Ten things that students weren't expecting when they started uni

university lecture

Starting university brings many new experiences. Some you'll be more prepared for than others...

When you start uni, life changes in a big way. And although you’re prepared for some of the new experiences coming your way, there’s going to be plenty more that might catch you a bit off-guard.

To help you get your head around being a fresher, we asked current students what surprised them about starting uni. Here’s what they told us.

dirty kitchen

You may possess fewer life skills than you originally thought

Back at home, with a fully stocked kitchen at your disposal, you probably felt like a master chef. Fast forward to week three of uni, when you're making your 28th spag bol, and you might start doubting yourself.

“I thought my cooking skills were OK before I got to uni. My Italian housemates disagreed though, spending their time either judging my pasta choices or slow roasting pork...”


Cooking on a student budget is a challenge, but there’s plenty of advice on TSR to help you through. Likewise, if you’ve never made a bed or ironed a shirt before, there’s no time like the present to learn! Then you could find yourself the most experienced in the house, just like creaTED:

“I was surprised by how little life skills the majority of students had. I had to teach most of my 11 housemates how to use a washing machine and turn on an oven.”


If you’re still struggling, take a look at some life hacks previous Freshers have shared - they might just save you from the embarrassment (and malnourishment) of living on beans and toast for the first three months.

“I was surprised how often people could eat chicken nuggets and pizza...”


But living independently isn’t as hard as you think

On the other hand, everyone (mainly your parents) will tell you what a shock to your system it’ll be when you leave home for the first time. What are you going to do without them ferrying you around or cleaning up after you? Sure, it might be weird at first if you’re used to mum’s home cooking every night, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you adapt.

“I’d had multiple lectures from my parents about cooking, laundry and staying safe, so I was pretty anxious about having to fend for myself. But, surprisingly, I took to living in halls like a duck takes to water. I think as long as you know how to cook the basics, remember to eat healthily occasionally and hold a certain degree of organisation, you’ll be fine!”-


If you’re unsure of anything, we’ve got plenty of helpful tips and articles in our dedicated Freshers area, or you can come chat to other students going to uni too. Failing this, there’s always your trusty smartphone. “Siri, how do I boil an egg?”

students chatting and laughing

Your new city quickly becomes home

Some people can’t wait to leave home and live in a new place; others find the idea of being somewhere new completely terrifying. Either way, by the time you go home for Christmas you’ll be itching to get back to uni.

“I didn’t expect my uni city to really change my life like it did. Plus, if you’re going to a campus university, it feels like a little village and there's a real sense of community among the students living on site.” 


If you’re feeling nervous about living somewhere new, get ahead of the game and chat to other students going to your uni - you’ll feel much more confident and settled by getting to know people early. It’s also a good idea to get out and explore as soon as possible; you’ll have the most time to spare before your deadlines kick in, so get yourself out there and find your new fave local spots.

Your studying will be almost solely independent

If you hated being told what to do and when to do it at school, you’re going to love the newfound freedom that university brings:

“I’d been out of education for a while, so the lack of hand-holding at uni was both a shock and a nice thing to find!”


Although you’ll be attending lectures and seminars, you’re going to be expected to do a lot of learning in your own time with further reading, research and completing projects or assignments. The further you get into uni, the less contact time you’ll have, so it’s good to get into your own routine earlier on. Which brings us on to the next point...

coffee, calculator and keyboard on desk

You’ll have to be organised to succeed

There’s no teacher chasing you for that coursework submission or parent forcing you to do your homework. If you want to ace uni and come out with a decent grade, preparation and organisation is key.

“Essays and assignments should be started early. I once left an essay until the last minute and I haven’t done it since! There’s nothing more gratifying than approaching an essay feeling calm, composed and prepared. When your lecturers release your tasks, get started on them as soon as you can. Then you’ll have enough time to plan, draft and redraft.”


Once you can master the balance of work and play, you’ll be much more prepared to tackle any assignment thrown your way. It’s a good idea to use your smartphone, a wall planner or diary to keep track of any deadlines you have, then you can plan your social life around them.

It’s so easy to make friends

Don’t waste time worrying about being lonely and not making friends at uni. University is the best time to meet new people: everyone’s in the same boat and up for making new friends. Plus, with things like Freshers events and societies, you’re more likely to meet a variety of people with similar interests to you. 

“I was really nervous about meeting new people because I had great friends at home, but luckily my Freshers Week was amazing because everyone was in the same boat, so it was easy to get chatting to people. I had quite low confidence before starting uni and it was crazy how much it improved in the space of a week!”

Danny Dorito

Have a search for your Freshers group on Facebook before you go, or join one of our ‘Fresher Megathreads’ in your specific uni forum to find your new BFF before you go.

You might find things in common with those you least expect

Don’t just limit yourself to a few friends on your course. By chatting with everyone, you could find a whole new group of mates that you’d have never thought to speak to before. 

It’s tempting to stick with the familiar faces you meet in Freshers Week, or with your flatmates, but it’s much better to put yourself out there and talk to absolutely everyone - even those you least expect to bond with.

“The thing that surprised me most about uni was that the 'mature students' were actually really great people!”


Alternatively, if you’re going to uni as a mature student, don’t worry about being left out. Everyone’s willing to get talking if you’re friendly and approachable, as Seamus123 explains.

“I'm nearly 70 and hadn't been in education since 1998. I was worried I wouldn't fit in with the young ones, some of whom I have grandchildren their ages. We got along just fine. Just going into my final year and have been our student rep right the way through - great fun!”


Your loan will leave your account very quickly

Everything costs money, and when you’re at uni you’ll be shelling out for books, food, transport, clothes and alcohol. That’s not even counting your rent. When that loan hits, you’ll probably be tempted to ‘make it rain’... but don’t. You will thank yourself in a month’s time.

“I was most surprised at how quickly my maintenance loan was spent.”


Do have fun in Freshers Week, but also keep an eye on your bank account, and try to only take out the money that you need for the week ahead. Once you’re settled, a part-time job is also a great way to keep you topped up between payments!

It’s easy to skimp on things if you know how

When you’re a student, the world is your oyster. You’ll never have to pay full price for a train ticket or piece of clothing again - well, for three years anyway. 
Although university is an expensive time, it’s easier to keep out of your overdraft if you budget your money correctly - check out how other students have done it for a bit of inspiration. Also, get yourself a student railcard and NUS card ASAP. They’ll save you heaps in the long run, and NUS cards are accepted in loads of shops and restaurants - you could even put the extra money you would’ve spent aside for savings.

If all else fails and your bank account is edging closer to zero by the minute, take on board this useful advice from Davalla

“Sometimes you can get free sandwiches from uni canteens on a Friday. Catch them just as they are about to close because they’ll have to get rid of sandwiches that will expire through the weekend.”


You’ll feel overwhelmed sometimes - but it’s worth it!

Starting uni is a big deal, and even the most confident students will admit to feeling a little overwhelmed after the fun of Freshers Week wears off. But don’t think of this as a negative - it’s all part of growing as a person, being more independent and - deep breath - becoming an 'adult'. Take it all in your stride and embrace it!

“Bulky essays, reading, research, planning, socialising, going out, lack of sleep, halls dramas and day-to-day responsibilities... Sometimes it can all get a bit much at uni. Some simple advice is to get a good night’s sleep as often as you can. Sleep affects a lot of things like your mood, motivation and energy which then affects other areas of your life. If you can keep a good sleeping schedule, you will feel happier, more alert and focused.”


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 first year accommodation, to help you get an idea of what it's like when you first start.

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