Advice Hub

June 27, 2011

The complete guide to starting University

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Written by: Kyle Raffo
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One of the hardest tasks for freshers is to get to grips with the way university differs from school. It can be a shock when teachers start being really pleased if you answer back, and you don’t have to hand in your homework for weeks and weeks. You will also discover that since you can now smoke and snog without getting into trouble, university bike sheds tend to be mainly for bikes.

Like anything in life, preparation will help. This means talking to existing students on your course to get a realistic picture of how many rubbish lecturers there will be and how impossible it will be to keep on top of the workload or live on your student loan. Talk to friends and family, too, making sure they feel included in this exciting new step in your life and that they realise how much you will value their support until you meet more interesting people.

This will happen more quickly if you learn a few life skills before you start at university, such as being able to boil an egg, read a bank statement and put the right amount of bleach down a toilet.

One of the first things you should do when you arrive on campus is to walk around and identify all the buildings relevant to you before you have to find them in the five minutes to spare after realising your alarm failed to go off. Join the campus tour, library tour, even the tourist tour so that not only do you know where lectures are, you can also feel a full part of your new community.

You also need to join something – a society, seminar, bus queue – as soon as possible so you can start making friends. It is much harder to join things later in the term, so resist the temptation to appear mysteriously self-contained.

In any case, an air of mystery is hard to sustain when you are sharing a bathroom. So don’t be intimidated by other people’s mysterious personas either – they won’t be able to keep them up.

However, do make sure you know what is expected of you when it comes to academic work – and what you should be expecting from tutors. Don’t forget that they won’t yet know how capable you are, so it is up to you to make an impression, and to ask if you don’t understand something. No one will think you are stupid. But they might get irritated if they’ve just sent you an email explaining everything.

One of the biggest differences from school is that teachers won’t keep nagging you about deadlines, or even tell you how many hours of study you should be doing. Instead, you will have to work all this out for yourself.

You will need to learn to prioritise and leave plenty of time for assignments, especially at the beginning so that you can work out where to find things like books.

The most important thing is not to rush things, or expect too much from friends – or yourself – too soon. And remember, even if you ignore all advice, nobody is going to give you a detention.

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