What I wish I knew when I first started university

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Looking back on your past, it’s easy to see how you could have done things differently…and better. But you can’t turn back the clock; you simply learn from your mistakes and embrace the future possibilities (and giving a big fat hug to the here and now).

I didn’t find out some things until after it was too late, or I only got in on the goodness later down the line. Either way, it pays to know as soon as possible.

photo by emilbacik

photo by emilbacik

Because of this, here are just a handful of the things I wish I’d known at the start of my degree. By no means exhaustive, but certainly important points:

The Students’ Union is for more than entertainments.

This is the main thing I wish I understood better as soon as I went off to study. One of the first things I did with TheUniversityBlog was to highlight the role of the Students’ Union. It operates to represent YOU, as a student. If you have study issues, accommodation problems, and any comments or queries relating to your capacity as a student, your SU is the place to go. It covers your education, your development, your social life, your legal rights, your access, your personal rights and expectations, and much more.
Students, like you, are voted in each year to represent everyone in matters of education & welfare, entertainments, publicity & promotion, clubs & societies, minority group recognition and rights, and so on.  It’s all designed to help you make the most of your university and champion your role as a student.

You don’t need to know everything about uni life the second you arrive on campus.

When Freshers turn up to register, they are bombarded with booklets, leaflets, timetables, courses, lectures, dos and don’ts, official forms and requests, and a wealth of documents designed to help you sort out most things.  If lucky, a lot of the gumph will be sent to you in the weeks before leaving for uni.
However, most things won’t matter to you the moment you start.  Maybe they will never matter to you.
There are two main groups of students…those who read everything and become overwhelmed by the outpouring of information, and those who chuck everything to one side and prepare to have fun fun fun!
Don’t go to either extreme. Just take all the stuff you can and put it together in a safe place for reference. Then – if and when you do need the information – you’ll know where it is, even if you need to rifle through for a minute to find the relevant details.
Familiarise yourself with what’s there by all means, but don’t panic that you’ll forget some of it. The help is there to do exactly that. Help. It’s pointless if you need help digesting the help!

The more fun you have with your study, the better you should achieve.

As I moved through the years at uni, I became increasingly aware that I could write papers saying exactly what I felt about a subject. So long as I backed up my thoughts with relevant references and explained why I disagreed with some famous (or not so famous) academic author’s theory, it was fine.
The work you’re assessed on is not simply about getting ticks and gold stars. It’s about making a convincing argument, explaining how you came to that conclusion, and backing up every point you make. Some students worry that they have referred to too many authors and texts, but the more you can show background reading and research, the better.  Critical thinking rules (as my previous rant post on what bugs me should show…)
The common concern is that too many references look like the student has taken loads of other people’s ideas. But it’s the opposite issue that causes the problem. If you don’t refer to authors, yet pass off ideas, theories and opinions as your own, that’s plagiarism.
Reading around a topic and showing initiative is all part and parcel of breathing fresh air into your work and achieving a higher than average grade. Feel free to refer to all sorts of obscure titles to back your arguments up, so long as it’s actually relevant to your work of course!

Catered accommodation is not worthwhile unless you commit totally to on-site food.

While I was never in catered accommodation, it became clear that many of those who paid in advance for their food ended up paying again. Instead of enjoying lunch in the canteen, they’d buy snacks on the go to save time (but not money). They’d see the benefit in buying in pizzas, chinese meals and the like with mates elsewhere on campus. They’d get a craving for a food that’s not available to them and go to the supermarket to satisfy the craving instead of eating what the uni has to offer.
At the end of each term/semester, students who I’d barely shared a word with were offering their pre-paid catering card to me to enjoy lunch, dinner, and whatever goodies I liked.  With so much money left to spend on their cards, the students just wanted to get rid of the balance before it disappeared for good. And all at a time when everyone was saving as much money as possible to go out to the end of term parties. So…

Make friends with people in catered accommodation!

Read above again if you’re not sure why. Free food thanks to other people’s weaknesses? Yes please!
Okay, so I mention above that near strangers were offering me a free ride on their cards, but it’s better to have a large network for the greatest benefit.  At the end of one particular term, I got all my lunches and dinners cooked and paid for me for an entire week. No money, no preparation, no washing up. Luxury!
But it took a few terms before I got in on the act strategically. I wish I’d thought about it sooner. And don’t worry, those friends will be grateful that you’re spending their catering cash. It’s a win-win situation… 😉

What else?

Now to all you current and ex-students. What would you tell new students to be aware of when they arrive?


  1. I wished I knew how to calculate my Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA). Nobody told us juniors how to calculate our CGPAs until it was too late. By the time I realized the importance of a high CGPA, there was nothing I could do to further increase it 😦

  2. Good point, pelf. If we aren’t made aware of the important issues that can make a difference, it’s easy to look back with regret. When it’s too late, you’re no longer in a suitable situation to pick yourself up with ease (if at all).

    I don’t view my losses with regret. In my life I’ve seen opportunities come and go. It happens to all of us. But if the passion for something remains, it’s never too late to find more opportunities and catch them this time! From what I read on your blog, I have a feeling you take a similar approach and make the most of all your experiences, which is awesome!

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