12 Crucial Things to Look Out For When You Move to a New Town or City as a Student

Image shows the pier at Aberdeen.Moving to a new town or city can be a nerve-wracking experience, and one that adds an extra dimension of potential stress when you move to university for the first time.

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Your first few weeks at university are a time when you already have lots of other things to worry about, like making friends and completing your first academic assignments; the added stress of not being able to find your way around, or not knowing where anything is, can make it all seem a bit overwhelming. However, there are a few things you can think about in advance to help you settle in more easily and to prepare you mentally for this exciting new phase of your life.

1. Personal safety

Image shows a scary-looking walkway.
Watch out for signs – barbed wire on walls, or a heavy police presence – that the area you’re looking at is unsafe.

You want to feel relaxed and happy in your new town or city; after all, it can be hard enough to get used to living away from home, without the added worry of fearing for your safety. Inevitably, most cities have their rough areas, but it’s important to know where they are and how easy they are to avoid. You don’t want to find out when it’s too late that the university accommodation is in the city’s notorious rough area, for example; and nor is it ideal if a rough area surrounds an essential service, such as the train station. A bit of diligent Googling, or asking on a student internet forum, should shed some light on which areas of the city are to be avoided, and you can then look for these areas on Google Maps to see where they are in relation to the places you’ll need to go. You can also gather some other safety tips via student internet forums, such as places to avoid on a Saturday night, or information about useful helplines or student night bus services.

2. The practicalities of socialising

You’ve probably already been told how many bars, restaurants and clubs your new town or city has, but one thing you might not have considered is how far these are away from your accommodation. Getting there may be all very well at the start of the evening if there’s a bus, but the bus might not run very late, and you’ll want to know about the availability of registered taxis to get you home safely. If you’re a girl, you don’t want to be having to walk miles in your heels every time you want to go out! For daytime socialising, it helps to know whereabouts to go for pleasant cafés where you can meet friends for coffee or perhaps do a bit of work with free wifi.

3. Supermarkets

Image shows a row of Waitrose trolleys.
The kind of supermarket you have nearby could make a big difference to your finances.

When you move to university, you’ll have to think about something that your parents probably did for you up until now: food shopping. Suddenly, all kinds of practical considerations about supermarkets come into play. How far is it from your accommodation to the nearest supermarket? Is it within walking distance, or will you have to get a bus with all your shopping (never easy – I’ve tried!)? How far will you have to walk with heavy bags of shopping? Another consideration is how big your nearest supermarket is. Smaller ones tend to be more expensive, with a more limited choice of groceries and probably no homeware. Does it sell the kind of things you’ll want to buy, or have you moved into a very upmarket area where you can get ten different types of speciality cheese and no tins of beans? Does your nearest supermarket have some good bargains, or a good loyalty scheme to help you save money, such as the Tesco Clubcard?

4. Open spaces

Most university campuses have some open green spaces in which you can relax on a sunny day, but if you want to get away from campus, you’ll need to know that there are other pleasant places for you to go. Parks, botanical gardens, riverbanks and open countryside are all places you can go when you want to switch off from the pressures of university and enjoy the great outdoors. If you’re more of a country person than a city person, it’s particularly important to know where the green spaces are, and you’ll probably find it easier to cope with living in a smaller town or somewhere with easy access to the countryside.

5. Finding your way around

Image shows someone in a city square reading a map.
You don’t want to be dependent on a map for too long.

If you’re daunted by the prospect of finding your way around your new town or city, you’re not alone. It can make you feel horribly homesick when, after knowing all the shortcuts in your home town, you realise that you can’t even get to the supermarket without a map; but these feelings will soon dissipate once you get used to your new home. One way of learning how to find your way around quickly is to force yourself to go on walks around the town or city every day. This will get you away from your desk, getting some exercise, and getting to know the layout of the streets and where everything is. Try to take different routes each day, as you’ll discover new things, see places you might want to go with friends, and chance upon useful shortcuts that might help you get to lectures more quickly (if you’re at a university that’s spread out across a city). You could even take advantage of modern technology to get to know the city a bit more before you move in, by spending some time exploring the place on Google Street View!

