I'm going to uni! Wait... I'm going to uni??
“I can’t wait to leave home, move to uni, make loads of new friends and look after myself! But that doesn’t mean I’m not a bit nervous… what if I don’t like my course? What if I run out of money? What if my diet of pasta and toast gives me scurvy?”
Does this sound like you? If so, you’re far from alone. Everyone who’s thinking about going to uni experiences a mixture of excitement, nervousness, being desperate to get there but equally apprehensive about leaving sixth form behind…
So that’s why we’re here to set the record straight on what uni is REALLY like. We’ve collected all the need-to-know info from real students and an expert from UEA to give you a peek at the real uni experience - and they’ve left no stone unturned.
Do you have to get wasted every night to fit in? Should you join a million different societies? Does everyone get on with their flatmates? Read on to find out, or click on one of these 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.
What to expect during Freshers' Week
You may already have an idea about what to expect during Freshers’ Week. Jagerbombs, pub crawls, fancy dress, freebies and freedom, right?
The truth is that Freshers’ Week is whatever you want it to be. Whether you’re looking for the classic boozy experience with all the Freshers’ event tickets your student loan can buy or you want to keep it chilled, there will be plenty to keep you occupied. Whatever you’re interested in, no matter how niche or nerdy, uni is the place to meet like-minded people - and there’s no better opportunity to do that than in Freshers’ Week.
In fact, you don’t HAVE to go to Freshers’ Week at all - but do bear in mind that it’s the best opportunity to meet loads of new people. If you don’t go, it just means you might have to work a little bit harder to get to know people - and if you’re thinking of swerving it because you’re not a big drinker, it’s totally fine to go along to all the events without getting hammered.
Whatever you choose to do for Freshers’ Week, don’t put pressure on yourself to be having fun 24/7 - it IS great fun, but you’ll be very grateful for the downtime after your fifth hangover of the week. Here are a few tips to help you get settled:
- Get out of your room and introduce yourself. Literally EVERYONE feels awkward about it, so ignore the nerves and knock on a few doors. Find an excuse to hang out in communal areas too - those kitchen cupboards won’t fill themselves…
- Get chatting. One thing is guaranteed - you’ll know the answers to ‘where are you from?’ and ‘what are you studying?’ off by heart after the first hour, but you can always spice things up a bit with a quick round of ‘Would You Rather…’.
- Go exploring! Head out with your flatmates to pick up some shopping (and those little things you inevitably forgot to bring from home - batteries, anyone?) and get your bearings. Freshers’ Fayre also gives you the perfect excuse to drag everyone out and grab some freebies.
What it's like living in halls
Let’s be real here: 99% of rooms in halls consist of a bed, a desk, a chair and a wardrobe. If you’re lucky, you might get an ensuite bathroom, but most students will be sharing a bathroom and kitchen. It’s not as bad as you might think, especially once you’ve sussed out your flatmates’ schedules and you know the best time to take a shower undisturbed.
There are lots of choices to make when it comes to halls. Do you want your own bathroom? Do you want to go catered or self-catered? What amenities do you want to be near? How will you get to your lectures? These will be things you'll want to think about when it comes time to apply for a room.
Once you're there, one of the best ways to settle in at uni is to make your room feel more homely. This might mean bringing a few things from home, like your favourite bedding or photos or a rug, or putting your interior design skills to the test with everything IKEA has to offer.
One top tip is to put up a string or two of fairy lights so you can dodge the bright overhead lighting, while a reed diffuser will make your room smell dreamy.
Watch this video to hear about UEA student George's experience of living in uni halls (or click the spoiler to read a transcript)
Hi everyone! I'm George, I'm a third-year student at UEA. Today I'm just gonna be talking a little bit about living in halls at university.
Obviously I'm a third-year; I no longer live in halls, but I remember at the time my favorite thing was just the sense of community that you have while you are living there.
You have a bunch of other people living away from home - probably for the first time - and because of it you have a lot in common and become super close.
In terms of making your space feel like home - decorate it. Whatever you like in your bedroom, put it in your bedroom. Whether it's plants, whether it's photos, anything to put in your personality to make it really feel like home.
So arriving at your halls for the first time is terrifying. Exciting but terrifying so like my top tip would be just to spend a lot of your time in the communal space as much as possible if it's the kitchen whatever just lay camp there for a little while. And you kind of get to know people and you really kinda become friends with them. Because like everything is easier with friends so why not make sure that the people that you're living with are your friends.
