Preparing for UCL

Starting university can be a lot of fun, but it can take some time to adjust. After all, university is a new environment where you will encounter unfamiliar terms, rules and people and a different way of learning. Don’t be surprised if you spend your first few days – or even your first term – feeling slightly baffled about what’s going on. Try not to be too hard on yourself and don't expect to settle in and get everything right immediately. It can help to know that you’re not the only one feeling this way, and that over time you will settle in and learn how it all works.

Below are some of the challenges commonly faced by students when they start at university, some tips from UCL students and links to further information and advice.

  • A new workload, with the pace of instruction probably faster and more intense. You might feel overwhelmed at first, and early preparation, prioritising and time management are the keys here. There is lots of information and advice on university study skills here.
  • Different learning and teaching styles and class sizes.  Class sizes ranging from small tutorial groups to large lectures.
  • A different level of interaction with teachers. Remember that just because they may not get to know you as well and have a lot more students to teach, doesn’t mean they don’t want to help you.
  • An expectation that you will be independent and self-motivated. You will get some guidance but generally you will be expected to remember deadlines and work out how much study you need to do. Many students enjoy the new degree of flexibility from being able to pursue their own interests.

Advice from UCL Students

"The biggest difference I found was that you lose an amount of personal interaction with the staff. At school the teachers knew my name and my capabilities and so I was being pushed. When you come to university the lecturers don’t know who you are and what you can do"


"Be confident and don’t be shy to ask the lecturers questions. If you don’t understand something it’s not because you are stupid. They will point you in the right direction and if you still don’t understand something ask again. That’s what they’re there for"


  • Making new friends and finding a support network Don’t worry if you don’t instantly make your best friends for life: go to all your classes, attend events and join clubs and societies that interest you.
  • Moving out of home and developing independence. You have to get used to living with different people and dealing with their little habits. You might also experience homesickness in the early stages, which will pass as you get more involved in your new life.
  • Being aware of your own needs and seeking help when you need it. You might be used to having a lot of people looking out for you. It takes time to develop these support networks once you get to university, so you need to be proactive about seeking out help – of which there is plenty.
  • International students also have to adjust to a new culture. UCL has a lot of services for international students, including an International Office and Centre for Languages and International Education. There is also a range of clubs and societies about different cultures, where you can meet others from your country and learn their tricks about adjusting to life in London. 
Advice from UCL Students

"I thought university would be quite intense and filled with really geeky smart people who had loads of A grades. Well there were but it wasn’t everyone. I was very surprised at the variation of people from across the world and background. There was something for everyone regardless of who you were"


  • Organising finances and managing your budget. Keeping track of your income and spending will make the rest of your life a lot smoother.
  • Getting settled into accommodation. If you don’t already have basic domestic skills like cooking and cleaning, then now is the time to practice.
  • Finding your way around the campus and London. Learning where everything is can be daunting at first, and the only way to deal with this is to explore. Talk to others who have been here for a while to get tips on where to shop, where to have lunch and how to use the public transport. Some good websites include, and the Transport for London site:
  • Being responsible for administrative matters such as fees, enrolment and important dates. Make sure UCL has your correct address, read all those pieces of paper you are given during enrolment, and use your UCL email account regularly to make sure you’re keeping up with information from your department.
  • Getting to know your timetable. You are responsible for knowing where you are supposed to be and when. You can view a personalised timetable online. Use a diary to keep track of your academic timetable and extra-curricular committments.

Page last modified on 15 apr 14 11:52