63 things students wish they'd known before starting uni

student stressed at laptop

How to survive your first year of uni

No matter how prepared you think you are, starting university brings plenty of surprises. 

What's living in halls really like? Are first-year lectures actually important? Is learning to cook really necessary?

We asked current and former uni students from the TSR community what they wish they'd known before starting. They've made the mistakes, so you don't have to...

Read on for the full list, or click on the quick links to zip straight to a particular section

May 2020: student life giveaway

The Student Room has teamed up with UEA to launch a monthly competition in student life.

Once again we've got a stack of Amazon vouchers to give away - and entering is easy.

Just tap the button (or scroll to the end of the article) for your chance to win.

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Making friends

Meeting people is easy at uni. Seriously. But that doesn't stop us all worrying about it before we get there for the first time.

Here's how TSR members made friends in their first weeks at university.

1. Go along to all the Freshers activities. Don't limit yourself to your flatmates or course mates; you’ll be seeing them plenty anyway.


2. Make friends with second and third years. They can help you out, offer you advice, give you notes and tell you where they went wrong. They've just done your year and they know what you're going through.


3. When moving in, take lots of alcohol - preferably stuff that is easily shared. Small 300ml bottles of beer, cider, alcopops or something cheap like apple Sourz works well. Snacks that you can share work well too.


4. Don't spend your weekends away too often if you want to stay close to your flatmates. It's usually one of the main times when everyone's got a free schedule and can go out and do things together as a household.


5. Don't be afraid of "getting with" people. Even if it's just a Freshers fling. People aren't judgmental at university and the only people who will care about your sex life are the people without their own. This goes for virgins too - no-one will care or make fun of you. Just be as sociable as possible.


6. Don't panic if you’re not a massive party animal or drinker. That isn't the be all and end all of university life, so don't make a big deal about it. Just be yourself and don't do anything you're not comfortable with. Anyone who tries to force you to do anything you don't feel like doing isn't going to make a very good friend. Just talk to people and relax around them.


7. It's your life and you should live it your way, but that goes for everyone else too. Don't be judgmental of other people’s choices; accept them as they are. Always stay true to yourself, so the friends you make will love you for being you and not for some bravado act.


8. Be wary of (often well-meaning) people who have gone to uni for the social life rather than to work. They’ll have a great time for three years but know they will come out with a 3rd. They don't care and will make loads of friends along the way, but will end up dragging some of those friends down academically because they’ll just invite them to too much stuff.


9. If heavy drinking isn't your thing, don't do it. In halls, there are usually communal areas where you’ll be able to find other quieter people chilling out, watching the TV etc. It's important to make friends, but it's more important to make friends with your kind of people.


10. Students are people and if you thought you left the cliques behind at A-level, that's sadly not true. Don't get sucked into the gossip, and don't let other people's lives occupy your own.


11.Your friends from home have been your friends for many years. Don't forget about them! Keep in touch with them as well as all the new friends you're making.

students rowing

On extra-curricular activities

Obviously you're going to uni to study. But, obviously you're not going to study all the time. University life is crammed with opportunities to try out new things. Make the most of it!

12. Try to take up a sport – sports socials are great and playing a sport will help keep you fit and healthy, too.


13. Subject societies have nothing to do with the subject. Join the ones with an actual focus that organise events, beyond 'come drink with us instead of other friends'.


14. Join a society that interests you and actually go to it; don't be afraid to turn up by yourself. I was too scared to go along to them at first, but then I found the courage and met some amazing people.


15. Be yourself and have fun – but your kind of fun, whatever that is. Forget what other people say you should be doing.

woman studying in library


University work is a whole different ballgame from what you're used to. That's why, on the whole, your first year won't count towards your final grade - it's all about getting used to a far more independent style of learning.

16. Doing a bit of reading on your subject before you begin can be invaluable, so you can hit the ground running and find the first few weeks a lot easier.


17. Go to lectures, do your work on time and get into a good routine. It'll pay off in the latter years immensely and give you far less panic/stress and more time to relax and enjoy yourself.


