Things I wish I’d known before starting university
Starting university may seem like a million years ago for some of us, but for others it’s only the beginning.
The start of this new chapter in your life is so exciting. I still remember wandering around campus, trying to get my head around what was happening and what I had to do to make my life work in this new city and with these new people.
Of course, we all make mistakes and we all learn from them along the way. That is life. But, that doesn’t mean to say that we can also learn from each other’s experiences too. From how to budget correctly, to endless nights trying to figure out how to reference, there are so many things I learned while I was at university, and perhaps I would have had an easier experience if I’d known these things before I went.
So, before you pack your bags and enter the whirlwind that is student life…
Here are 22 things I wish I’d known before I started university:
1. Learn how to manage your money
BUDGET, BUDGET, BUDGET.
Starting university will be one of the most exciting times of your life. Moving into your uni dorms, midweek nights out and learning how to cook for yourself are only a handful of the experiences coming your way. However, those Wednesday nights at the students’ union bar absolutely add up and this is when you need to learn how to budget and even make some sacrifices.
Money is definitely something you will learn to manage throughout those years. The earlier you learn to budget your weekly allowance, the better. Here’s a few tips to keep you on track:
- Get a student discount card.
During your freshers week there will be plenty of free goodies including student discount cards. Make sure you grab one and keep it in your wallet. These cards will come in handy when you want to do some online shopping, grab lunch with a friend and even give you discounts at the cinema! Always ask if they do student discounts – you never want to miss a chance to save some money!
- Always buy bus/train tickets online too!
They’re often cheaper if you book them in advance.
- Get a part-time job.
Getting a part-time job means you’ll have savings for an epic summer adventure, or to be able to put towards your next year at uni. The majority of universities enjoy hiring students as representatives for the uni (e.g. on open days) and have careers centres geared towards helping you put together your CV and finding work, so make sure to pop in.
- Keep track of your spending.
I always find when I write down what I spent it becomes a reality. Using your card and pocket change is still spending money, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. Download money managing apps like MINT, Splitwise or Expense manager to stay on top of your spending.
- Keep your receipts, pay slips, and any money-related document.
You never know when you may need them. Grab a folder and start organizing them. It super quick and it’s a great habit to start young.
- Get a multi-currency card.
Revolut or Monzo are great examples of these, and they’re great for travelling. You can tap tap tap (up to €200 a month) without nasty fees. A cool feature on the Revolut card allows you to set up a “spare change” savings account by round up each transaction to the nearest pound and popping it into your savings.
2. Learn to cook.
There’s only so long you can last on pot noodles. I learned pretty early on that learning to cook is the only sustainable thing to do to survive.
Cooking for yourself is the cheapest way to eat – no matter how tempting that ready-meal deal looks. There are loads of blogs and websites and books to help you learn to cook on a budget. The biggest money saver for me personally is eating less meat, but it’s down to personal preference.
There’s also no need to over complicate a good healthy and hearty dish – sometimes, less is more. Do your research before your weekly shop, make a list of the ingredients and spend the evening meal prepping and batch cooking. Make your lunches for the week and put them in the fridge, and if you don’t want to eat the same thing all week but you made a lot of it, freeze it for another week!
There’s nothing better than coming home to ready to go home-cooked food after a long day.
3. Balance is key
Before you know it assignments are building up, lab projects are quickly approaching and sleep is basically non-existent. University is all about balance, that I am a firm believer of. Don’t fall into the trap of leaving things at the last minute. If you need to sacrifice a night out or two then it’s worth it. Buying a diary at the beginning of term and writing in all the important dates will act as mini reminders. Learn to manage your time early on so you can maximise the fun you will have and the learning you’ll get out of your course.
4. Step outside your comfort zone
University is the perfect time to try something new. I made a pact to myself to join a new club or society every year for four years. I ended up in archery, on the volleyball team and even having my own university radio show.
If you’ve never played a sport, now’s the time. University clubs are so welcoming to beginners. They love to see you starting something new and are very happy to see you join. If sports isn’t your thing then join something more creative, artsy, cultural, academic, based on volunteering and fundraising, or something different! There really is a society for everything at university… and if you can’t find the society you want to join, create it!
5. Ask for help if you need it.
Most universities offer amazing facilities like a students’ union, counselling, student assistant funding and a health care centre. They are there to help you when you need it so make sure to use them!
7. Go to induction week to learn how to reference (and more).
Okay, so you know how you’re told to attend different tutorials during your first week of university? Go. You will not regret it. These tutorials will explain and help you figure out how conquer important aspects of university, e.g.
- Referencing (and the system you need to use on your course – annoyingly, there are multiple)
- Essay writing and planning
- Where and how to get support
- And more!
Referencing is obviously the big one – you’ll still be confused as to how to do it by the end of your dissertation. But, with the right support and knowing where to go when you need help with it, it’s not a big a beast as you might think.
