10 Pieces of advice for anyone starting or returing to university this year

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I can’t believe it’s been 4 years since I graduated from university, and 8 since I enrolled. They say your time at university can be the best years of your life and looking back I still believe that to be true (on par with travelling the world and living abroad of course). With some of my family members heading off to uni this year, I thought I’d share my advice for making the most of your time at university, and things that I would have found helpful to know when I started.

1. Don’t sit in your room all day.

I know some of us are more introverted/extroverted than others, but especially during your first few weeks at university it’s important to get to know your flatmates and people in your halls. Mostly to avoid things feeling awkward in the long run. Stepping out of your comfort zone and speaking to new people might be daunting for some, but remember everyone is in the same boat.

2. Learn some basic meals on Youtube.

It becomes so easy at uni to live off ready meals and Tesco meal deals, but that’s where you’ll see most of your money going. If cooking isn’t really your thing, try and master a few basic recipes that you can meal prep for the week so that you don’t end up buying stuff you don’t need when you don’t feel like cooking. Especially since the closest supermarket will probably be across the road in halls!

3. Budget your week.

I wasn’t the greatest at doing this my first year of uni, in fact I always found myself having to message my mum to top me up at the end of the week because I’d spent too much on student night events and Odeon cinema. In uni there’s always something going on, so it’s best to plan how much you’re going to need for food, bills etc for the week and then whatever is left you can leave for the fun stuff.

4. Take advantage of student discounts

UniDays, StudentBeans and Totum are all places that work with brands to give you the biggest discounts. The most important one if you’re planning on visiting your friends across the UK is to make sure you get a student 18-25 Railcard for discounts on your train and tube journeys. If you’re a big cinema fan, you can also get an Odeon Limitless card for £17.99 a month that lets you go see as many movies as you want.

5. Try something new with a uni social club or society.

I remember joining the rowing team during my first year of uni, and I only lasted two months because I couldn’t deal with the 6am wake up call every Saturday morning. That being said, the social and themed events that the team organised were amazing. If sport isn’t your thing, you’ll still find everything from the ‘wine society’ to the ‘disney society’. If you’re feeling inspired most universities also allow you to open your own club if there is enough interest/it follows the guidelines.

6. Don’t leave it until the end of the year to sort out accommodation.

After halls most people choose to go into a house share with friends, but the tricky thing is deciding after two months of knowing someone whether they would actually make a good housemate. I didn’t decide who I was living with until about March, and by then most of the good houses had already been swiped. My advice is to start thinking about who you’d like to live with a few months into your uni year, once you’ve managed to gather a good sense of character from your peers. Just pay attention to who cleans up their plates straight away and doesn’t steal all the milk.

7. Remember why you’re there in the first place.

Uni is definitely a place where you can work hard, and play hard. I think I went out the most during my final year of university, but I always made sure I’d hit my personal work deadlines first so that I’d be able to have fun and de-stress and not feel guilty about it. If going out partying isn’t your thing just make sure you’re still making time to do fun things so that you don’t burnout.

8. Look after your mental health.

University can be challenging for a lot of people. Whether it’s because you’ve moved away from home for the first time, are finding your course challenging, or because the experience hasn’t quite met your expectations. It’s important to remember that you’re not alone in feeling like this and that you can talk to your friends, family or tutors about whatever issues you are facing. I know of people who felt pressured to stay at university when they really weren’t enjoying it, and it’s also ok to admit that university isn’t for you. Plenty of people choose to go straight into jobs after school and go on to have successful careers.

9. Be proactive and get involved.

Throughout your time at uni you’ll find there’ll be lots of opportunities offered to you which won’t only help your interpersonal skills and look good on your CV, but will also help shape your uni experience. I wasn’t aware my university offered a study exchange programme until I was having a deep browse through their website one day, and after enquiring to my course leader about it I ended up applying and doing a semester abroad in Orlando, Florida. If you aren’t sure about what extra opportunities your uni offers, make sure to speak to your tutor about it.

10. Use this time to grow.

Chances are you’ve grown up being around the same people, cultures and ways of thinking. Especially with Gibraltar being such a small place and close-knit community. When you get to uni not only are you thrown into the deep end of independence, it’s also a time where you get to discover new passions, relationships and hobbies. So make the most of it!

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