6. What’s on in the local area

Some people find that university life can be a bit stifling from time to time, and prefer to do some of their socialising in the ‘real world’, away from the university bubble. In times like these, it can be a refreshing change if the town or city you move to is one in which there’s always something going on for non-students and students alike. Beer festivals in local pubs, Christmas markets, carnivals and other such events can all add to the enjoyment of your university experience and help you meet locals. Mingling with non-students is good for you in that it helps you begin the adjustment to ‘real life’, which can seem fairly distant when you’re heavily involved in university life. Inevitably, though, university life will come to an end, and if you’re already adjusted to life outside campus, you’ll find the change much easier to cope with. University is a transition period from childhood to adulthood, and the more you start thinking about life beyond your education, the easier you’ll find it to make that change.

7. Local authorities

It sounds boring, but you’ll need to have some idea of who the local authority is for your town or city, because you’ll almost certainly end up living in privately rented accommodation at some point during your years at university. Even as a student you’ll have to pay council tax, and you may have other reasons for contacting the council, for instance if you have a noise complaint.

8. Where to buy essentials

Image shows an Ikea-branded shopping basket.
Don’t forget to bring your screwdriver!

You may have been organised and bought everything you think you’ll need – such as pots, pans and crockery – but there’s bound to be something you’ve forgotten. To save yourself time when you’re moving in and meeting new people, it will be helpful to know in advance exactly where you can get reasonably-priced life essentials, as this will save you having to wander aimlessly around your new city trying to find a suitable shop. Current university students will be able to advise, so perhaps ask on a forum or Google it. At Oxford, that shop is Boswell’s – an independent department store that sells just about everything at good prices – a lifesaver when you realise you’ve forgotten to bring wine glasses or a kettle. IKEA is arguably the best place to buy such things, so find out whether there’s one nearby. Bigger supermarkets are also good for this kind of thing, as their homeware sections tend to be much cheaper than you’d find elsewhere.

9. Doctors and dentists

When you first move to another town or city, make sure you register with a doctor and dentist. It may seem low on your list of priorities now, but you’ll be glad you did it if you are unfortunate enough to suffer a dental emergency or get struck down with a virus a few months down the line. The university will almost certainly recommend a doctor and dentist to save you the hassle of looking round for one, but they may not be the closest to your particular accommodation, so it’s still worth a quick Google search to see who’s closest. Unless you’ve been given registration forms by your university, just pop in and the receptionist will tell you what to do.

10. Public transport

Image shows the handlebars of a bike, with a basket full of flowers.
Does the place you’re going to have good infrastructure for bicycles?

Unless you’re lucky enough to be bringing your own car to university (and that’s not always recommended, as many university cities aren’t particularly car-friendly, and are easy enough to get around that cars aren’t really worth the money), you’ll want to find out about the availability of public transport in your new town or city. Larger cities tend to be better equipped in this regard than smaller ones, such as Newcastle-upon-Tyne with its Metro, or London with its Underground and comprehensive bus network. You should already have a rough idea of where your campus, department and accommodation are, and therefore how far you’ll have to travel to lectures and so on. From here, you can work out whether you’ll be able to walk to places or rely on public transport. Download a bus route map from the local bus company’s website to see where your nearest bus stops are, and take a look at specific timetables to see how often and how late buses run. Your other option is to bring a bike with you, in which case you’ll need to take adequate safety precautions to safeguard your bike against theft. If you’re likely to venture further afield, it will help to have an idea of where you can get to on a direct train (assuming your new town or city has a station), how often they run, and how easily you’ll be able to get home by train.

11. Change of address

Although your parents are probably going to be happy to handle your mail, there are a few people or companies who may need to know your new address when you move to university. It can also be more convenient for you to have correspondence sent to you at your university address. Let your bank know your new address, as well as any loyalty cards you’re signed up for, so that you get sent vouchers direct to your university accommodation. Also, make sure you let your family and friends know your new address so that they can still write to you – you’d be surprised how much communications from home can brighten up your day when you’re immersed in university work. To save your parents the trouble of forwarding mail to you, you could instead set up the Royal Mail post forwarding service so that your mail automatically gets redirected to your university address.

12. Visiting in advance

Image shows a car steering wheel.
If you’ve only visited somewhere with interview stress hanging over you, take the time to go again in a relaxed state of mind.

You’ve probably already visited the town or city before, for open days and perhaps interviews, but it’s worth making another trip prior to starting your course, just so that you can refamiliarise yourself with the place and begin the mental adjustment to considering this your new home. The best time to do this is between results day and when you start your course, as you’ll know by then that this is where you’re definitely going, and you’ll view the place in a whole new light in view of this certainty. Once you arrive in your first week, you can really start getting to know your new home by exploring it with your new friends.

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Image credits: banner; scary; supermarket; Ikea; bicycle; driving.