There will be a few rules to abide by, and some of these are sensible (no BBQs in the kitchen, not propping open fire doors), and others can be a bit silly, like not sticking anything on your rules. Another top tip: just use Blu-Tack! We promise we won’t tell…
Common questions about halls
Who will I be living with?
You’ll be living with a whole mix of people. Generally the vast majority of people you’ll be living with will be other first years, and you can often get a headstart on getting to know your flatmates via dedicated Facebook groups. Find your uni’s forum on TSR and you’ll find lots of new and current students there too.
Will I have to share a room?
That’s up to you. Most people will have their own room, but you may be able to choose a shared room to slash the cost of halls (if you can handle the reduced privacy).
I’m not going to stay in halls - am I doomed to have no friends?
Halls are just one way to meet new people. If you end up living at home or in private housing, you’ll have plenty of other opportunities to make friends, including lectures, freshers’ events, the Student Union and societies. By throwing yourself into any events that catch your eye, you'll be constantly meeting new people.
What if I hate my halls?
Give it a chance - and we’re talking a couple of months, not a couple of days. It can feel a bit weird when you're new in halls, but people generally settle in once they’ve get used to their new surroundings. After a couple of months, if you're still not happy, talk to your uni’s accommodation department about your options and see if you can switch into different halls.
University sports clubs and societies
Clubs and societies are hands down one of the best things about uni. This is your chance to try your hand at any weird and wonderful activities you’ve always wondered about. Why not have a go at rowing, debating or a new language? Or you could write for your uni magazine, sample some culinary delights in gastronomic society or learn to code.
And if you have a brilliant idea for a society that doesn’t exist yet, you can even apply for funding from your Student Union to set it up yourself.
University student union websites will show which societies are running. Or, once you arrive, you can visit the Freshers’ Fayre. You’ll be bombarded with sign-up sheets from slightly overenthusiastic reps from each society, but you can sign up for free tasters of whatever takes your fancy - and you’ll also scoop armfuls of freebies in the process.
The sports fair is for you if you fancy representing your team in the university leagues, learning a new sport or just keeping fit. Try out for the rugby team, take to the river as a rower or show your support by joining the cheerleading squad - there’s almost too much choice, and it’ll get you chatting to a whole new group of people to expand your social circle.
In this video, Becca explains her experience of meeting new people at uni (click the spoiler tag to read a transcript)
Hi guys, it's Becca from UEA and today I'm gonna be talking about what it's like meeting new people at uni and how to make new friends.
Meeting my flatmates for the first time - it was really scary cuz they're new people I don't really know them, but it's really exciting getting to know new people and, you know, people that I'm gonna be living with for the next year.
The most exciting thing about living with new people though is getting to know different accents and cultures because everyone has a different story so there's new stories and things to learn on the way.
So, with meeting new people, shyness is really common. But my top tip for that would be to just try new things - and even meeting new friends at uni you're gonna meet them in different places so you should try all new societies that you can and, you know, just try everything: leave no stone unturned.
How not to starve (or 'cooking for yourself at uni')
So you’ve absolutely rinsed your Deliveroo free trial for the first couple of weeks, the staff at Maccy’s already know you by name and you’ve munched through all the snacks your mum left you. It's at this stage that you'll realise it might just be… time to cook.
If you’re already a bit of a whizz in the kitchen, you’ll make yourself very popular very fast. But if your culinary skills extend no further than making toast (and you won’t be alone!), you’ll need to add a few basic recipes to your repertoire to avoid blowing your entire student loan on overpriced ready meals.
We reckon there are three things every student needs to know how to cook. Once you have these down, you can add whatever other ingredients are reduced in the supermarket that day to make a tasty meal.
Chuck your pasta in a pan of boiling water for 10-15 minutes (check the pack). Adding a glug of oil can help stop the pasta from sticking. Then drain it in one of the six colanders you have somehow accumulated in your kitchen, stir in some pesto or sauce from a jar and voila! A super easy, super cheap meal. Top with cheese, olives or cooked veggies if you’re feeling fancy.
Another easy one - boil your rice for 10-15 minutes. While that’s cooking, heat up a jar of curry sauce and cook up some meat, tofu or veggies to go with it, and you have yourself the easiest curry ever.
