Starting university can bring a whole host of emotions to the surface including, excitement, anxiety, happiness, worry, and many more. All of these emotions are perfectly normal! After all, it is a big step in your educational journey! There are lots of reasons why we feel all these different emotions. For some, it’s worry about moving away from home, family and friends, the worry of “not fitting in” or not knowing anyone on the course. On the other hand, it’s the excitement of exploring a new city, making new friends and learning about a subject you enjoy. There’s a whole bunch of reasons but whatever the reason, in today’s post, I am going to talk about what to expect when starting university, my experience and my top tips. This post will cover everything from student finance and student accommodation to UCAS clearing and student life.
So, before we get started, I thought I’d talk a little bit about my experience. I am studying Health and Human Sciences at the University of Sheffield and I am due to start my 3rd year this September. After that, I plan on taking my Masters. As the city isn’t far from my home, I commute by train which takes roughly 30 minutes. An average day at university for me consists of lectures, seminars, (which can be anywhere on campus – you’ll get used to walking to different buildings!) personal study time and lunch and any breaks with friends when we can have a good natter! After university, we might go for something to eat, drink or just relax!
When I first started, I knew no one on the course. Most had come from college or 6th form with their friends, so they were already in their friendship groups and would sit together in the lecture theatres, leaving me feeling a little isolated. However, there were other students in my shoes who had started the course not knowing anyone. Although I felt shy inside, I had to make myself feel confident and approach them to chat. It seems silly as I write this now, but I am sure there’s been moments in your life where you feel overwhelmed by a situation and the only way to overcome it is by getting out of your comfort zone. I am so glad I did because now we are like one big family! My biggest tip is to chat to everyone! You’ll meet some really great people who will become your lifelong friends and you’ll be so glad you plucked up the courage to chat!
UCAS Track and Clearing
So, first things first… UCAS Track and Clearing! Check to see if you’ve been given any offers on your application. If you’ve got the offer you’d like, now is the time you can accept it! When I applied, I got my chosen university and course straight away and it was the fastest click on my laptop I’ve ever done! If not, don’t worry! There’s plenty of other options and one of them is UCAS Clearing. Clearing is where universities still have spaces left that they will want to fill. This means you can find other universities or other courses that may be of interest to you. You can search the website or contact the universities directly to find out what spaces they have left. Find out more information on the UCAS Clearing website.
University isn’t cheap. So, you’ll need to think about how you’ll fund your studies and living costs. One of the main options for students in Student Finance where you can apply for a tuition loan and a maintenance loan. Your tuition loan goes towards paying for your course at university and your maintenance loan helps with your living costs such as, bills, food, travel and so on. You’ll have to apply for these for every year of study. So, let’s say your course is 3 years, you’ll have to apply 3 times so you’re covered for each year of study. Both the tuition and maintain loans have to be repaid but this will be when you’ve graduated from university and in employment.
Budgeting and discounts
It’s also important to mention budgeting! Most universities have a budget planner that you can print out and fill in (or you can make your own) to keep an eye on your spending. My biggest advice is to be sensible with your financing. As tempting as it may be to purchase that new lipstick, try to work out what you need for food, toiletries, travel and so on. Look around for the best deals (value options or supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl will be your friend!) If you can, get yourself a part time job. It will help so much and plus, the extra pennies will be so handy come Christmas time!
Another big money saver is your NUS discount. This is your university card which shows you are a student and means you can get discounts at loads of stores! When you get to the till, simply show your card and the discount will be applied! Another great student discount is Totum however, this one requires a small fee to purchase but has loads more store options, restaurants and so much more!
Preparing to Start
So, you’ve been accepted into university and will be starting in a few weeks! Now is the time to prepare and get your essentials. Make a list of the things you need and whenever you remember anything important, you can write it down on your list. It’s a great way to keep track of everything, what you’ve got and what you need to get. I would recommend getting the following:
- Stationery! Including a diary or planner, pens, highlighters, folders ect
- A notebook (or you could get one for each subject you’ll be studying)
- A travel card (rail card or a bus pass) if you will be using public transport regularly
- Check your journey (bus journey planner, train and tram times) – use live train times for up to date information
- A bag or backpack that holds all your university essentials
- A laptop
- Any clothes (but only get what’s essential such as a coat or new pair of shoes)
- A USB stick or sign up to storage sites such as, Google Drive (this will be handy for storing all your important work)
- A power pack or charger
- Water bottle or a flask
- Personal items such as, toiletries, sanitary products etc
- Any medication
- All your housing stuff such as, plates, cutlery, duvets, ect
- Spotify Student (listen to music for free!)
Plan and organise where you’re going to live while you’re studying. You can choose from university accommodation, private rent or living at home. As I mentioned earlier, I live at home and commute as it’s a no brainer! Universities offer loads of help when you’re deciding where to live and they will help you find the perfect place. Make sure to do your research and double check your contract. Will you have a shared bathroom or en suit facilities? How far from campus is your accommodation? How much is your rent and what’s included in it? (gas, water, electricity and internet etc). Make a note of all these things when searching for your accommodation.
When you first move in, give yourself time to settle and get to know your housemates. Remember everyone will be feeling nervous! Smile, be polite and have an “open door” so your housemates feel they can talk to you even if it is tempting to just go and sit in your room. Remember to be polite and take your rubbish out and clean up after yourself. The Student Room has lots of helpful tips and advice.
