UCL Faculty of Arts & Humanities


8 things I wish I knew before starting university

As we look forward to welcoming our new students in September, Adwoa, UCL Geography student, shares her wisdom on how to navigate starting university. 

As the youngest of three, with both of my siblings attending university before me, I gained some useful university intel from them. However, with being the youngest, I don’t have that younger sibling to share my own knowledge with to make their university experience even more beneficial. Nonetheless, I do have this great bank of advice to give any prospective UCL students based on what I wish I knew before starting university! 

1. Budgeting 

Realistic budgeting and following through with your plans will be extremely effective if you have never lived on your own before, or in London. You may be surprised at how expensive many things are in Central London - this can be quite scary when you see the result of the accumulating costs on your bank statements and it’s too late. Make your budget and stick to it! There are lots of online budgeting resources and templates you can find!

2. Go beyond approaching university as only getting a degree 

You’re not just attending university to gain a degree, really enjoy and make the most of your experience during this period through the connections you’ll make and opportunities coming your way. For these reasons, do approach new opportunities with an open-mind or even be aware your career choice perhaps develop in different ways during university (but don’t be concerned if you’re unsure of what you want to go into yet). Be open to reviewing different options or gaining relevant experience and insight through the career-orientated societies at UCL (see step 4)! Do have fun and remember to treat yourself at least every once in a while! 

3. Not found your closest friends during Freshers or Term 1? Don’t worry!

It’s really easy to largely focus on the stories of people who found their closest friends during Freshers or whether they lived in the same Halls flat as them. This is not always the case. I’m currently going into my Fourth and Final Year, and I can firmly say I found my closest friends during the end of First Year and into Second Year. For a number of reasons, your friendship circles will change during university and you may not initially meet your closest friends until later on, so don’t be worried if you have not found them during the beginning of First Year. Follow step 4 for more advice on finding them! 

4. Clubs and Societies

Immerse yourself and consider joining at least 4/5 club or societies (UCL offers over 300 Clubs and Societies students – I joined 13 in First Year!). From learning to code with the Data Science Society, fundraising to climb Mount Kilimanjaro for charitable causes with the Raise & Giving Society, bubble tea tastings with the Bubble Tea Society or learning to figure skate with the Ice Club, there’s an array of opportunities and friends to meet waiting for you! 

5. Spring Weeks

Spring Weeks are short internships available to First Year students only and predominantly in the corporate industry. Although these opportunities are not compulsory to your future career or you may not want to partake in a Spring Week, practising the types of assessments, for example, the psychometric test, that form their application will be really beneficial in getting you prepared for such applications further into your university career, including Summer Internships and Graduate Jobs.

6. Embrace the 'reduced food' aisle!

The student diet is, admittedly, not always the healthiest but you can find some healthy and still cheaper food options in reduced sections, the last hour of some restaurants operating and on apps letting you buy unsold restaurant/cafe food. To save some money on takeaways after going out, I recommend keeping some spare instant noodles in your room to have instead of always spending more money in fast-food restaurants.

7. Do your readings and organise your schedule

You will learn the essence of organisation and independent work at its finest…if you don’t, you will endure a lot of preventable stress and pain in aiming for the results you want. There’s an array of calendar-scheduling resources and apps online to suit your work or aesthetic preference!

8. It's okay not to be okay

I cannot stress enough that it is okay to not be okay. University is a rollercoaster with highs and lows that differ for everyone. You will also be studying and living in circumstances you’ve never been in before, but your mental and physical wellbeing always needs be put first. It is so important to be aware of your Department’s mental and physical wellbeing services as well as the UCL Student Support and Wellbeing who offer counselling, drop-in sessions and advice. I found guided mindfulness meditation really beneficial for stress, but some people prefer going to the gym. You have the time to find what’s right for you.