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22 things graduates wish they had known as freshers

We spoke to a group of graduates to find out what all-important info they wish they'd known in their first year of university. Some of it might surprise you.

Graduate next to house, money, socks and cookware

Credit: Kues, vectortatu, radovlad, Viktorija Reuta, Sira Anamwong – Shutterstock

One minute, you're arriving at university as a fresher ready to take on the world (or at least that next round of jägerbombs), and the next, you're throwing a cap in the air as a graduate and wondering where all the time went.

University can fly by. When you're caught up in all the excitement and deadlines, it's easy to make some common mistakes and take student life for granted.

To make sure you're making the most of your uni experience, we've rounded up a group of nostalgic graduates to hear their best tips for first-year uni students.

These essential skills will help you survive university life. They'll also keep your bank account looking healthy.

22 tips for first-year university students

Here are the most important things to know about the first year of uni according to graduates:

  1. The first year of university does count

    Whether or not the first year of university counts is always a talking point with students. But even if you go to a uni where your grades in first year don't technically count towards your final degree, this doesn't mean you can spend the year messing about and putting zero effort in.

    Uni is not easy, and lacking a basic grounding of first-year knowledge will make it much trickier to get good grades in the second year. Plus, your tutor will be less likely to help you out if they're concerned you haven't been making the effort already.

    Sometimes a 2:1 in your first year is a requirement if you want to apply for a year abroad or a year in industry. At the very least, you still have to pass in order to keep your place on the course.

  2. University attendance is important even in first year

    At uni, no one's going to chase after you if you decide not to show up to class or hand in your coursework.

    Don't fall into the trap of thinking this is a blessing. It takes some serious self-discipline to drag yourself to those 9am lectures when you could easily just stay in bed.

    But, when you're paying such high tuition fees to be there, you'd be a fool to waste it. You may want to consider how much your course costs per hour.

  3. Do work experience when you're at university

    Unfortunately, most employers expect more on your CV than just your degree.

    Gaining lots of relevant work experience and getting involved in extracurricular activities before you graduate will massively help you leapfrog your application to the top of the pile.

    Getting some work experience is also helpful if you're not quite sure what you want to do career-wise. It lets you test the water in a few different industries and roles to see what you enjoy (and what you don't).

    Make sure you get cracking with work experience as early on as possible. You'll have less time in your final year when you've got the dreaded dissertation to deal with.

  4. Avoid spending all night studying

    man in library

    Credit: wavebreakmedia – Shutterstock

    No matter what bragging rights you can earn for doing an essay in one long, horrible night, there's no reason you should ever be staring at a Word doc at 5am.

    Not only is it the complete opposite of fun, but it's going to make it so much harder for you to get a first class degree.

    We do have a guide on how to write an essay quickly if you've only got a few hours before your deadline, but please only use this in emergencies. Don't put yourself through the pain.

    And for help with referencing and sourcing, have a look at these useful student websites.

  5. Stay on good terms with your housemates

    Surviving shared living can be tough, and it's natural that things might get a bit tense every now and then.

    But try not to fall out over things that will seem irrelevant in a few months' time. Having dirty dishes stacked up in the sink is an annoying but inevitable part of uni life, so try not to get too worked up about it.

    If your flatmates are being difficult, you could think about setting up a cleaning rota or bringing everyone together to discuss it over a cuppa. Just make sure you don't let it escalate, as you'll regret losing friendships over a bit of washing up.

  6. Think about what you want to do after university

    You might not have a clue what to do after uni – and that's completely fine. But it's worth at least having a think about your options and coming up with a general plan as something to aim for.

    Having an end goal in sight will help a lot on days when you're lacking motivation and drive as a student. It reminds you that the hard work really is worth it.

    Whether it's setting up your own business, taking a gap year or doing an internship, it makes a difference to see the bigger picture.

  7. Allow your career plans to change

    Over the course of your degree, it's natural for your goals to change a fair bit. Three years is a long time!

    Maybe you'll get to the end of an Engineering degree and find that you don't actually want to be an engineer anymore. It happens, and you shouldn't beat yourself up about it.

    As long as you're aspiring to do something and stay motivated, it doesn't matter if it's in the same area as your degree or not. Just look at how many successful people studied degrees that have nothing to do with their careers.

    You'll have gained loads of skills that are transferrable to other industries, so don't lose hope.

  8. Learn how to cook

    row of herbs spices seasoning kitchen cooking

    Credit: Ed Samuel – Shutterstock

    You probably think you could never get sick of chicken nuggets but, believe us, it's possible. Takeaways are easy and convenient, but regularly buying meals from fast food joints will take a toll on your health – and bank account.

    For food inspiration, check out this super easy stuffed turkey breast. Or, to sort out your dinners for the entire week (or month!), you can try our student meal plan.

