111 Things You Learn Studying in Britain's University Cities
1. A determined group of students can achieve almost anything, except getting to 9am lectures on time.
2. A unicycle is a perfectly reasonable mode of transport.
3. A tandem is a perfectly reasonable mode of transport.
4. What you can transport on a bicycle is limited by your imagination, not by the laws of physics (or, for that matters, the laws of the road).
5. Wearing a ball gown is not an impediment to using a bicycle.
6. A harp is a normal thing to busk with.
7. The buskers are so good, they’ll ruin you for buskers anywhere else.
8. There is literally nothing that a tourist won’t try to take a photograph of.
9. Picnics are good but picnics in punts are better.
10. Punting is the best mode of transport.
11. Something founded in 1379 can be ‘new’ if you have the proper perspective.
12. A proper dinner is a Pot Noodle or three courses of fine dining at Formal Hall, and nothing in between.
13. All the best streets are cobbled.
14. It’s OK if Deliveroo couriers know your name, so long as you know theirs as well.
15. You never get tired of beautiful medieval buildings.
16. Except when it gets cold, when you can get tired of them very quickly.
17. Any setting is improved by either fairy lights or bunting.
18. Hummus is a food group.
19. If in doubt, addressing everyone with the title “Dr” usually avoids giving offence.
20. Unless they’re a professor, in which case they shouldn’t be offended, but they might be anyway.
21. A tradition isn’t really a tradition unless it’s been going on for at least five hundred years.
22. 20 society events a week is a pretty tame schedule.
23. There really is a society for every hobby, interest or leisure activity that anyone has ever thought of.
24. Some people will dedicate more time to their favourite society than they do to their degree.
25. Sometimes that dedication even turns into a career.
26. The society you join on a whim in Freshers’ Week not infrequently becomes a lifelong passion.
27. It’s OK to choose which societies to join on the basis of which ones handed out free pizza in Freshers’ Week.
28. One of the best things about university societies is trying out new hobbies that you wouldn’t otherwise have considered, so why not pick them on the basis of pizza?
29. When you first arrive, you’ll want to study in the pretty, historic library. By week two, you’ll want to study in whichever library has space and readily available plug sockets.
30. You can judge someone’s entire personality based on their fancy dress choices.
31. Relatedly, you can have a close friendship with someone you only see in fancy dress.
32. An academic gown can rescue almost any outfit.
33. There is nothing more over the top or impressive than the things that students are prepared to do in order to raise money for a good cause.
34. There’s nothing better than getting stuck into a huge book on something absolutely fascinating.
35. Unfortunately, this feeling is at its absolute best when you have an essay due on something completely different.
36. Essay ideas are always better in the shower than they are on paper.
37. Your room will never be as tidy as it is when you have an essay deadline.
38. Telling tourists made-up historical facts is fun, but what’s even more fun is telling them true facts that they’ll never believe.
39. Porters, like elephants, never forget. But thankfully, they forgive.
40. Sometimes the things other students have scribbled in the margins of the library copy of the book you have to read are more useful and insightful than the contents of the book itself.
41. There are some lovely parts of the city where students, for whatever reason, don’t generally go. When you find one of those parts, you’ll guard it jealously.
42. There’s no such thing as “too many brunch places”.
43. A surprising number of people think that red trousers are suitable wear for all occasions; similarly, those who think the same about pyjamas.
44. There is usually a strong correlation between the number of hours you spend in lectures and in the library, and the grades that you get.
45. But there will always be that one person who never seems to go to lectures or study and somehow gets top marks anyway.
46. You won’t be that person.
47. It will never stop being exciting when you genuinely need to reference a really old book.
48. Or when you unexpectedly discover that your lecturer is the world’s leading expert in this weird niche area that you’ve only just become interested in.
49. There is nothing more mortifying than rereading some of your school essays once you’ve learned how to write a proper university essay.
50. Relatedly, your ability to analyse something critically, once awakened, is very hard to switch off again.
51. Once you learn that rebinding is a thing, you will briefly consider whether it’s worth having all your books rebound, like an 18th century aristocrat assembling a private library.
52. A ball is a normal thing to go to of a weekend.
53. Or a weekday.
54. Mostly you will try to act like you’re above the Harry Potter associations.
55. But sometimes, when you’re in an old and beautiful building and there’s no one else around, you won’t be able to resist the temptation to pretend that you’re in Hogwarts.
56. The most expensive textbook will either be the one that you never use and resent every time you look at it, or your dearest companion that you’ll reference until it falls apart.
57. There’s no way of knowing which it’s going to be until after you’ve bought it.
58. Looking at someone else’s copy of the same textbook feels oddly like spying.
59. You will never have an umbrella when you need one.
60. People who use golf umbrellas on narrow medieval streets are antisocial and should be banned.
61. Unless they’re your friend and sharing their massive umbrella with you, in which case they are the best person ever.
62. No matter how small your room is, you’ll know someone with a smaller room.
63. Your room might well have sash windows that date back to before the foundation of some countries and a huge cast-iron fireplace, but no en suite.
