Ten things students weren't expecting when they started uni

A student rock climbing

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.

1. 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 and the tempation to have instant noodles every night is real. But there’s plenty of advice on The Student Room to help you through. Basically, if you’ve never done much around the house before, now's a decent time to learn.

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.


Discover more about university

Before we go on, we just wanted to let you know about a series of free webinars being run by UEA to help answer students' questions about university. There are webinars on each of the following themes; the links below will take you to the UEA website to sign up for the next ones:

 - How to pay for university
 - Thinking about university?
 - Applying to university

We've also got an article that explains each of the webinars, where you can find lots more information on what's happening in each one.

2. But you're going to get better at this stuff fast

In the run-up to going to uni, you can expect your parents to spend the whole time a) fussing and b) lecturing you on what a shock to your system it’ll be when you leave home for the first time.

And yep, it might be weird at first if you’re used to home-cooked meals 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!


You'll find more help in our university chat section where other students are discussing the realities of student life. And there's always your smartphone. “Hey Google, how do I boil an egg?”

3. 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, once it's time to go home for Christmas, you won't want to leave...

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, find your uni on The Student Room to chat with other students there, It can help you get used to the place before you even arrive.

Once you're at uni, get out and explore. You’ll have loads of freetime before your lecture properly start, so make the most of the chance to discover your new hometown.

4. Your studying truly is down to you

If you hated being told what to do at school, you’re going to love the new-found 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.

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...

5. You’ll have to be organised to succeed

There’s no teacher chasing you for your assignment; no parent forcing you to do your homework. If you want to get a decent grade from uni, you've got to nail the preparation and organisation.

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.


Master the balance of work and downtime with a planning app on your smartphone (or go retro with a wall planner or diary). By keeping track of deadlines, you can make time for a social life...and any paid work commitments too.

6. Making friends is so easy

Before uni starts, it's standard to worry about making friends. But university is such a good time to get to know new people. Everyone turns up knowing no-one, and so they will be totally up for making new friends.

Plus, with things like freshers events and societies, you can meet people with similar interests to you. 

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

7. You might find things in common with those you least expect

It's easy to stick close to the first few people you meet. But if you can open yourself up to keep chatting with everyone, you could discover an even wider group of mates. 

Just chat to people. There are opportunities all over the place and lots of people become friends with people they didnt think they'd be mates with. Often social groups can be quite wide and you can have an eclectic group of mates.


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.

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!


8. 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 nights out. That’s not even counting your rent. When that loan hits, you might 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.


Get yourself a decent student bank account - one where you can put your cash into different pots. That makes it a little easier to avoid burning through the money that's meant to be for the weekly shop.

Once people get settled, most find they need to top up their funds with some paid work - The Student Room has a section where students discuss part-time jobs.

9. It’s easy to get deals if you know how

When you’re a student, you're surrounded by discounts. Uni is an expensive time, make no mistake, but with some smart budgeting and some careful shopping you can make the most of the deals available.

Get started by getting hold of a 16-25 Railcard and Totum card for the discounts. Unexpected spending hacks can also save you a few quid...

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.


10. 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.

When I was at uni I would stay in uni 8-5. Even if I had a one-hour seminar at 1pm. It didn't matter - having that allocated time dedicated to uni quickly became a habit that followed me through university and I think helped me in securing a first.


Our partnership with the University of East Anglia

The Student Room is proud to work with UEA, a UK top-25 university (Complete University Guide 2024) and UK top-30 university (The Times/Sunday Times 2024), as the official partner of our student life section.

Located on the edge of Norwich, a lively city full of secret gems just waiting to be discovered.

Visit their profile page to learn more or join the conversation on The Student Room's UEA forum.

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