The ultimate lazy/hangover meal. Just rip open the packet, leave the ramen in boiling water for a couple of minutes and you're good to go. If you’re really pushing the boat out, stick a poached or fried egg on top. Easy!
Food costs can quickly add up when you’re paying for yourself, so you might choose to buy some communal staples with your flatmates to keep spending down.
You can also time your supermarket trips for when they start reducing food that’s close to its sell-by date (lots of this fresh food can be frozen), and use cheap pulses like chickpeas and lentils to bulk up your meals for healthy, satisfying food.
Budget supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl also sell own-brand versions of popular foods for a fraction of the cost of the main supermarkets, so be sure to check them out to grab some bargains.
How to budget at uni
Let’s just put this out there: the vast majority of students are skint at uni. When that first loan payment hits your account, it can be tempting to blow the lot on rounds of shots and Domino’s deliveries, but learning to budget is a super important part of living independently.
Even the most financially savvy students can struggle with temptation, so it’s important that you flex those willpower muscles and spend wisely.
Seeing as most students have just moved out of home, they don’t have a clue how to budget. Handily, this thread has a downloadable budget to help you sort out your money situation so that you’re not eating cereal three times a day for four months straight.
Watch this video to hear UEA student Sam's advice on managing life on a student budget (or click the spoiler to read a transcript)
Hi everyone. It's Sam from UEA. I'm gonna be talking about managing your money at university.
Managing your money and learning to budget is really difficult at first. I found I was often sort of just spending without really thinking about what I might need that money for later.
But something I found really helped was having a savings account or something separate that I could move money into; money that I knew that was gonna be needed in that month, whether it was rent, food, shopping, anything like that, I moved it away so that I knew I had that to the side and I could spend the rest on whatever I wanted.
I actually found money management harder in the later few years; once you move out of halls you have a lot more costs you need to think about more regularly but the upside to that is you tend to go out less.
Your socialising...you know, everyone's in the same situation so we'll just go around to someone's house and watch a film instead of going to a bar and spending money. So you can make it work whatever you do and everyone understands because we're all the same.
As long as you send in your student finance application before the deadline, you should receive your first loan payment at the start of term in September - just in time for Freshers’ Week. A lot of people find applying for loans stressful, so there’s plenty of advice over in our Student Finance forum if you have any questions.
You’ll also want to open a student bank account before term starts. You may well have had the same bank account since you were a kid, but a student account gives you an interest-free overdraft (an absolute lifesaver at the end of term when you have about 16p left from your loan) and often other goodies, like a 16-25 railcard (perfect for those weekend trips home) or cash rewards. International students can apply for special international student bank accounts, or a standard current account. Our article on the best student bank accounts will give you a good idea of the accounts on offer.
Your student ID card is also your golden ticket for grabbing student discounts at all sorts of places, from high-street shops to pubs (especially those close to your uni) and even transport providers for cheap bus and coach travel. You’ll also want to sign up for a free online service like UNiDAYS or StudentBeans to score discounts on your online shopping.
But if you DO find yourself broke, seek advice before you do anything else. Your uni can help if you’re struggling with money, and there will be a hardship fund available for students who have run out of options. Where possible, avoid payday loans - the interest rates can be HUGE, and you can end up more in debt than before you took the loan out. Your uni’s support team should be your first port of call to help get your finances back on track.
What lectures are like
Studying at uni is way different to what you’re used to at sixth form. Gone is the tedious lesson > homework > revision > exam cycle, and in come lectures, seminars, labs, coursework, independent study and research in the library.
Science students will spend a lot of time in labs carrying out experiments, while humanities students will get to know every nook and cranny of the library.
While you’ll probably experience a drop in teaching hours, you’ll be knees deep in independent study, so learning to create a great study timetable is a must - highlighters at the ready!
Uni terms explained:
Lectures will be the most similar to your college lessons - there will probably just be more people and less room for interaction. There may be hundreds of students in some of your lectures! Come prepared with a notepad or laptop to take notes and jot down anything you don’t understand - you can always ask any questions in your seminars.
Seminars are much smaller than lectures, and are usually focused around discussing the material from lectures and possibly solving some problems in groups. You’ll usually be expected to have completed some reading before each seminar, so come ready to discuss your thoughts. This is also your chance to clarify anything you don’t quite understand, so don’t be afraid to grab your tutor.
