Student Blog: Four things you need to do to survive university

Our blogger at Lancaster University, UK, offers four helpful tips for students and prospective students to foster independence, responsibility, a social network and the confidence to succeed at university.
January 6 2016

University is hard. You are essentially thrown into the deep end of life and expected to swim. From my personal experience, high school won’t prepare you for life at university, but maybe this blog will help. Today, I present to you four things you need to do in order to survive at university.

1. Get used to working independently

If you’ve got through the British education system, you have been had a helping hand at every turn. The same is probably true elsewhere – it is unlikely that you have had to complete independent research at the same level as you will have to do at university, wherever you went to school. At high school, you will have had regular classes, textbooks tailored to your course and all the help that your teacher can provide.

Things are very different at university – you will be expected to complete independent research and wider reading for your classes and assessments. While you can go to your lecturers, they will only be able to provide so much information. Their job is not to spoon-feed you information, but to help you understand what you uncover on your own.

There are a number of ways you can prepare for this shift in work mentality. If you are entering sixth form, look into whether your school or college offers an independent research qualification such as an EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) or STEM. Running your own project on a topic of your choice is a great way to become accustomed to doing research effectively, as well as helping you to pick up vital skills such as keeping to word limits and referencing. If your place of education does not offer something in this vein, just do it in your spare time. Choose something you are interested and compile a project on that topic. Hone your research skills; you won’t regret it.

2. Learn how to budget

Chances are that moving to university will be your first experience of living independently. One vital skill you need to learn before day one of university is how to budget. You do not have unlimited money and if you do not keep track of your cash, you will lose it all very quickly.

While it sounds daunting, budgeting is relatively simple. You need to work out how much money you will have and deduct. I recommend working on a monthly basis with a weekly breakdown of what you will need to spend, how much you will/can spend and how frequently you will spend that amount of money. I guarantee that you will have to make sacrifices, but if not having Netflix means you’re able to eat, it’s worth it.

On the topic of money, do not be afraid to ask for help. Parasitic companies such as payday loan companies will jump on the chance to ensnare you if you are afraid and unsure what to do, so it’s worth getting help before you  get that desperate. Most of you will only be 18 or 19 years old when you leave home and so people, like your parents, will understand if you mess up financially. Don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes and go to someone who can help you without hurting you in the long run.

3. Network and socialise

As a psychologist, I can tell you that humanity is a very social species. We cannot survive without social interaction but, then again, anyone who has played The Sims can tell you that. University is where you are going to build bonds with people, potentially for life. Don’t go to university and spend all your time work or commuting between home and the library, because you have then spent three years and £27,000 (figure may vary) for a library. Go out, make friends and experience new things. I assure you that you won’t regret it.

On a similar thread, I strongly encourage you to network. One of the best things you can do while at university is build up a network of contacts in industry and academia. These are the people who will offer you jobs and opportunities; these are the people who will write you a glowing reference for that job you really want. Don’t try to force this, but make use of the natural opportunities that life at university is sure to offer you and you will come out of university with a strong web of contacts that you can use to shape your future.

4. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion

I’ll admit I was terrible at doing this in my first year. However, if you never voice your opinion, nothing is going to change. You can shape your experience of university through what you say and do. Don’t like how a module is taught? Use the opportunity your department will provide you to share your opinion in order to improve the module. Disagree with a decision made by a student body? Raise your concerns so that things will be treated differently in the future. You should be free to speak your mind without fear of repercussion or dismissal. If you don’t speak out, the conversation never starts. While voicing your opinion is not essential to surviving university, it is a great way to be the change you want to see in the world. Change starts with you, and if you stand up and let yourself be heard, you can do great things with that opinion.    

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