like to develop further, you can make the most of your time and abilities.
Ultimately, there’s no “one fits all” approach to learning, however by keeping these basics in mind during your time at uni, especially during your first year, you can help keep your studies on track and help to avoid feeling overwhelmed when it all becomes real – usually some time in the lead up to your first set of exams.
4. Calculate a budget
It’s certainly no secret that, as a student, money is tight, so the last thing you should do is spend your entire student loan in the first month at university.
As soon as you know what your expenses are, sit down and work out a budget that you can stick to throughout the academic year.
Prioritise how much you have to spend on the essentials such as food and rent, and then how much is left for you to spend on socialising or any other luxuries. Also, this way you should always have some money left over for emergencies.
5. Check your finances
You'll need to get your finances in order before Freshers' Week. This may not seem like the most exciting job when preparing for university, but it's one of the most important.
First of all, you will need to set up a student bank account.
Many of the major banks offer these with added incentives - such as a free, four-year 16-25 railcard (where you can get a third off the cost of train tickets) or National Express coachcard - but what you should be looking for is the bank with the best overdraft facilities.
Some will make daily charges if you enter your overdraft, so be wary of these and always read the small print.
If you're planning to receive government-funded student finance, you next need to get in touch with the relevant Student Finance body to get the ball rolling:
6. Pack the essentials
As soon as you’ve confirmed your place at university, you should make it a priority to sort out all of the basics you'll need as soon as possible. These include confirming your accommodation (don’t forget, halls of residence are allocated on a first come, first serve basis), arranging your transport to university, and registering with your local GP.
However, arguably one of the most important tasks is setting up your student bank account.
Many of the mainstream banks will offer these with added attractive incentives, which can make it difficult to narrow down your choice, but our student bank account guide will help you with this decision.
7. Set aside a study space
Whether it’s your desk, bed, or the coffee shop around the corner, you need to have a designated space for studying.
A space where you go to and you automatically feel you’re in the study-mode and start getting things done.
Try various places until everything feels right: it will greatly help your learning process.
8. Start reading
Many universities put their reading lists online weeks before their courses begin or will send you the details via email. This will give you an idea of what to expect from your workload, and getting a head start on reading will build your confidence for lectures.
You don't need to own every book on the list - identify the core texts and buy these. Any others you need will be available to borrow from your university library or you can buy them online from former students for a fraction of their original retail price using sites such as Amazon and eBay.
There's also Perlego, where you can search its vast library of over 900,000 academic and non-fiction titles for online resources to read via your smartphone, tablet or laptop.
9. Explore the area
Once you’ve moved in, it’s worthwhile spending some of your spare time getting to know your surroundings.
Explore the university campus, getting to know the students’ union, the lecture buildings and other facilities. And don’t forget to go further afield to investigate your nearest bus stops, train stations, local shops and supermarkets, as well as the doctors' and dentists' surgery.
You could even invite your hall mates and make it more of a social excursion!
10. Make friends
Arriving at your accommodation for the very first time can be pretty daunting, but remember that everyone else is in the same boat and will probably also be feeling nervous!
Striking up friendships early on is key in settling into university life quickly and comfortably, so take a deep breath, step out into the hallway and introduce yourself to your flatmates.
You’ll be surprised at how easy it is to get to know each other, especially after a few drinks!
11. Check out the facilities
This includes the library, the gym and the laundry facilities.
It's worth checking whether the library has the books required on your reading list, how much it costs to join the university gym, and where you'll need to go when your dirty washing pile starts getting too big!
The sooner you have all this sorted, the quicker you can start enjoying your new life at university.
12. Keep the lines of communication open
Your parents love you and will always be worried about you. Just because you’re an adult and you’re no longer living at home doesn’t mean that they’re no longer part of your life.
Call your parents on a regular basis, keep them in the loop, and be kind to them. After all, they’re the ones paying for your education.
13. Enjoy Freshers' Week
Freshers’ Week aims to help new students settle into university life. Your university’s students’ union will host all kinds of events for you to partake in.
There will also be a Freshers’ Fair, which gives you the opportunity to explore and sign up to the clubs and societies on offer at your university.
Throughout Freshers’ Week, you won’t have any course commitments, so you’ll be able to fully immerse yourself in all of the activities going on, which will help you to meet new people and make sure that you’re well-prepared to start your degree and life at university.
14. Ask for help if you need it
If within the first few weeks of university you find yourself struggling for whatever reason, whether it be due to homesickness or something else – don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
Arrange a visit back home if possible, or if not, chat to family and friends back home online or on the phone. Sometimes, a familiar voice is all you need to make you feel better.
Alternatively, you can chat to your hall mates, who might just be having the same worries as you – as they say, a problem shared is a problem halved. Your lecturers and course tutors are also there to talk to and support you.
15. Stay safe
While it's great to have fun and enjoy yourself, it's important to remember that you should take precautions at all times (even if you think you don't need to!).
The obvious ones apply here, such as:
- use a condom or other form of contraceptive
- don’t walk the streets at night alone (whether you're male or female!)
- let people know where you're going and when you'll be back
- don’t start a fight
- get your yearly medical check-ups
- don’t drink too much
- don't take drugs.
However, generally try to use your common sense, especially when on a night out!
For more tips and advice on starting university, please see: