Going to university is one of the biggest emotional (and financial) decisions you’ll ever make. Loads of people describe university as the best time of their life. However, if, like me, you chose to apply and realised you knew nothing about it, you have no idea where to start, either.
Nobody in my family went to university before me, so I couldn’t even ask anyone all my questions. Well, this guide will take you through all the things I wanted to know before I started university.
I won’t pretend the transition to university isn’t a difficult one, both physically and mentally. Continue reading this guide and use it as a resource to help you with the key elements of transitioning to university.
Table of Contents
How is university different to school and college?
The transition to university feels a lot like the transition from Year 6 to Year 7, except this time you’re an independent adult – which, for a lot of people, can be super intimidating. University is very different to school and college not just in academics, but socially too. Below, I’ll explain why.
The most noticeable difference between school/college and university is that the style of learning is totally different. My advice is to throw out everything you know about the school structure. Trust me, it only makes university more confusing.
Generally, you’re given freedom to do whatever you want (within reason). In essays, you can write about whatever interests you.
Similarly, outside of your education, you can spend your time however you want. At university, you’re treated like an adult – just remember you have adult responsibilities too.
How do you apply for student loans for university?
In the UK, students can apply for student loans through Student Finance. Student Finance is tied to the government, and you can find information about what to do on the government website. For example, information about Student Finance England can be found here.
For mature students, the process of receiving student loans is a lot more complex. If you’re a mature university student and need to know about student loans, this Think Student article has some information you’ll find helpful.
Should you set up a student bank account for university?
Set up a student bank account as soon as your student loans are confirmed. Banks such as Santander, Nationwide, and HSBC often have rewards for creating a student account with them. These can include things like a free railcard or an extra £100 in your bank account when you deposit money into your account.
Take time to sit down and go through what each bank is offering. I personally used Money Saving Expert to help me decide which bank was best for me.
How do you get a student discount at university?
You can sign up for student discount as soon as your university place is confirmed. The most popular sites are UniDays and Student Beans.
For example, the link to UniDays can be found here. All you have to do to sign up is create an account and verify it, so that you can use student discount codes.
Student discount is something I’d recommend for all students. Even in your first week of university, you’ll struggle with budgeting. Student discounts are a great way to save money here and there, which adds up in the long term!
A lot of students also make the mistake of thinking that student discount is just for clothes, stationery etc. Student discount can be used on most things including meals, which is super useful if you’re planning a night out on a budget. To read more about why university is expensive, check out this Think Student article.
Which university expenses do student loans cover?
There are two types of student loan: the fee for your studies, which goes straight to your university, and your maintenance loan. The study fee won’t be transferred to you and is used to fund your degree.
Your maintenance loan is paid to you in termly instalments. I’ll explain exactly what it involves.
Depending on your household income (which you supply when applying for student finance), you get a set amount of money for a maintenance loan. This is money for general university expenses; most if not all of it will go toward accommodation rent, and then other expenses like food.
When do you get your student ID at university?
Most universities will ask you to fill out a form for your student ID shortly after results day. Then, the information is processed so that once you arrive for freshers’ week, you’ll be able to collect your student ID.
If you don’t get your ID in the first week of term, you should contact your university/college. If you want a full in-depth guide to the process of obtaining a student ID, then you should read through this Think Student article.
How do you apply for university accommodation?
Applying for accommodation is something you’ll have to do through the university. If you’re going to live in accommodation provided by your university, you need to apply for a place in halls via the accommodation office.
However, you might not want to live on university campus. I know that for me, it was definitely a long time before I decided where I wanted to live. If this sounds like you, then this Think Student article about living at home may be helpful.
How do you finance university accommodation?
University accommodation is expensive – this is something you can read about here in a Think Student article. The main source of finance for university accommodation is your maintenance loan.
However, what you won’t be told is that sometimes your student loan might not cover the cost of accommodation. You might need other means of finance.
Lots of students choose to work part- or full-time jobs, provided your university allows it. For information on how many student work whilst at university, visit this Think Student article.
3 things you should do before you start university to help with the transition
The transition to university is daunting, there’s no doubt about it. In the days leading up to my first day, all I could think about was all the things I didn’t know.
Unfortunately for me, I had nobody I could ask. That’s why I’ll be taking you through the most important things to do before starting university.
1. Check out the university freshers’ website
The freshers’ website for your university will have all the relevant information you need. I found it helpful to read through all the information on the university website whilst I was at home. This way you can start to feel somewhat like you know what to expect when you arrive.
2. Visit the city of your university
Although travel can be expensive, visiting your university city is a great way to get to know the city. I’d recommend scoping out good restaurants to eat at, and places to shop. There should also be a lot of social opportunities, so it’d be nice to find somewhere to bring your friends.
3. Make a list of what you need to bring to university
Sometimes, freshers’ websites will offer a general outline of what to bring to university. I’d argue that it’s still better to make your own plan.
Make a list of things in your bedroom and kitchen that you use often if not daily. I’d also recommend leaving a few days to go shopping, as stores can get busy before the start of term.
What is a university timetable like?
University has a variety of different classes, including lecturers, seminars and tutorials. You can read about these in this Think Student article.
These may be more or less depending on whether you do a single or joint honours course. You can read about how many courses you can take in this Think Student article.
What do you need to buy for university?
A common misconception is that you need to buy a new set of absolutely everything for university. Trust me, you don’t have to. Half of the things I bought for university I didn’t even end up needing.
That’s not to say that shopping for university isn’t valuable, though. As I mentioned under the section about making a list for university, make a note of things you use the most.
I’d recommend buying some new clothes for university if you can afford it, but don’t feel like you have to. This Think Student article tells you all about how many clothes you should buy for university.
However, it’s important that you don’t feel pressured into buying new clothes to look “cool”.
How busy is university life?
University will get busy quickly. It’s better to, while you’re still at home, create a rough plan of what you want to do before you go to university.
Universities will usually release their freshers’ timetables a week or two before new students arrive. Try to stay up to date with all the new information!
How to make friends at university
Making friends at university is definitely the most intimidating part of your transition. I definitely felt the pressure to talk to people all the time.
You might feel like everybody knows everybody, or that people have already formed friendship groups. The truth is, everyone feels just as nervous as you.
The key to making friends is to talk to anyone about anything. Even if it’s as simple as asking someone what their name and course is.
People will want to make friends just as much as you. If you aren’t someone who’s particularly sociable, like me, then it’s not as easy as it sounds – but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Your university or university college will definitely hold social events. Try to go to as many as you can without burning yourself out.
Equally, going to meals in your university/college hall is a great social opportunity. The most important advice I can give you for making friends at university is to try and relax, and talk to anyone that you see.