The Reality of University

Going to university can be some of the best or longest years of your life so far. I have experienced both types of uni life. I have attended three universities: Undergrad, PGCE and Masters. I have been a commuting, residential and long distance student. And I have seen the good, the bad and the mouldy (kitchens and bathrooms!)  So here are a few things I wish I’d have known before starting university:

Note: If you are living in the ‘Uni bubble of hopes and dreams’ please stop reading now…

Before your course starts:

  • Over your summer holidays you will probably receive a reading list of required books. If you buy every book on the list you will be in thousands of dept before you even start. I found that there are only 2-3 books that are referred to throughout the unit, which are necessary to reference in your essays/ work. So:

1. Wait a couple of weeks to see which books are mentioned a lot.

2. Book share: find someone on your course who you can share books with – so you don’t have to buy them all.

3. Charity Book Shop: Near every university there will be a university charity bookshop where old books are donated/ bought in cheaply and resold to new students – find this quickly to beat the competition.

4. Do not rely on the library – they will never have the books you need when you need them. If you are lucky enough to get your hands on the books – photocopy the pages you need – worth the time and money in the long run. (Huge tip: Also photocopy the inside front cover with the publishers details on and staple to the photocopied pages to help with referencing.)

  • Over summer you will probably also get a list of elective choices (you will have set modules as well). I advise that you pick electives that are a little different to give your degree, to add flavour and diversity. So in my Philosophy and Theology degree, for example, I also studied: Feminism, Gender and Politics.

Your Lectures:

  • Read the seminar set reading: you will understand and enjoy your lectures much more, if you actually know what people are talking about.
  • If your lecturer offers the opportunity for smaller essay targeted study groups: ATTEND! Your lecturer will more than likely give you big hints as to what they are looking for/ find interesting in the topic (don’t forget they mark your work, your essays are not marked externally.)
  • Set your deadlines in your phones and a reminder a week before to minimise panic writing.
  • Study Group/ Critical Friend: You will not have the opportunity in many cases to re-draft work or have feedback for improvement: one deadline = one mark. If this is the case find 3-4 like minded students who can proof read your work and act as a critical friend- peer assess.

Your Lecturers:

  • Will probably not know your name. They certainly will no know if you attend or not. They will receive your payment with or without your attendance.
  • Will talk quickly, at a high level and they will expect you to keep up. I advise that you record lectures on your mobile. Do not expect your lecturers to differentiate, re- explain something in simpler terms or slow down (enjoy it at college will it lasts.) If you don’t understand something ask a peer or research it.


  • Take part in as many groups/ societies/ fund raisers as you can. This will give your CV/ future applications (i.e for Masters) something interesting about you – other than ‘I’ve done a degree’.
  • Enjoy your first year: this year is designed to help you settle into uni life. Years 2 and 3 are when you seriously need to knuckle down.
  • Be aware that you do have to pay your student loan back one day. The uni fees now are very steep (£9,000 a year) without including accommodation, books etc. Just be aware when you are troughing into your third takeaway of the week or on your next drinking marathon, that even though your loan will not affect your credit rating, it may affect how much you can borrow for a mortgage. Mortgages may not even be on your radar yet but £40,000 worth of dept will impact your future life. Get a student job and watch your pennies still (nothing in life comes for free.)

With all that said I have also made lifelong friends, met some of the most admirable academics and have a treasure trove of memories from my years at uni. But it takes work.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.