18. Find your way in to your course - find that book, poem or painting you love, and then find out why you love it. That's by far the nicest way of getting a first. Don’t feel intimidated to talk to your lecturers, because however brilliant they are, you have something they don't - a completely fresh perspective untainted by the years of scholarship that can sometimes cloud vision.


19. Don't expect the lecturers to provide a spoon-feeding service but equally show an enthusiasm for your subject. Don't leave stuff until the last minute, don't treat your work with disdain or you'll always be left wondering if you could have done better. Equally know when to back off and go to the pub/cinema/chill with a book.


20. Go to all your lectures and seminars; you’re paying for them. Don't be one of those people who moans about how difficult the course is or how all the lecturers irrationally hate you, when the reason you find it difficult is because you don't do any work and never come to class.


21. In first year, you have lots of free time. Use it productively.


22. Always remember why you picked your subject, it will really help your motivation if you know why you wanted to study the subject in the first place. The people who don't have any motivation for their subject are the ones who do badly.


23. Start assignments on the day you're given them. Even though you have five weeks to do it, you'll still end up doing it the night before it's due.


24. You don't have to study in the uni library. If it's too busy, find another one.


25. Start revising for end-of-year exams as soon as possible, not three weeks before. You'll save a lot of stress.


26. Find what you want to do in your course and pursue it. Find what makes you tick.


27. Don't take the saying "1st year doesn't count for anything" too literally. It doesn't count for anything in terms of academic marks, but if you skip lectures and are lazy during your first year, then the next 2/3 years you'll struggle.

Iron Mask Duval
two students chatting in bedroom


You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family. Or, indeed, the people you share with in first year. Places in halls are normally allocated randomly, so it's lucky dip who you end up living with.  

28. I wished I’d known there are people who can live in a house that looks and smells like a landfill, and will be genuinely confused when you have an issue with it.


29. Don't panic about sorting next year's housing the minute you get back in January. My friends and I found a place to live just weeks before the next year started. There's always SOMEWHERE. The most popular places do get booked early, but our house was good and literally a minute's walk away from uni. If you REALLY have nowhere to live when uni starts, uni can often sort out 'emergency accommodation' for you.


30. Think carefully about who you choose to live with after your first year. I lived with two girls who both did the same course, which had a lot less contact time and work than my course. This left me a bit isolated as they spent all their time together and went out a lot more than I could. So make sure you’re compatible with whoever you choose to live with and that you make time for each other, whatever the demands of your course.


31. Always clear your room and fridge of any food before you go home for the holidays. You do not want to find rotten/mouldy food upon your return in January, or an invasion of fruit flies. This goes for washing up, too. Coming back to plates/bowls with life forms growing in them is not nice!


32. There’s typically a big panic around Christmas as people worry where they'll be living next year, so group up quickly to find a house before ‘all the good ones go’. But choose your housemates carefully - you only met these people a few months ago, so not everyone's true colours may have come out. Don’t believe the hysteria - there will be loads of houses left after Christmas!


33. If you're in halls, or at least sharing a shower, bring flip flops (or other suitable footwear). You don't want to walk down the hallways (or be in the shower) barefoot, trust me.


34. Games consoles are great for breaking the ice with your flatmates.


35. Always keep basic first aid supplies in your room. The time you need paracetamol the most will be the time you feel least able to venture to the shop. Might sound fussy and mumsy, but when you have a hangover/flu/are generally ill, you will be SO grateful you have stuff on hand.


36. Bring earplugs.


students in lounge

General advice

It might seem impossible now, but three years at uni passes by incredibly quickly. Here are some more tips from the TSR community to help you make the most of it.

37. If you’re commuting: be as flexible as you can about staying out late, don't complain about it too much. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with crashing at a friend's flat for a night once you get to know people.


38. Make your room feel like yours with photos and trinkets. It'll help you relax.


39. Stay positive and smile. Don't rush home the first time something goes wrong or you get homesick; if possible stay away from home for the first 4-6 weeks. Working through it will make you a stronger person.