If you’re currently studying science subjects, you should be familiar with labs. In labs, you’ll be doing supervised experiments in very practical, hands-on lessons. They’re all about demonstrating techniques and collecting data, which you’ll then write up into a lab report.
Watch Toyin's video to hear more about what it's like studying at uni (or click the spoiler tag to read the transcript)
Hey guys, it's Toyin here from UEA and today's video is going to be on uni versus school, the different type of teaching styles.
So the biggest difference between studying at school and uni would have to be the fact that it's a little bit more independent than it would have been at school, so it's just expected to sort of do a little bit more by yourself than you would have done at school.
However, another big thing is that you are now just doing a single subject and it's just great because you're focused on the thing that you enjoy the most and you get to put all your energy and your passion into that.
So what can be surprising about lectures is the number of students in there, so it's a bit different to school there can be up to like a hundred people inside of the lecture. But the best way to make the most of a lecture is to - if you have access to the slides - have a look at those first so that you have an idea of what's going on.
What I do enjoy the most about lectures is it does remind me of school, it's like a classroom where you're taught the knowledge before you go away and develop your own ideas on what the subject is.
City unis, campus unis and going out
There are two main types of university: city unis and campus unis.
City unis are - unsurprisingly - based in cities, and the uni buildings tend to be spread around the city. Chances are you’ll need to catch public transport to get to your classes. At campus unis, your student accommodation (at least in first year) will be in the heart of a dedicated student village, with everything you need within walking distance.
There are pros and cons of each. City unis give you the opportunity to explore your new city and give the best experience of independent living, but it can be trickier to get around, while campus unis are super convenient and make socialising easy, but you may not venture off-campus and into your new city too often.
At both city and campus unis, your student union will be a great spot for cheap drinks and meeting people, and there will be lots of pubs, bars and clubs set up to cater to students. Mid-week is when you’ll find all the best student nights, and you can grab loads of drinks deals and cheap entry to clubs keen to attract the lively student crowds.
If you choose a campus uni and want to check out the nightlife in town, you’ll need to hop on public transport (don’t forget to ask for a student fare!) or share a taxi or Uber - your Student Union can recommend a list of trusted taxi companies. At a city uni, you’ll quickly become an absolute pro at hopping on and off buses, trams and tubes (don’t forget to grab a student Oyster card if you’re in London), and you’ll be able to carve out your own completely unique experience of the city.
Looking after yourself at uni
Unless you've already lived away from home, going to uni is going to be your first experience of 'life admin': thrilling things such as paying bills, doing the washing and finding accommodation.
In halls, your bills are generally included in your rent, but once you move into private accommodation, it’s your responsibility. That includes everything from gas, electricity and water to your internet connection and any parking permits.
Some halls provide a cleaning service to clean the communal areas, though not all do, so it’s worth checking if you’ll need to stock up on your own cleaning products. Either way, you’ll be responsible for keeping your own room (relatively) clean and tidy, and you’ll be responsible for doing your own laundry too. Keep hold of your loose change so you can power the machines!
You’ll also want to think about security. Students are seen as easy targets, so shut your windows when you go out and be aware of anyone you don’t recognise in your flat. It’s definitely worth getting contents insurance - it may seem like an unnecessary expense right now, but if your laptop gives up the ghost or your phone screen smashes, you’ll be very grateful that you don’t need to shell out the full amount for a replacement.
Watch Shay's video to hear more about looking after yourself at uni (or click the spoiler tag to read the transcript)
Hi everybody. I'm Shay, a second year maths students from UEA and I'm going to tell you about my experiences of living alone at uni.
As with everything, living alone comes with its challenges. My biggest challenge was looking after myself and staying healthy.
With the big student loan coming every few months, it's easy to fall in the traps of takeaways and microwave meals. My biggest skill that I learned from living alone was cooking. I dealt with this and I learnt new skills cooking and I came out of it a better person
Another thing to worry about is having a stressful day. Surround yourself with your flatmates, get to know them and make a social event out of everything from cooking to doing the laundry
My favorite thing about living independently is that you can do whatever you want, whenever you want in your own time, the way you want to do it. There's no one to show you how to do things and when to do things that's too late - you can do it whenever you want
I'm most proud of myself for learning the life skills that I did when I was living alone such as cooking and doing the laundry and just doing my own thing how I wanted to do it. My top tip for starting uni is to socialise whenever you can. Don't isolate yourself; surround yourself with friends and your flatmates.
