Attending university is an important transitioning period for anyone, regardless of whether you have just left school, or you have been in other employment and you are seeking a career change. It’s easy to fall into the trap of following the crowd, even when you feel uncomfortable, as you’re in a new environment. However, there are some things that you should know before starting university and here are six things that I wish I’d known myself before I started studying at university.

Manage Your Expectations

You should talk to people who are currently at university, or have just left, so that you can gain a better and more realistic understanding about the university experience. This will help you to start university with an idea of what to expect and dispel any ideas that you’ve got from watching television. Better yet, try to talk to someone who attends the university that you want to go to, so you can settle any concerns that you may have.

Visit the University Campus

Before applying to a university, you should visit the campus to get a feel of the atmosphere, the facilities on offer and the distance to the accommodation provided by the university itself. This can help you to narrow down the universities that are the best fit to you. If it isn’t possible to see the campus in person, you can find virtual tours on the university website and you are encouraged to send questions and queries to the university direct.

Some universities have buildings spread out across the city, whereas campus-based universities have their academic buildings situated within walking distance of each other, amongst other facilities such as libraries and university health services. For example, Bristol University is a city-based university, with different departments spread across the city, whereas Coventry University is a campus-based university. You can easily compare the difference between Coventry University and Bristol University without having to visit them in person – if you aren’t in a position to travel – with the help of sites like Uni Compare. There, you can use their search engine to narrow your search list by accommodation ranking, course ranking and more.

Prioritise Your Mental Health

No degree at any university is worth sacrificing your sanity and mental health. If you are not mentally well and there are no support structures in place for you to look after yourself, you are not going to be able to commit yourself to your studies. When choosing the course and university that you will spend the next three or four years at, consider whether the course demands are something that you can deal with, and check whether there are wellbeing services on offer. There is no shame in asking for help, and these services are available to you as a student for a reason because there are going to be stressful periods where you may have to seek help in order to develop healthy coping mechanisms to deal with this stress.

Learn to Say No

There is no need to place pressure on yourself to fit a certain ‘university student’ stereotype because the university community is so large and diverse that you are bound to meet someone who enjoys the same activities as you, whether that is going out and partying, or watching films on a Friday night. Likewise, university itself is demanding enough without committing yourself to six different societies. Thinking realistically about the societies and activities that you will enjoy doing each week will save you time, energy and membership money. There are enough expectations and demands at university without forcing yourself to get up at 5am to row each morning, play tennis at midday and swim competitively in the evenings when you’d rather study or see friends. That being said, don’t be afraid to try new things, and there are plenty of opportunities to attend society events for free to see if you want to commit to a full membership.

Take Your Studies Seriously

Remember that you are paying thousands of pounds each year to obtain a degree, which is a qualification that requires hard work and commitment. University is very different to school in the sense that you are paying for a service where you are expected to attend and complete all assigned work. Your degree will not be handed to you on a plate, so put in the hours of studying and take it seriously.


This is without a doubt the most common piece of advice that you will hear from someone when you tell them that you’re going to university, but it is undoubtedly the most important. However, if you live within your means, and don’t go out every night purchasing drinks for all your friends, there is no reason why you should worry about money or have problems with money at university. Luckily, UK students can access a maintenance loan from the government to fund your life at university, so definitely look to see if you are eligible. Additionally, there are plenty of scholarship opportunities!

If you take away anything from these six pieces of advice, it should be that you need to put yourself first at university in order to maximise the opportunities that will be available to you, and to have fun!