Homesickness is another big thing that can affect lots of students. But trust me, you’ll soon settle in and the homesickness will wear off. Text and call your family and friends as they’ll probably be feeling it much more than you! But try to keep a healthy balance and try to have fun. If you feel like you’re struggling with homesickness, student services have student support networks where you can go to talk to someone.
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The Night before
The night before can magnify your emotions (I felt very nervous the night before!) however, I found the best way to cope was to prepare and then go and do something enjoyable such as, watching Netflix, a relaxing bubble bath or reading a book. Prepare yourself by making sure your bag is packed with your essentials and double-checking you know what building/room you are going to and what time. Also, set an alarm so you have plenty of time to get a wholesome breakfast, get dressed and plenty of time for traveling. If using public transport, double check the timetable. I use the live train times for up to date information!
What to expect on the first day
As mentioned previously, give yourself plenty of time to travel and a bit extra just in case of any delays and arrive early so you can find the building/room. The first day will consist of mostly talks from your lecturers welcoming you to the course and important information such as, your timetable, who your personal tutor is and who to contact in case you are feeling unwell. Most of this stuff will be handed to you but I would recommend making a note of this yourself so you always have that information to hand.
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The first day and even the first week, there will be a ton of events that you can attend! You’ve probably heard of “Fresher’s Fair” flying around. This is basically a huge fair for new students including, freebies, lots of information, discounts and deals on a variety of things such as, food and shops, nights out and so much more. It’s really worth a visit! I cannot speak for all universities but most will have a similar set up. Here at the University of Sheffield, we have four major events which is Intro Week (it’s like a big long Fresher’s Fair) and includes, Sports Fair, Activities Fair and Part Time Jobs and Volunteering Fair. The Sports Fair showcases all the different sports and teams you can join. There will be gym memberships you can sign up to or you can use the pay-as-you-go service. The Activities Fair is all the different clubs and societies within the university. In my first year, I joined the Baking Society, Book Club and the Wellness Society. By attending these clubs and societies, I got to meet a bunch of people who loved the same things as me and because we met up on a weekly basis, it gave me something to look forward to. There’s so many clubs and societies you can join and find people who have similar interests to you. And trust me, there is something for everyone! My university even has a Quiddich Society!
What to expect in The First Week
During your first week, most of your lectures will consist of your lectures going over what you will learn, what assessments there will be for example, you might be asked to write an assignment or take an exam and any other important information. You’ll be given something called a Module Handbook for each module (or subject) you are learning. This is kind of a bible and contains all the important information you need to know about that module for example, names and email address of lecturers, a timetable of when and where you’ll be having that lecture, a reading list with key books or articles that you will need to read and how you will be assessed for that module. You may be given a paper copy to take with you or your lecturer may tell you to print a copy for yourself. One of my top tips is to go through your handbook for each module and highlight any important information or key dates. Make yourself aware of what will be happening and when so you will be prepared and won’t get caught out by any surprises. Put key dates into your diary or calendar so you have a visual guide. Let’s say you are studying History. Your module timetable might say that you are undertaking a field trip so it will be a good idea to make a note of this! Another top tip is to set your university emails up on your phone so any emails sent to your university email address will pop up on our phone.
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You’ll also get an opportunity to meet and bond with your classmates. As I mentioned earlier, chat to as many people as you can! Remember, you’re all in the same situation together and chances are, there’s someone feeling the exact same way as you! I felt nervous to begin with but now I’ve made some really great friends and we laugh so much my belly hurts! Ask to go for a coffee together or visit one of the fairs. They’ll probably be glad you asked!
What to expect in The First Few Weeks
Soon you’ll be attending your lectures, seminars and finding your way around campus. You’ll also be getting to know your fellow classmates more. Don’t stress too much if you miss a lecture as usually they post the Powerpoint presentation online so you can catch up. But try to attend your lectures as this counts as your attendance and also will be full of important information.
Be open to new opportunities! You’ll be so glad you got out of your comfort zone! There will be a bunch of opportunities from your department, the university and work experience / volunteering. In my second year, I signed up to be a PASS Leader which is basically helping the first years with their studies and I signed up to be a Mentor where I offer email support to new students and help them settle in. I also volunteered at a society for the blind and helped with activities. It really helps you grow and learn!
During your first year, it’s all about finding your way – what’s expected of you, attending lectures, learning Harvard referencing until you start having nightmares and wanting to punch the person who invented it so, the grades don’t count. But year 2 and 3, you need to knuckle down and study. Lecturers are more forgiving marking your work in your first year as they know you are still learning so the odd mistake is okay. But in year 2 and 3, they will point these out so it’s worth learning from your mistakes (there’s no point in loosing silly marks!) In my first year, a few of my lectures said I needed to proof-read more as I’d made some spelling mistakes so now, I make sure I double check my work! It’s also worth mentioning that although your first year doesn’t count towards your final classification, you do need to pass it to progress onto your second year.
Whilst stating university can seem daunting at first, I promise you, it does get better! By Christmas time, you’ll have made a bunch of friends, laughing until your belly hurts, going on pub crawls, fancy dress and enjoying being a student! Remember, there is always help available if you have any problems, questions or you’re just unsure about something. Don’t be afraid to ask! I hope you’ve found this post useful! Please feel free to ask me any questions!