14 Things That Will Affect Your Student Experience More Than You Think
There are some things that will pretty obviously affect your student experience.
Which university you go to, for instance. Which course you study (especially in relation to the number of teaching hours). Whether you opt for student accommodation or choose to live with your parents and commute. These are most likely all things that you’re already aware of, and that you’ll already have considered at length when planning your future.
But there are other factors in a great student experience, some of which you won’t even realise make a difference until you’re firmly committed one way or the other. That’s unless you read this article, where we take a look at the things that will affect your life at university – and beyond – much more than you might expect.
1. How you get to university (and whether you ever arrive early)
Do you walk? Do you cycle? Do you take the bus, train or tram? Perhaps you’re going to be one of the very few students who drive? It might not seem like a big deal, but it may determine who you hang out with – for instance, if you have friends who you walk or taking public transport with. It’ll certainly determine how you shop; there’s no buying a 24-pack of toilet roll if you’ve got to bring them on the bus.
And if you walk, chances are you’ll never be more than a few minutes early for a lecture. By contrast, the people who travel by a train that only arrives once an hour might be there a whole lot sooner, and while that’s irritating, the corridor conversations that result can give rise to some interesting and creative ideas.
2. What your best friends study
If your closest friends are studying the same subject as you, it won’t make much difference. But if they’re doing a different subject, be prepared to end up doing half a degree in those things as well. After all, good friends make for good study buddies, and you know that you’ll end up proofreading each other’s essays and quizzing each other on your notes ahead of exams. If you live together, you’ll probably end up reading their post-its and flashcards come exam time too.
The end result is, even if you think you’re at university to study English and they think they’re doing a Law degree, by the time your three years are up, they’ll be able to talk about the influence of Frankenstein on subsequent literature, and you’ll be able to do a pretty good 101 introduction to contract law.
3. How many international students are on your course
It’s pretty clear that your engagement with the wider world makes a big difference to your possible future choices, whether that’s through practising your language skills, spending a year abroad or considering a role with an international company. One key factor that influences these decisions, whether you intend it to or not, is the international students on your course. Being surrounded by people who have come to your university from other countries represents a heap of opportunities: the chance to practise your foreign languages, to learn about other cultures and to see what opportunities there are overseas that you might not otherwise have heard about.
4. Whether your flatmates go home at weekends
It makes logical sense that it would make a difference whether you go home at weekends (a decision that is often made by how willing your parents are to do your laundry for you). But your flatmates’ habits also make a difference. If you stay in your university town but your flatmates don’t, your weekends are either going to become a time of house parties or of peace and quiet to get on with your studies – which obviously affects how you spend your weeks as well. And if your flatmates all stick around at weekends, your fear of missing out might lead to you spending less time visiting your family than you might otherwise have done.
5. If you live near a landmark
Some of Britain’s best universities are also near some of Britain’s most famous landmarks. You might be resident in King’s College, Cambridge, able to visit its famous chapel at any time. You might be in Durham’s University, centred on a Norman Castle. If you’re at a London university, you might have a flat that’s convenient for theatre trips. All of these options have one key consequence: guests. That might mean seeing more of family and friends, or it might mean that your university friends hang out at your place in preference to other people’s, especially if being near a landmark makes public transport connections easier. Expect to be especially popular come New Year’s Eve.
6. How warm your room is
One difficulty with choosing student accommodation is that it’s seldom something that you do between December and February, and therefore, no matter how careful you are in deciding, it’s tricky to figure out how warm a room is going to be in the depths of winter in advance. Extra layers and electric blankets can only do so much if your windows are flimsy or your radiators don’t really work, and the lack of these kinds of comforts will drive you to somewhere warmer pretty quickly – such as the library.
The consequences are similar if your wifi proves to be slow, and it’s not unusual for students to use fast university wifi to load up a show on Netflix or iPlayer to watch when they get home (however much the university’s IT maintenance team might disapprove). However much you might like to think it’s all about your own willpower, your final grade might be higher than you expected simply because being cosy in your room and procrastinating on the internet was denied to you by slow wifi and a draught.
7. What rules your first-year accommodation has
If you’re going to spend any year of your time as a student in university accommodation, it’s likely to be your first year, before you move out into a privately rented flat or house. And university accommodation tends to have a lot more rules. There might be rules about being quiet after a certain hour of the day, or about not having guests without a certain amount of notice. There will certainly be a lot of planned fire drills, and a fair few unintentional fire drills as a result of someone being clueless about how to make toast.
And these rules will shape the rest of your time at university, because first year is when you start forming habits that will see you through to finals. That might be eating fewer sausages (because the grill sets off the fire alarm) or starting parties early because there’s to be no noise after 11pm. Whatever the rules are, they can form habits that are hard to break.
8. How old your friends are
Some students spend their entire time at university never socialising with someone who’s more than a couple of years older or younger than them. Others – particularly those with non-university hobbies, or on courses with lots of mature students – will have friends over a much wider age range. And this affects how you spend your free time a great deal.
If all your friends are also students of your age, you’re probably going to have a much more traditional student lifestyle with lots of late nights and odd sleeping patterns than if you have older friends, who might have young children or pets to take care of, and who might be less interested in going out until 3am. They might also be able to give you useful advice, or help you out with practical questions that you’d otherwise have to phone your parents to ask about.
9. What your part-time job is
It’s pretty obvious that whether or not you have a part-time job makes a big difference – there’s an inevitable trade-off between having more disposable income and more disposable time, and whether your chief worry is about having enough time to finish your essay or enough money to keep the heating on while you’re finishing it. But what kind of part-time job you take can also make a big difference.
Bar work means that you’ll be working at most of the key times when your friends will be going out and having fun. Tutoring means that a chunk of your life will be dictated by when school holidays are. Working for your university might mean getting to explore the library or the student union in a way that your friends can’t. They all have their advantages and disadvantages, but the consequence of taking one job over another can be greater than just how much you get paid – and some can even be the springboard to a future career.
10. Whether you get enough sleep (and whether you pull all-nighters)
Sleep deprivation is a clichéd part of student life for good reason. Essay deadlines and the standard student lifestyle conspire to make working late into the night a normal way of coping, and many students will have pulled an all-nighter to make a deadline at some point. If you’re getting enough sleep, you’re likely to be studying better and feeling healthier than many of your peers, even if you’re not getting 100% of the classic student experience.
You might think that getting enough sleep won’t make that much difference to your overall mood, and a bit more coffee will even it out. Trust us: it won’t.
11. How close in age you are to your lecturers
Lecturers who are much older than you are often the better-known and more respected in their fields, while lecturers who are nearer to your age might be PhD students or recent postdocs who are just starting out on their careers. The advantages of the former are obvious in terms of fame and experience, but there are advantages to younger lecturers as well: they’re not likely to have any baby-boomer illusions about what life as a current student is like, whether that’s about affordability of housing or future job prospects. They can be very useful sources of advice about what you should do on graduation, or anything that you should be doing to boost your job prospects while you’re still a student.
12. Whether your friends from home come to visit
You might live by a landmark (as we discussed above) and have friends from home come to visit all the time. Or you might be at the opposite end of the country on an unreliable train line and so you only see them at Christmas. This matters because after university, you’ll be trying to figure out where you want to live. That might be your hometown, especially if you’re thinking of saving up some money by living with your parents. It might be your university town, which can be a good place to start looking for jobs, as you won’t have to travel a long way for interviews. Or it might be somewhere else altogether. Keeping up close links with friends from home increases the likelihood that you’ll end up living back there, as you’ll know that moving home won’t be a lonely experience.
13. Whether you use social media
Some people love social media, others use it only reluctantly, and others don’t use it at all. Being in the last group in the modern world might mean that you get invited to fewer parties if the invites only go out by Facebook or WhatsApp, but then if you do get invited, you’ll know it’s because they made a special effort to ask if you wanted to be there.
14. Whether you have a projector, waffle iron, TV licence, hamster…
If you as a student have something that most of your peers don’t have, expect a lot of your life to revolve around that thing. It might be that you have a projector and a large blank wall – if so, your flat just become everyone’s cinema. If it’s a waffle iron, welcome to being in charge of brunch from this point forwards. If it’s a TV licence, anything that’s got to be watched live is happening in your place.
The list goes on – being the only one with a car (or possibly, with a driving licence), for instance, will probably result in you becoming taxi driver-in-chief among all your friends. It can be nice to feel wanted – just be prepared!