What I wish I knew before starting University

Freedom of inquiry, freedom of discussion, and freedom of teaching – without these a university cannot exist

Robert M. Hutchins
Uni of Warwick Oculus Building

Hi everyone! I wanted to write this post having now finished my first year of study at the University of Warwick. I am studying a four year Law and Sociology degree and I have genuinely loved my time at Warwick so far. It has been such a journey for me and I have learned so much in my first year alone and so I wanted to reflect on this time and share the top 10 things I wish I knew before starting my University journey. These are things that are from my own personal experience so they might not apply to everyone and I really do think that going to University is a very different experience for different people. It’s also a nerve-racking but exciting experience and so I hope that this helps anyone who is preparing to start University in a few months time or is thinking about going in the future!

1. You might not meet your best friends on the first day and that’s ok!

I heard a lot of people talking about meeting their best friends early on into starting Uni and becoming super close with them very quickly and this was not at all the case for me. I think the main reason for this was that I was not best friends with the people I had been placed into my accommodation with (aside from one person in the flat) and so I didn’t have the experience of eating dinner as a flat or going out with flat mates. I could see other flats having dinner together and living like they had known each other for years and in my flat, nobody said a word to each other. I knocked on everyone’s doors on the first day and none of them were interested in making a relationship with the people in the flat so needless to say I was a bit panicked at first! I soon realised that there are a million different places to meet and make friends at Uni and that this was nothing to worry about at all. I now have a truly close group of friends and I wouldn’t change them for the world. I met many of them on my course so we have a lot in common and some I met completely by chance through bumping into them and starting a conversation. If anything, I wonder if we are closer since we became friends by choice and not because we were forced into living in the same flat with one another on the first day. So if you are nervous about starting Uni and are worried about who will be in your accommodation, I would say that yes it is nice to have people living with you that you like, but I promise it is not the end of the world if you don’t. I cannot wait for next year to live with the people I truly care about and love and we are just as close as if we had been in a flat together during first year anyway!

Uni of Warwick

2. There’s no point rushing into finding accommodation for second year

Everyone told me that you have to get in quick if you want the best houses for second year, which is partly true but I met so many people who signed contracts with people they only just met in order to get the best houses and then fall out with them or realise they didn’t want to live with them as time went on. There will be friends you want to live with and friends you don’t and both are ok and important. Being comfortable with where you’re living and who you’re living with is really important and you shouldn’t feel like you need to force something to work or change yourself to accommodate those you’re living with. I signed my contract in December or January which was the right time for me as I was sure of the group I wanted to live with. I think the most important thing is to find the time that’s right for you before you sign anything!

3. People will over exaggerate how much fun they’re having

Going to uni at the same time as my friends from home had many benefits including being able to relate to people you have known for years on a completely new and exciting experience. But I do wish I had reminded myself that everyone has a different Uni experience and at times, people will only put the best parts of their first day on social media. You will not see the anxiety, the awkward introductions, the homesickness or the loneliness online and so it is important to remember that everyone will want to show their best side on social media and may not always be entirely honest if Uni isn’t living up to what they hoped it would be.

4. You don’t need to buy all of the recommended textbooks

I made the decision to buy virtually all of the recommended books rather than take them out from the library so I could annotate and read at my own pace. This wasn’t entirely necessary, there were about 5 books that served me well throughout the whole year and that would have been inconvenient to keep checking out of the library- though this is still a good option. However I ended up purchasing some that I really didn’t even read as they were extra reading of articles that I could find online so it’s best to check what reading is essential from optional and whether it can be found online for free or at the library first. At my Uni, older students sold their books second hand which is where I bought a lot of mine from which was a really good option if that is available to you.

5. Wider reading cannot be underestimated

Different Unis will place a different amount of emphasis on this but I think particularly at Russell groups, wider reading is truly the key to getting top marks. This was something I also found hard at first due to the jump from A level to undergraduate level of study. This varies between Universities and I will admit that I found it hard being at a University where everyone was a high achiever in their home town and it made me feel like a small fish in a big pond which was admittedly something I was not used to. However, my personal goal was to avoid being a big fish in a small pond because I wanted the chance to push myself and so these feelings were completely normal as part of this experience. This is not the choice for everybody and there are many times where being a big fish in a small pond is better for that person, however this was not what my own personal goal was. I wish I had reminded myself at first to not compare myself to other people, particularly at different Unis as the marking is not standardised meaning that it may be harder to get a first at some places than others. Don’t focus on this, focus on the place you are at and doing the best that you can do as that’s really all that matters and this is something I have taken much too long to come to terms with.

Where I spend most of my time!

6. Start assignments even earlier than you have done before!

Starting assignments early is another key factor in getting good marks which I have always done throughout school but I think this escalated at Uni due to the amount of research that is required and the length of time it takes for me to compile a bibliography. Giving yourself the time to do significant research and citations is valuable to your work and now I start my assignments earlier than I have ever done in my life, particularly so that I can have a break and then read it again with a fresh mind days or even weeks later.

7. Not everyone lives up to uni stereotypes

The stereotype that everyone gets immensely drunk and isn’t that interested in learning I’m sure applies to some people and places, but not all. From my experience at Warwick there is a huge mix of people and you will be sure to find someone with the same interests as you. It’s a lot easier to find more balanced people who enjoy partying and learning than I ever expected, and the extreme stereotypes of each side are really not common place, though they do exist!

8. Not everyone will be single!

This was a worry of mine going to University as I was in a three year relationship and worried that no one would be able to relate to me on this and that I would have to accompany people on nights out and then be left at the end of the evening as they went off with other people! This actually never happened to me and in fact my best friend at Uni is also in a long term relationship and so understands me perfectly. So whilst people going on nights out might have these intentions, not everyone will and it’s important to say that my single friends have never pressured me or made me feel uncomfortable with them on a night out- we all encourage each other with whatever place we are at in our lives and I know they feel the same way about those of us in long term relationships.

9. You will feel homesick but nothing you can’t handle

It’s completely normal to find the adjustment hard and miss home. Be kind to yourself and remember that most people will feel exactly the same way, whether they admit it or not. I am super close to my family and boyfriend who were at home 2 and a half hours away and I did visit throughout the year and had my boyfriend visit me. This is ok too! A lot of people tell you not to go home too much which is good advice so that you settle in but it’s important to do what’s right for you, not what’s right for them or what is expected.

10. You will enjoy the experience more than you know

Uni is really what you make of it and there are so many incredible opportunities to be had. It’s also important to remember that it’s not for everyone so if you give it a fair shot and it doesn’t work out then that’s ok too! Just do what’s right for you, take every opportunity that you can and make the most of whatever path you are on!

I absolutely love the new sports and wellness hub!

The ability to read, write and analyse; the confidence to stand up and demand justice and equality; the qualifications and connections to get your foot in that door and take your seat at that table – all of that starts with education.

Michelle Obama

Thanks for reading my advice on what I wish I knew before starting uni. My thoughts go out to everyone in school right now in this uncertain time where it may be difficult applying to uni or preparing to start in such an uncertain time. You are not alone! XOX

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