students making the most of their time at university

How to make the most of university: 14 tips from a graduate

University is collectively held to be the best time of your life due to the copious amounts of drinking, making friends and studying (and I’m not sure it’s because of the studying part). The recent increase in tuition fees up to £9,250 a year has reasserted questions over how to make the most of your time at university – how do you get your money’s worth? This also isn’t helped by the fact that, throughout your first year, someone on your course will have worked out how much each one of your lectures is costing you (I was averaging £46.88 per hour of tuition, which is a lot of takeaway pizza). We’ve therefore compiled a list of the 14 best tips about how to make the most out of the most expensive university experience in the world.

1. Make the most of the first few weeks

The first few weeks of university give you the chance to make friends, learn how to use the library, find out where the best bars are and more. Try and make friends with your housemates and your course mates (you’ll be seeing a lot of both of them throughout the year), but don’t worry if this doesn’t happen straight away. Friendships take time and everyone will be trying to settle in over the first few weeks too.

2. But don’t think the first few weeks mean everything

People generally put a lot of pressure on the first few weeks of university, but it doesn’t define your entire university experience. The important thing to do during freshers’ week is to go to your course orientation or welcome talk, have a tour of the campus (if you have one) and go to the freshers’ fair. Ultimately, try and enjoy yourself during freshers’ week; it only happens once!

3. Make friends

The overworked cliché that you will make friends for life during your time at university is actually true. Having to live with your friends during university makes or breaks the friendship. So get stuck in. You’ll probably need to try and put yourself out there – try out societies you’re interested in, spark a conversation with someone and suggest going to nearby events.

4. Study

To really make the most of your university degree, you should attend your lectures and seminars. Remember each lecture, seminar and lab practical you go to is costing you money. There are useful apps you can download onto your laptop to record your lecture/seminar as you’re making notes. These typed notes and recordings will be very handy during revision instead of realising too late that your written notes are an indiscernible scrawl.

5. Experiment

With almost every aspect of your university experience, you should experiment. Try out a society (don’t pay unless you like it though – see our tips on budgeting at university).

Everyone will bore you with the mantra that first year doesn’t count and that you only need 40% to pass anyway, so be a little inventive with your essays. Choose interesting modules, and consider taking a module from another course or going to language classes alongside your studies.

6. Establish a good relationship with your tutors

Your tutors are there to help you. Ask if you don’t understand a topic, would like to explore an idea for your essay or want book recommendations. Your tutors will have appointments in office hours you can sign up to or you can email them. Establishing good relationships can be vital when you write your dissertation or need an academic reference.

7. Go to careers fairs

Whatever stage you’re at concerning your future career, careers fairs can provide inspiration or give you the chance to put questions to potential employers. It’s only a few hours out of your day and it could give you an idea for a career or employer you hadn’t considered before.

8. Explore more than just the best bars

Most people who go to university will most probably be moving away from home to a new city or even a new country. Use this opportunity to get out of your pyjamas, stop binge-watching TV shows and explore what there is to do nearby. Are there any events on? Are there any areas of outstanding beauty nearby? Get out of the flat – you’ll probably want to anyway because of one of your housemates’ inevitable aversion to washing up.

9. Acknowledge if there’s a problem

Don’t struggle doing something you’re not enjoying. You can usually change modules within the first few weeks. You can also change course or university if you think you’ve made the wrong decision, but this is often subject to entry requirements and availability.

You should also seek help if you’re struggling with money, home/university living issues or mental health problems. Your university will have a range of support services available to you, so make use of them. See our information about student mental health for more on where to seek help at university.

10. Don’t worry if you don’t feel like you’re getting the ‘conventional’ university experience

While people may make out that every uni experience involves drinking and hangovers, this is obviously not the case. No university experience is the same and you should do what you enjoy. After all, you’re paying for it.

11. Make the most of your summer holidays

Plan in advance. You can do summer camps in America or you could apply to work at Walt Disney World (my best friend was Rafiki for the summer). You could fund your studies with a part-time/full-time job, volunteer abroad, get a summer internship or go travelling. The opportunities are endless, but four months is a long time to do nothing.

12. Be open to opportunities to travel or study abroad

These can be really useful on your CV and are amazing experiences. Keep an eye out for opportunities available through your university including study abroad programmes, a semester abroad or international summer school programmes.

13. Try and think about your career before graduation

It can be easy to focus on just getting your degree rather than what you’ll do afterwards, but it's well worth getting experience before you embark on a career; work shadowing, work experience and internships can be great ways of doing this. Furthermore, if you wanted to get into a particular field you can show your interest while at university. If you’re interested in media you could work on your student newspaper (see our student journalism tips) or if you’re interested in finance you could be the treasurer of a society.

14. Last and more importantly…

Try and say yes to as many things as possible unless they are dangerous, illegal or you have a legitimate reason not to. One of the best things about university is that it gives you the opportunity to try new things and, at the end of the day, you can’t really know how bad something will be unless you try it. 

Natasha Hallam, University of Exeter English graduate

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