8. Be yourself.
It’s a new start, new beginning.
Be you! That hobby you love, but no one else at school did? I can guarantee that someone at uni loves it too. Want to try a new hairstyle or outfit that you were worried about being judged for at home? Try it at uni and everyone will probably love it. Many people find that university is the first time in their life where they can be their true self.
9. If you have the chance to study abroad, take it.
University offers lots of different ways for your to travel throughout your time there. There are so many study abroad programmes abroad that you can apply for. Whether it was a full year or just one semester, anyone that I know who completed a study abroad programme says it was the best time of their life.
If you’re a student in Ireland or the UK and study abroad isn’t for you then look into completing a J1 visa. This visa allows you to work in the US for the summer and believe me, it is the best summer ever!
10. You do not need to buy every book on your reading list.
A trap that Shannon (Where’s Mollie? editor) fell into and it cost her over £600 in her first year!
Nope, nope, nope. Do not drop £80 on a book only to read 2-3 paragraphs. Use the university library! They have a multitude of books, ebooks and online resources for you to use. If they don’t have the book you’re looking for, talk to the librarians – they might be able to get a copy in, either permanently or on an inter-library loan. If you desperately want to buy the book, or have been told you ‘have to’ buy it, then try and look out for second-hand copies online.
12. Leave all expectations at home.
University may not be what you expect but it will always be an invaluable experience. From registration day to graduation, university is different for every single person. It’s not always party and euphoria central like we see in the movies.
11. Your learning habits will change.
The way you learn will change a lot from school. School revolved a lot around memorizing topics and rote learning. University is a lot more theoretical but also more practical, and professors require you to really understand and analyse the topic. You have to read, a lot. There is much more independent learning which gets you ready for the “real world”. Every professor teaches differently and requires a different level of learning back. Use your classes to ask questions and generate conversation amongst other students – trust me, it’ll make writing your assignments so much easier!
13. You don’t have to party all the time!
Whether you don’t like it, can’t afford it, or don’t want to put your body through hell again for another night… Prioritise your self-care over being a party-animal! University life is a whirlwind of new adventures, new friends and finding new passions. Amongst all the craziness try to remind yourself that it’s important to check in on your mental health and physical health every now and then. Sure, having a drink and a dance is good fun, but if you would rather have a quiet night in while your housemates party, that is completely okay. Put on some PJs, grab a hot chocolate, meditate, put on a good film, and enjoy a cozy night in.
14. Don’t feel your degree chooses your career.
Study what you love and your career will choose you. The desire for one career will change throughout your studies as you start to branch out and broaden your ideas. Now is the time to dip your toes into everything. Apply for internships to get a real insight into the job. Plus, it looks amazing on your CV.
15. Homesickness is real.
And I’m not just talking about feeling a bit sad here.
I’m talking physical sickness, endless tears, and desperation. That’s it at its worst, and I really hope it doesn’t affect you in this way as it is horrible.
Get help if you need it. Call your Mum. Power through what you can, but if it’s too much, it’s ok to go home and talk to your family about making university work for you.
16. Don’t feel pressured to leave home if you’d rather live there and commute.
I don’t believe in the idea that you “have to live on campus to get the true university experience”…but I do believe that you get out as much as you put into university. If you live within reasonable distance and can travel to and from campus, then save that rent money and live at home! Just make sure you don’t miss out on the social side of uni.
17. Explore your new city!
Grab a local travel card and explore your new hometown. Take a historical tour, make a list of new cafes you’d like to visit and day trips you’d like to go on in the surrounding area. You’ll be surprised how simple shifts in your daily walk to uni can lead to new findings!
19. It’s new for everyone.
You’re all in the same boat. You’re not alone. So, you’re all nervous about making friends, creating the right impressions, and getting good grades. Another immediate thing you have in common!
20. It goes really fast.
3-4 years sounds like a long time, but trust me, it flies by! All of a sudden four years pass and your first year move in day feels like yesterday. Enjoy the experience and grab onto all those moments.
21. It’s ok to fail.
Yep, I said it. Even after being the top of your class all the way through school, every perfectionist has their breaking point. You cannot do everything perfectly – you are a human being, not a deity! What matters is that you try your best, and you learn from your mistakes. University presents new challenges in and out of the classroom, and sometimes this is trickier to handle than we anticipated.
22. University is not for everyone.
Not everyone goes to university, and for good reason. If we were all the same, the world would be very boring! University is getting more and more expensive now, so it’s hard to justify going to uni because you don’t know what to do next. Take a step back, and think. Have a gap year. Get a job or an internship. Try something new. And then if you do want to go to uni, go and enjoy it! But if you don’t, that’s 100% ok.
Have you been to university?
What do you wish you’d known before you went? I’d love to know!
Love as always + happy adventuring,
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