Everyone’s university experience is unique, but the one thing that I’m sure every past and present undergraduate student can relate to is the confusion that comes with navigating their first year of higher education.
Therefore, I hope by writing down some of the things I wish I knew before starting university, your journey will be less stressful.
Don’t buy your textbooks before term starts
Buying textbooks that you will only need for a short period of time can be a waste of money and the chances of you needing all those books is debatable. Therefore don’t buy textbooks until after at least the first week of lectures, by which point you’ll have been:
- Given the most up to date reading list by the lecturer / professor.
- Told by the upper years whether it’s actually worth buying the books.
- Informed about any second hand book sales happening on campus or about any upper years willing to sell you their textbook at a lower price.
Take advantage of your student discounts
Here’s a short list of the ways to save money which you should know about as a UK university student (in my opinion):
- 16-25 railcard: costs £70 for 3 years and £30 for 1 year – gets you ⅓ off all rail fares as well as off-peak pay as you go on the Tube, DLR, London Overground, TfL Rail and National Rail services.
- 18+ student oyster photocard: costs nothing – requires your term-time address to be in London and enrollment at a university registered on the TfL scheme. It allows you to buy discounted travelcards and season tickets. By adding the 16-25 railcard to this, you get ⅓ off off-peak fares and daily caps on the Tube, London Overground, TfL Rail and most National Rail services in London too!
- UNiDAYs and Student Beans: these are websites which you can sign up to for free to get discounts in-store and online. It’s worth signing up to both as they each have slightly different discounts on offer.
- Supermarket goods are often discounted in the evenings or on the days set for clearing out stock.
- Supermarket cards (e.g. Tesco Clubcard, Nectar card etc.): costs nothing – allows you to collect points whenever you spend money. You’ll then receive vouchers based on the number of points you’ve earned.
- Free Amazon Student Prime for 6 months: you can get the free trial using your university email address and it’s great for getting things you need to start university!
If attendance isn’t recorded, you don’t have to attend every single lecture
If you don’t want to go to that 9 am lecture and instead want to sleep in then watch it online later – that’s fine.
Unlike school, you get the choice of how you spend your study time – if missing the lecture in the morning means paying more attention to the lecture when watching the recording in the evening, then do that instead! Some of us are just not morning people.
Moving between student accommodations doesn’t have to be stressful and expensive.
So here are some tips to make it less of a nightmare:
- Pack an “open first” box (containing stuff you would need on day 1 of moving into your new place) and label it that way. This will be helpful if you move in late in the day or are too tired by the end of the moving process to unbox everything, as you’ll only need to open one box to find things like your bedding, toothbrush etc. by the time evening comes.
- Heavy items on the bottom – to prevent your box from getting knocked over and/or gravity destroying the things beneath the item; soft items on the top – allows you to ‘squish’ the box closed, and acts as padding to prevent another box stacked on top from damaging things inside this one.
- Get vacuum seal bags for your duvet, pillow and any puffer jackets you own – it’ll reduce the volume these things take up by at least half!
- Keep your cardboard boxes after each move – it’s costly to buy them over and over again.
- If you’re planning to store things with a company over the summer, buy boxes on Amazon instead of from the company to save some money.
University may not be the best time of your life
“You’ll have the best time of your life at university!”
The statement above was frequently repeated by relatives, family friends and teachers. So I believed it. Hence, when the pandemic started mid-way through my second year at university and I became stressed from lockdowns as well as online exams, I assumed the “best time of my life” was gone forever.
However, in retrospect, I now know that doesn’t have to be so – while it is true that I have enjoyed my time at university, I find it hard to believe that none of the years I have left will be better than the years I have lived so far – I’m currently 21, so if I live till I’m 80, I’ll still have ~ 75% of my life left to live. The probability of me enjoying life better after graduation than before graduation is therefore pretty high.
Spring weeks / insight days should not be overlooked
A number of companies that have graduate schemes offer spring internships. These act as pre-internships and are usually aimed at first-year students on a three year course or second-year students on a four year course.
If you do well in your spring week and demonstrate the skills as well as attributes the company is looking for in employees, you may be fast-tracked to interview for the summer internship. Then, if you do well in the summer internship, you may be offered a place on the graduate scheme in the future.
Join a reasonable number of societies
Often first-year students join every society that they have the vaguest interest in and attend every single event.
Obviously, if you tried that you’d just stress yourself out by having no free time. So my advice in hindsight would be to try and play a vital role in one society and (if you so desire) just participate as a normal member in a couple of other societies.
Imposter Syndrome is a thing you may need to deal with
It’s easy to start comparing yourself with others once at university and to find yourself feeling like you don’t deserve to be at this particular university, that you aren’t as smart/skilled/interesting/successful as the other students – this feeling is known as imposter syndrome.
When that feeling hits, here are some things I would suggest that you remind yourself of:
- You got the offer for this university, and you got the grades required to get in, so clearly whoever interviewed and whoever looked at your application thought you deserved to be here, and you yourself proved it by achieving the required grades.
- In the beginning when you don’t know anyone, you may feel like you don’t know anything compared to everyone else and that you’re the only one confused as hell about the content. But when you talk to people about this or complain about how hard the lectures are, you usually realise that other people may be just as clueless as you are – just because the 5 students in your friendship group do better than you doesn’t mean that the 100+ other students in your cohort are excelling too!
- Of course there will be people who perform better than you – that’s true at university and will be true when you get a job in the future too. The disparity between you and the “people with better grades” could be that they’re just born like that, but that is very rarely the case. Often they just work a lot harder behind the scenes, or they did secondary school exams which covered more content than you – for example, one of my friends was constantly talking about how bad he was at Organic Chemistry and that nothing made sense, but everyone around him seemed to be doing just fine. But that wasn’t his fault – it was just that the Chemistry AP exams didn’t cover much organic chemistry whilst A Levels had a lot of content on things such as curly arrow mechanisms. By just putting a bit more effort in during his first year, he fully caught up by the time the summer exams came up!
Now that you’ve reached the end of this huge chunk of text, I hope you gained something out of it and thanks for reading this far – whichever institution you are heading to for your undergraduate degree, I wish you the best of luck! If you enjoyed this blog post and want to check out more of my content or just wanted to chat with someone about UK university life, you can find me on YouTube and Instagram with the account name @chemicalstudies.