Another boring, but important thing to remember is to keep track of all your documents - and there are A LOT of documents to keep safe at uni. Bills, contracts, student finance letters - tuck them all away in a folder. Hopefully you won’t need them for anything, but if you do, it’ll save you from trawling through endless emails to track down your customer number.
Support at uni
At uni, you have access to an entire support team whose job it is to help you with everything from accommodation to finance to your mental health. You will also be assigned a personal tutor who can help you with any administrative or personal issues, or refer you to the person who can.
When you move into halls, you will meet your accommodation reps, who live on-site and will have regular drop-in hours for any questions you may have.
International students will often have dedicated events to help them get settled in their new country and meet people, and even if you’re commuting from home, there are often events to help you meet other students who are travelling in from home.
A lot of people feel anxious and homesick when they first move out, but there’s plenty of support available to help you deal with it.
The Student Union can provide you with advice and support and most will have a representation service which will support you if you run into any tricky situations with your course or personal stuff. Nightline, a national student peer-to-peer listening service, will also be based at the SU. There will be a multi-faith chaplaincy on campus supported by members of each faith and religion that you’ll be able to talk to as well as faith-based student groups.
You’ll also need to take care of your health - both mental and physical. During Freshers’ Week, head along to your uni’s health centre to register with a GP, and you may want to consider registering with a local dentist (though some students prefer to stick with their home dentists). It may not be the most exciting item on your list, but it’s important to get this ticked off in case the dreaded freshers’ flu comes your way. Before you go to uni, it’s also worth getting a meningitis vaccine, as students are considered an at-risk group.
Absolutely everyone will feel homesick at some point, and usually it will pass, but if it’s affecting your mental health, you will have access to mental health support services, such as counselling or talking therapies, as well as support for any existing mental health conditions. You can also access sexual health services for those very important STI screenings, stashes of free condoms and access to contraception.
Watch Zuza's video to hear about how student support helped when she was thinking of dropping out (or click the spoiler tag to read the transcript)
Hiya, this is Zuza from UEA and today I'm quickly gonna talk to you about support I got at uni.
So to me it was really hard when I first came to uni and I had to adjust to all the changes and on top of that I was really homesick and it got to a point where I considered dropping out.
So I made an appointment with support services to speak to someone about it and they really helped me. They just discussed my options with me, what I could do if I did drop out and well in the end I obviously decided not to - but it was so helpful to have someone to speak to.
There are different people you can speak to at uni depending on what problems you have. If you have academic problems your advisers will be amazing, but there's also a wellbeing service, a student support, a finance service...so there is plenty of people to talk to and my top tip is: if you do need help, ask for it.
How to find jobs at uni
If you’re a bit strapped for cash, you might want to think about getting a part-time job to fund your late-night cheesy chips habit. Of course, as with having a job while you’re at college, you’ll need to find a job that you can fit around your studies.
Building up some work experience while you’re at sixth form will help you clinch a job at uni, but it’s not the end of the world if you can’t.
Just make sure your CV and cover letter template are up to date with all your relevant experience and academic results. And, if you're coming to the UK as an international student, remember that your work opportunities are dependent on your visa restrictions.
Common job types as a student
Pros: Reliable, fixed schedule, fixed income
Cons: Less flexible, may clash with unexpected uni commitments
Pros: A good way to top up your income with no obligation to accept shifts
Cons: The employer isn’t obliged to provide you with a minimum number of hours, so it’s an unreliable source of income
Pros: Get a varied range of professional experience
Cons: The length of contract will vary between employers, so it can be tricky to fit contracts around your uni schedule
Student Union jobs
Pros: It’s based on-site, so it’s convenient and generally easier to fit shifts around your studies
Cons: They’re very popular, so it can be harder to snag a coveted spot
You should also make sure you’re being paid at least minimum wage in your role:
- National Living Wage: £8.72/hour
- Workers aged 21-24: £8.20/hour
- Workers aged 18-20: £6.45/hour
Watch out for dodgy employers who try to pay you less - for example by asking you to go self-employed, paying you ‘cash in hand’ (i.e. with cash, without paying your wage into your bank account) or including tips in your wage.
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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