64. You feel like you’re learning a huge amount every day, unless your parents call and ask what you’ve learned, when your mind goes completely blank of all information gained since primary school.
65. Free museums are wonderful places to go if you’re on the wrong side of town from home or the library and it’s raining.
66. There’s always one museum that you only ever remember that you want to visit when you walk past and it’s closed.
67. You get annoyed at tourists walking slowly three abreast when you’re trying to get to your lecture, but you kind of miss them when they’re not around.
68. Being OK at punting is easier than it looks.
69. Being good at punting is harder than it looks.
70. Even if you’re in a very big city, everyone will somehow seem to know everyone else.
71. It’s perfectly normal to overhear a conversation about existentialist philosophy in the queue for a takeaway coffee at nine in the morning.
72. It’s similarly normal to overhear the world’s leading expert in existentialist philosophy, coincidentally in the same queue, joining in and correcting misinterpretations of his or her points.
73. In fact, it’s sufficiently normal that you sometimes feel a bit nervous opining on a subject you don’t know much about in a public place, lest a world expert on it suddenly appears and tells you everything that you’re wrong about.
74. Needless to say, this never happens when you have an essay deadline and their opinion would really come in handy.
75. There is a correct cycling speed and it’s the precise speed at which you cycle.
76. You obviously pretend to be superior to all of the basic tourist activities.
77. Friends and family visiting provides an outstanding excuse to throw that out of the window and be as touristy as possible.
78. However, when you’re with tourists, it’s important to emphasise that you’re a student and not a tourist yourself.
79. By third year you should definitely have a favourite gargoyle.
80. Every university that’s more than a couple of decades old lays claim to the same set of urban myths.
81. For instance, you’ll definitely have heard someone claim that it was your university’s entrance exam, philosophy exam or similar in which a student was asked the question, “What is bravery?”, wrote “This is”, and walked out. And then got a First.
82. By now that story’s been told so many times that several students must have tried it for themselves.
83. They probably didn’t get Firsts though.
84. But your university has a remarkable number of stories along similar lines that do turn out to be true.
85. Once you’ve been there a couple of years you’ll have witnessed a few in the making.
86. The abilities of Engineering students are at their most evident when it snows.
87. Everyone else builds lopsided snowmen while they make igloos that appear to be fully functional dwellings.
88. If you are an Engineering student, you’ll spent a lot of time disappointed at how rarely you get to show off these skills.
89. The library has a character of its own, especially at exam times.
90. There is a seat in the library that can be objectively deemed to be the very best seat in the whole building.
91. It is perfectly rational to despise anyone sitting there, even if they don’t know you and have no means of knowing that they are sitting in the best seat.
92. Some lectures are so inspiring that you forget to take any notes. This is both wonderful and inconvenient.
93. Some lecturers are so inspiring that you do a double-take when you bump into them in the street, like you might when unexpectedly encountering a celebrity.
94. Some tutors will go so much further above and beyond the call of duty to support and encourage their students than you might ever have expected.
95. A remarkable number of people come to university having chosen their subject based on it having decent job prospects and having been reasonably good at it at school, and wind up with a passion for its most esoteric and difficult niche.
96. Inspiring lecturers and dedicated tutors have a lot to do with that transformation.
97. Coffee is not a drink; it is essential essay fuel.
98. Differences over which is the best coffee shop within a five-minute walk of halls will divide your friendship group more than disputes over politics or religion ever could.
99. A good cafe is one that is as close as possible to being your university library (plug sockets, laptop-height tables, wifi, patience with students spending hours there) while, crucially, not being your university library.
100. Finishing a dissertation is one of the most terrifying, amazing experiences of your life.
101. Getting a dissertation bound feels like it should come with an accompanying soundtrack, preferably composed by John Williams with lots of cellos.
102. One of the best things about living somewhere with buskers every few metres is that if you get your timing just right, it can feel like your life does have an accompanying soundtrack.
103. You can have an unexpected amount in common with students from completely different cultures, who grew up on the other side of the world.
104. You might well come to see those as your most rewarding and educational friendships.
105. When you start to see how your academic studies connect to real life, you feel like you can change the world.
106. And when you look at your university’s list of alumni, you’re reminded that that feeling might just be right.
107. An essay crisis, getting locked out of halls or searching for the same missing textbook in the library are all situations that can result in making lifelong friends.
108. A university you love can teach you more than you’d ever imagined, and not just about your chosen subject.
109. A good university is where you have the freedom to learn how to be the best version of yourself.
110. There’s nowhere in the world quite like Britain’s university cities.
111. And you’ll treasure the weeks, months and years that you spent here for the rest of your life.
Image credit: Selwyn College; Oxford High Street; St Andrews castle; Christ Church; St Andrews; Oxford grotesque; Imperial in the snow; King’s Parade.