Starting university: what you need to know

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What nobody prepares you for before starting uni

The mental image you've got of what uni will be like is almost certainly wrong. Your first weeks and months of university life are a massive learning curve, as you make the leap into full-on independent living and learning.

To give you a bit more of a heads-up on what to expect from uni, we spoke to recent graduates from the University of East Anglia and asked what surprised them about starting uni. Here's what they had to say.

Making friends is way easier than you think

"You'll mix with people as soon as you arrive," says Rebecca, English and American literature graduate. "By the end of the first day you’ll all be sat in the kitchen bonding over 'ring of fire' as if you’ve known these people forever.

"Even if you don’t get on with everyone you’re living with, there are loads of opportunities to make friends. You can meet people on your course, at societies or on nights out."

Freshers Week is a bit weird

"Freshers Week is one big blur of nerves, excitement and seeing the bottom of too many of the SU bar's plastic pint glasses," says Sian, English literature graduate. "After a few weeks, you'll realise that you are supposed to have settled into this brand new life while also having the best time ever.

"You have to just make mistakes and learn from them. I pretended to have the time of my life dancing to music I didn't like in a sweaty club that I also didn't like, just so I wasn't 'missing out'. I quickly learned that I was missing out on my own happiness by trying to fit in."

You'll get ridiculously good at sleeping

"The worst thing I did was when I - the flat's fire warden - slept through the fire alarm," says Sian. "My flat mates, whose lives I had voluntarily taken responsibility for, were knocking at my door frantically whilst I dreamt of more important things."

True independence comes as a big surprise...

"You ultimately decide how to spend your academic and social time with the sheer amount of independence you have," says history graduate Laura. "It can be overwhelming, but it’s important to find a balance that works for you.

"What matters most is how you feel about the energy and time you’re putting into your academic and social life, what your priorities are and if you feel you are achieving your goals."

...a really big surprise

"Before uni, it’s difficult to imagine the level of freedom you will suddenly find yourself with, and this instantly applies to pretty much everything," adds English literature graduate Adam.

"But all in all, I think I was probably the least prepared for the level of independent learning required from day one, particularly going into a humanities subject where it initially seems like you have a load of free time on your hands."

Essays are so different

"I was so unprepared for writing an academic essay," says Sian. "I had no idea what a reference was and quickly learned that MHRA isn't actually a disease."

You’re more confident than you thought

"I would say the biggest thing university gave me was bags of confidence that I didn’t really have before," says Laura. "I wasn’t quite sure who I was really. 

"I often followed the crowd and was nervous to speak out on things I felt passionately about or to put myself forward for things I really wanted. University is a great time to explore your interests and put a brave step forward. If you want to, that is!"

You can experiment with your study style

"My grades didn’t go towards my final mark in my first year," says Laura. "So I used this time to figure out my learning style, how much I could realistically commit to studying each week and when was my best time to study.

"I have complete admiration for those that can pull an all-nighter. I can barely keep my eyes open on a book or write a comprehensive sentence after 11pm."

You won't be in lectures all that much

"At first having only a handful of lectures and seminars a week seems like a walk in the park," says Adam. "But you gradually realise that they’re really just a prompt to go and do your own research in the time between. 

"And if you fail to do this then you’re in for a rude awakening when your first pieces of coursework roll around."

Time flies...

Yep, it's a cliche, but time really does zip by when you're experiencing all the new things uni has to offer. Make the most of the opportunities that interest you, skip the ones that don't. Take the time to get deep into your course, but make time also for new friends, societies and getting the most from your new surroundings. Uni is a unique experience - so have fun!

How are you feeling about going to university? Join the chat in the forum.

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