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!
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.
There’s going to be a lot of demands on your time – from classes, friends, societies, and maybe even a part time job – so make sure you set your priorities, leaving time for both work and play!
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 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 need more than just lecture notes!
Further reading expands on the core material (more about this in an upcoming post!) 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.
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!
8. 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!
9. 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.
10. 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.
For more tips and advice on starting university, please see: