7 Ways to Make Your University Experience Even Better
If you’re a new university student, or shortly to be one, you’ve probably read a lot of advice on what to do when you get to university.
Presumably, you’ve already learned that you shouldn’t expect Freshers’ Week to be the be-all and end-all of your university experience, that making friends at university is easier than you might think, and that a diet that consists solely of instant noodles is best avoided if you don’t want to catch scurvy in your second term. You might even have picked up a few tips about why it really is important to attend the library tour, even if you have to miss out on free pizza from the Comedy Society to attend.
So in this article, we assuming you know how to have a good university experience already. Here are our top tips for taking a great university experience – and making it even better.
1. Get to know a wider variety of people
You’ll have read how easy it can be to make friends at university, but those friends tend to come from three main sources: your first-year flatmates, the other people on your course, and the other members of your favourite society. If, for example, you’re studying Law, and living with mostly Law students, and spend a lot of your free time at Law Society events, you might find that your social circle is a little bit limited. Big, all-consuming courses like Law and Medicine are particularly prone to this, but it can happen regardless of your course and social circle.
But one of the best things about university is the opportunity it affords you to meet new people and try out new things, and those opportunities are potentially limited if you spend your entire three years or more with the same group of people. Trying to meet people from outside your course is well worth it, because that’s when you really start to learn about the opportunities that are available to you. It might be that you go to events that most of your friends would never consider attending, get introduced to future career paths that are out of the ordinary for people on your course, or simply get exposed to new opinions and perspectives that your main group of friends wouldn’t hold. This is especially true when it comes to spending time with people from outside your university, which isn’t something that most students routinely do, at least in term-time – but there’s a world beyond student nights and what’s on in halls, and it’s through non-university friends that you’re likely to find out about it.
2. Don’t worry if you don’t have a conventional student experience
The conventional student experience goes something like this: lots of parties, lots of time spent in clubs, lots of takeaways, minimal money left over for anything else, lots of time in the library when there’s a last-minute essay deadline but not much studying otherwise, lots of time spent with a tight-knit group of flatmates, very little cleaning or tidying, etc., etc.
There are lots of reasons why you might not have a conventional student experience. For instance, you might be on a course with lots of compulsory taught hours, meaning that doing nothing for eight months then panicking is not a viable option even if you wanted it to be. You might not have much in common with your flatmates, and prefer to spend time elsewhere. You might be an introvert and hate spending too much time in large groups of people. Most often, it simply doesn’t sound like the kind of thing you enjoy. Perhaps that’s because you came to university because you really love your subject and want to throw yourself into it; or perhaps you prefer to be tucked up in bed by 10pm rather than on a dancefloor somewhere.
Whatever the reasons may be, rest assured that you’re probably not missing out. Some people have a conventional university experience and love it, but the majority of people don’t, and they still have a great time doing whatever it is that they prefer to do. So if you’re enjoying yourself but wondering if you’re missing out on something fantastic because there are elements of the traditional student experience that you’re not really into (which might not be the parties, but instead something like getting involved with societies – that’s OK too!), don’t let it concern you, and enjoy doing what you’re into instead.
3. Give yourself a routine
When you first get to university, it can feel brilliant not to have a routine. That’s especially the case if you’re studying a course with relatively few taught hours. You become the boss of your own time in a way that you almost certainly weren’t at school; you can get up to watch the dawn one day and lie in until 2pm the next, and as long as you’re getting your work done at some point, there’s absolutely nothing to stop you. Why are students known for their adventures? Because they have the free time to be spontaneous if they want to.
It’s a good idea to make the most of these opportunities. However, by the time you’re getting into second year (or in some cases, your second term), the shine might be starting to wear off. Not making plans and being spontaneous can result in a dodgy sleep cycle and no advance plans made, so instead of having fun, you’re spending hours watching Netflix and then frantically trying to catch up on work that you didn’t factor in any time to get done.
This is when having a routine comes in handy. If you know that you’re going to spend this many hours in the library on these particular days, and that means you’ll get enough work done to give yourself the weekend off, you’ll be in a better position to avoid procrastination and make plans to do exciting things in the knowledge that you’ll definitely have enough free time available.
4. Keep an eye out for great opportunities
Some of the opportunities that university life has to offer will be easy to find out about – perhaps they’ll be in emails from the Student Union, or if you’re in a larger lecture theatre, someone might even come in at the beginning or the end to talk to you about them. Of course, if you don’t read your emails or pay attention when someone other than your lecturer is talking in a lecture, you’ll miss out even on this.
But some opportunities that are available to you as a student are things you might have to put a bit more effort both into finding out about and into accessing. That might mean trawling through websites, setting up Google alerts, or taking the time to have conversations with your tutors or with the Student Union.
What kind of opportunities are we talking about? There’s a wide range that are accessible to students. It might be a great internship at a really exciting company – that’s the sort of thing that might be listed on your university careers website, but that you’ll never find about if you don’t visit that site. Or it might be a student discount that’s available on your favourite products, but not clearly advertised, so you have to know to ask for it. Or there might be classes available that don’t contribute to your grade, but that would be fascinating to take all the same. Do some research and reap the rewards.
5. Work part-time if you can (but keep your hours low)
Working part-time at university can be a very worthwhile experience. Even if you’re only working in a cafe or doing some tutoring, rather than something relevant to your future career, it’s still good for your CV that you showed up and did a job that you might not have found all that interesting. And if it does happen to be something relevant for your future career, so much the better – because it might be a stepping-stone to a full-time job once you graduate.
The other big advantage of having a part-time job, of course, is that it allows you to supplement your student loan with some extra cash. This can be great for taking the pinch off a student lifestyle – enabling you to buy the non-basics cheese, or even reducing the amount of debt that you graduate with.
At the same time, it’s best to keep your hours low. A recommended maximum is 15 hours per week, and 10 is preferable. Some universities (notably Oxford and Cambridge) actually prohibit their students from taking part-time jobs during term-time, but then they have shorter terms than most other universities, enabling their students to get short-term jobs outside of term-time. Working 10 hours per week enables you to get most of the benefits in terms of experience, CV boost and a bit of extra cash, without causing you to struggle to keep up with your university workload.
6. Conquer your impostor syndrome
Impostor syndrome is the feeling that whatever you’re achieved and whatever level you’ve reached, you have no right to be there; it’s when you feel like a fraud who hasn’t really earned what they’ve received. If you’re at a top university – especially if you didn’t expect to get in – having a feeling of impostor syndrome is not at all unusual. It can work the other way as well; if you’ve never had to work particularly hard for your grades and always knew that you would be able to get in, it can also feel like you haven’t worked for your place to the same extent as everyone else there. Either way, lots of your fellow students will feel the same.
Yet impostor syndrome can damage your university experience. It might prevent you from asking questions in lectures or contributing in tutorials, in case you’re “unmasked”. Or it might prevent you from taking up opportunities, such as getting into classes with limited space, because you think that other people are more deserving.
But impostor syndrome is actually more common among high achievers, especially high-achieving women (though men experience it as well; the writer Neil Gaiman has spoken about it in the past). If you are feeling like you haven’t earned your right to be at university, it’s best to try and get over it as quickly as possible. After all, it suggests a certain lack of faith in your university’s admissions procedures if they weren’t able to judge properly who was good enough to be there and who wasn’t – and you were good enough to make the cut.
7. Get to know your lecturers
Of all the things that can make a good university experience great, getting to know their lecturers is the one that students most often neglect. And it’s understandable; while some lecturers who primarily interact with smaller groups of students can be very approachable, and might even take a group of students out to a cafe or host a Christmas party for them, others can be much less friendly.
Getting to know your lecturers doesn’t mean that you’re going to be inviting them to your next party (don’t do this!) but it means that you might feel comfortable asking for more feedback on an essay, getting their recommendations for further study, and ultimately asking them for a reference when you apply for a job. Getting to that stage might involve getting yourself noticed, for instance by asking interesting and worthwhile questions in their lectures. You might also go along to their office hours, again with a worthwhile question, and have a chat.
There are some academics who regard teaching as nothing but a chore and won’t want to engage with you any more than they have to, but others will appreciate the opportunity to help you go further – but in order to get that far, you will need to get to the point where they feel their efforts will be worthwhile. Once you have got to know a particular lecturer better, make sure the relationship isn’t only going one way; if they give you tips for extra reading, or some bonus feedback on a piece of work, make sure that you thank them sincerely so that they know the time they have put into helping you was appreciated.
If you’re a current undergraduate, what has made your university experience great?