Top Tips for Surviving Student Life:
What You Need to Know Before and During University
Student life is both hugely rewarding, and enormously frustrating for many people.
We asked current and recent students to tell us what they wished they had known before embarking on university.
These are their top tips for managing student life.
1. Your student loan will feel like a lot of money—but it has to last you all term
When your loan drops into your bank account, it will almost certainly be one of the largest sums of money you have ever seen. However, by the time you have paid your rent, and any university dues, it will be a LOT smaller. By the end of term, you may well find that you are struggling not to be overdrawn.
Before you spend anything, draw up a budget (and see our page on Budgeting for more about how to do this).
Our page on Budgeting for Students also provides advice on other ways that you can manage your money better, and other economic issues that you may want to consider.
2. Look at ways to save money, especially on food
You need to eat (reasonably) well to remain healthy. At the start of term, it is easy to get sucked into buying lunches out, or coffee, leaving you surviving on baked beans towards the end of term.
Instead, try to buy in bulk and cook or plan ahead so that you can save a bit of money on food. It is also worth finding out when your local shops reduce food that is close to its sell-by date, because this can be a very good time to buy staples like bread. Especially if you share with friends, this can be a good way to buy cheaply but eat well.
3. Don’t get stressed about friendships.
There is a lot of rhetoric about how you will meet your ‘lifelong friends’ at university. This puts pressure on people to make those friendships IMMEDIATELY, which can be very stressful. Many people struggle in their first year because they feel that they haven’t yet made good friendships and they might get left behind.
In reality, most people don’t make those close friendships until their second or third year, when they have relaxed a bit and got to know people better.
What’s more, this means that a lot of friendships form and break up again in the first couple of years, especially when one or other of you is under pressure. Don’t worry too much about this.
Not every friendship in your life—at university or not—is going to last forever, and nor would you want it to do so.
4. Never give in to peer pressure
If you find that you are uncomfortable about doing something, don’t do it.
If your friends put pressure on you to do it, then they are probably not your friends.
See our page: Peer Resistance Skills for more.
5. Students in higher years can be a good source of advice
Students in their second, third and fourth years, especially those doing the same course as you, can be a great source of advice and information.
They know your tutors and supervisors, they know the course material, and they know the town or university.
They can tell you who will accept late submissions and who won’t, which books or journals are essential reading, where the academic shortcuts lie, and even which parts of town are safe to live in.
Your university may provide opportunities to get to know them—but if not, go and find them and introduce yourself. They may also have a social media group that you can join, so that you can ask questions when you need.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
It is OK to feel anxious at times. Everyone does. You are experiencing a lot of new things and it is normal to feel a bit overwhelmed, especially at first. It’s also normal to find that the work is hard: university is a big step up (and postgraduate study is a further step up again).
However, if your anxiety becomes constant, or if you’re feeling like you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, or you really can’t cope with your work, ask for some help.
Talk to your tutor, or a college counsellor. A problem shared is often a problem halved.
For more about managing anxiety, you may want to read our page What is Anxiety? If you are worrying about what people will think of you, you may find our page on Managing Status Anxiety is helpful.
It’s also quite reasonable to call your parents regularly. It’s not a weakness to phone them every day if you want. After all, you’re used to talking to them that often, and they’ll always be pleased to hear from you.
7. Be open to risks and opportunities—but stay safe
There are very few times like university, when you can do crazy things without (any photographic or social media evidence apart) risking it affecting your whole life.
We are not suggesting that you should go out and take drugs, or drink too much, or have unprotected sex—because that obviously could affect the rest of your life. You do need to stay safe.
However, you can take opportunities to do something a bit different and perhaps well outside your comfort zone, whether it is an optional course, or a new hobby. It will never be so easy to try new things again.
8. Certain items of equipment are essential for student life
You will, for example, need a kettle and a good quality non-stick frying pan (or wok).
You may also find it helpful to have a wooden door wedge, because most doors in student accommodation are fire doors, and shut automatically. A door wedge can make it much easier to socialise across several rooms.
Ear plugs also come highly recommended, to prevent yourself from being woken up several times a night by other students as they come home from the pub or a party.
If you’ve never worn ear plugs before, get used to them before you leave home. Sleeping in student halls or flats is strange enough without adding to it by inserting bits of plastic in your ears for the first time.
Parents of students also recommend a waterproof coat, even though this is not at all ‘cool’. You have been warned!
You will also want to make your accommodation more homelike, so it is worth taking some things from home such as a rug or throw, some cushions, and some pictures or posters.
9. Don’t rely too much on technology—it won’t help you make friends or work efficiently
Your phone is an important tool for staying updated, and connected once you have made friends. However, it won’t help you to make friends, and it’s also a tool for distraction and procrastination.
Make some rules: no phone while you’re studying, perhaps, or just 30 minutes a day of browsing, to keep you on track. Make sure that you also take time to go out and meet people face-to-face. Everyone needs human contact.
10. Be organised
It is important for your mental health and general academic performance that you feel (more or less) in control at least most of the time. This can only be achieved if you are organised.
You will also need to be organised about finding a place to work. You need somewhere that works for you, whether that’s your desk, the library, or a friendly coffee shop.
Our pages on Organising Skills and Getting Organised for Study explain more about how you can get and keep yourself organised for study.
11. Remember that you won’t love everything
There will inevitably be parts of university that you don’t like.
You may take a dislike to one of your lecturers or tutors, or a particular class, or (most likely) some of your fellow-students. That’s OK. You don’t have to like everything. However, don’t let it get to you, and spoil your college experience. Just avoid the bits you dislike as much as possible, enjoy the other bits, stay focused on your goals, and try to have fun more often than not.
12. Remember to take time out to relax
You don’t have to be busy all the time. Fear of missing out often keeps freshers in particular on the go from morning to, well, morning in some cases. If you try to do this, you may well find that you burn out.
It is important to take time out to do nothing.
Just relax by yourself, or spend some quiet time with people you like. Go home for the weekend if you can, or just have ‘down time’.
If you find it hard to relax, you may want to read our pages on relaxation and relaxation techniques.