40. If you’re intimidated by the massive booze-up during Freshers Week, don't drop out after one week. You’re more likely to meet like-minded friends once things settle down. Second year is possibly the best time to be a student; you’re familiar with your city, becoming more self-confident as a person and the workload is not quite as intense as third year.


41. Three years at uni will go very quickly. When I meet back up with my old uni mates, we all agree that life is not as much fun as it was when we lived together in our uni house. It’s something you can never recreate. Enjoy uni while you can!


42. Don't assume that everybody is having sex and getting with people. While some are, and will be telling everybody about it, there will be a lot who aren't and are wondering if they are inadequate.


43. Go to as much stuff as possible. Find as much stuff as you like. Choose what you want to do and stick at it. Make friends in as many places as possible. Don't limit yourself to one clique.


44. Don't become something you're not. I've seen all sorts of fakery - someone even inventing a fake middle name, someone trying to pretend to be working class because they were so ashamed of going to private school. It is YOUR time and university and you should make the most of it.


45. You're going to make mistakes, possibly big ones, possibly heart-breaking ones. There are hard times ahead but they are going to make you stronger, they are going to teach you things about yourself that you can't even imagine yet. Be brave.


46. Don't stay up until 5am too often. Your sleeping pattern will be ****ed.

man counting coins


You are a student, ergo you are skint. Empty pockets is part and parcel of university life, but a decent budget can help a limited income stretch that bit further. It's not always easy to do...especially if you've never had to budget before.

47. Try to stick to a budget, especially with food. Do you really need that jumbo packet of Monster Munch? Do you really?


48. LEARN TO COOK FROM THE VERY FIRST DAY. It will save you so much money, and will be so much healthier. Don't live off sandwiches for the entire first semester.


49. Ask for a student discount everywhere. And I mean everywhere. McDonalds does free cheeseburgers. Think about it.


50. If you're definitely going to some event and early bird tickets are cheaper, get them. Even though your cool friends will wait and pay extra on the door...


51. Look out for student drink deals when out in clubs - and take advantage of student discounts in shops. I miss it!


52. Spaghetti bolognaise will end up being your primary food source, especially during the last few weeks of term when you have 50 quid in your bank account.


53. Familiarise yourself with the Value/Smart Price/Basics ranges. There is no difference between ‘3 for 79p’ Value peppers and £2 peppers.


54. Get your text books from the library or, if you want your own to make notes in, have a look on Amazon. I got a book on there for 23p and I've been using it for two years. Took me a while to get used to the smell though.


55. Freezing bread is a wonderful idea.

friends at a party

Going out

Uni life kicks off with Freshers Week's non-stop schedule of parties and it doesn't really let up from there. Student nights will be happening all over your uni town - and there's always going to be someone having a halls party. The only question is: how many nights out can you handle?

56. Make an effort to go out, but stay true to yourself. It's not worth forcing yourself out every night just to get the 'experience' everyone hypes up.


57. Cider is probably the most cost-effective drink that can be measured somewhat sensibly. Vodka can be gotten cheap but will leave you feeling cheaper.


58. Massive, epic, end-of-the-world club nights are just an excuse to charge you over £10 for entry to somewhere that is usually free or a few pounds. The multiple venues don't mean anything as they will all be full, so realistically you can get into about 2 venues. The cheap drink deals are a myth with these nights.


59. Make an effort to go out and socialise for the first few weeks - even if you're not typically a social person. It will really benefit you to make friends early, particularly if you befriend the people you live with.


60. Don't feel you must go out every night just because other people are. If you have loads of work, an early start the next day or simply can't be bothered... just say no.


61. Don't mix Lambrini, Bulmers and shots. It will not end well.


62. Bring fancy dress stuff, it comes in handy even after Freshers Week.


63. Do not let someone feed you neat vodka through a funnel while sat on a spinning computer chair. This one is the most important.


Watch more videos about student life

Our vloggers are sharing their experiences of student life direct from the campus. In this video playlist, we've collected their vlogs about making friends at uni, to help you get an idea of what it's like when you first start.

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