    Sometimes, though, you might want to treat yourself to a cheeky takeaway. When you do, make sure you follow these tips on getting takeaways on a budget.

  9. Don't spend your Student Loan in one go

    In an ideal world, your Maintenance Loan would cover everything from food and accommodation to books and booze. However, the reality is that, for a lot of students, the Maintenance Loan barely covers rent.

    In our latest Student Money Survey, 64% of surveyed students thought the Maintenance Loan wasn't big enough, and it left them on average around £582 short every month.

    Be prepared for this. Learn how to budget as soon as possible so you get your finances off to a good start, look for a part-time job to earn some extra cash while you study and get a student bank account that works for you.

  10. Buy plenty of pants and socks

    It's ridiculous how quickly you can rattle through your underwear drawer. And, while your parents might have been on the ball with laundry, the chances are you won't be quite as efficient.

    The last thing you want is to realise you need to quickly dash to the shop to stock up on more pants because you've run out and don't have time to put a wash on. It's better to make sure you stock up on plenty in advance.

    Keep an eye out for fashion deals on our site and, for more essentials, see our what to take to university checklist.

  11. Use your student discounts while you can

    We know everyone keeps telling you this, but believe us, graduation comes around much faster than you'd expect.

    Never again will it be acceptable to whip out your student discount card at every opportunity, or sleep in until 2pm, so take advantage of everything that university life has to offer while you can.

  12. You can go clubbing any night of the week

    Who says that people don't go out on Sundays? Or Tuesdays for that matter?

    When you're at university, you'll notice that there's the potential for pre-drinks and a night out any evening of the week. So, it really doesn't matter if you miss a night out. There will be plenty more opportunities. And trust us, this isn't quite the same once you graduate.

    While we wouldn't encourage you to go out every single night, take advantage of your freedom while you can (but keep in mind the earlier point about getting decent grades, please).

    Hopefully, your uni city will rank best for nightlife...

  13. Get into a routine of waking up early for lectures

    red alarm clock

    Credit: samritk – Shutterstock

    While it's tempting to lie in and take advantage of the absence of a 9–5 job, there are some benefits to getting up at a sensible time.

    You'll be able to get loads more done and it'll be less of a culture shock when you do head out into the 'real' world.

    If you're having serious trouble waking up at a decent time, there are some great apps that can help. Sleep Cycle is a good example.

    We also have loads of tips on how to fall asleep fast.

  14. Know your rights as a tenant and your consumer rights

    For some unscrupulous people, the word 'student' is a green light to start chancing it for all that they can. Don't let them walk all over you.

    Know your rights when it comes to being a tenantlearn how to haggle and, most importantly, know how to complain and get results.

    And, to be as savvy as possible, you can get the Uni Lifehacks book which includes a chapter from the founder of Save the Student himself.

  15. Students get the best freebies

    There's a huge amount of cool free stuff that comes with university life. So much so that it's easy to forget to make the most of it while you still can.

    Use the careers services, sign up for rewards schemes and join the students' union and various university societies.

    Make sure you're aware of all the best free things you can get from university.

  16. Future employers will look at your social media

    Everyone loves a bit of Instagram and TikTok in their lives (our Instagram and TikTok are rather good, if we may say so ourselves), but don't let it consume your life or ruin your job prospects.

    Social media is great for keeping in touch with friends and sharing your finest selfies. But, get your privacy settings in order.

    You don't want potential future employers to be stumbling across embarrassing drunken snaps when they're doing their background research on you. Make sure you keep a professional online profile.

  17. Your friends will change throughout university

    This doesn't mean you should stop making an effort with people you get on with during freshers' week, but people tend to change quite a lot during their university years (this goes for your friends back home, too).

    Don't feel you have to be best friends with the first people you meet and try not to take any freshers' week romances too seriously.

    We've got loads of advice on how to make friends at university, before, during and after freshers' week.

  18. Student deals are a great way to save money

    Totum student discount card

    When you're on a tight budget, it's amazing how much saving as little as £1 can mean for your finances.

    To help, we've got loads of advice on how you can save money as a student, as well as tonnes of deals and discounts for you to take full advantage of.

  19. Travel while you're a student

    Uni is one of the few times in your life when you'll get to do loads of totally 'out there' things without being held back by boring responsibilities, commitments or lack of spare time.

    Grab every exciting opportunity that comes your way, whether it's a music festival, a scuba diving trip, interrailing around Europe or just camping out somewhere in the sticks.

    These are the kinds of experiences that make some seriously good memories for you to take with you when you graduate, so grab them while you can.

  20. Take time to explore your city

    Wherever you are for the next three years, take some time to discover what your uni city has to offer, aside from supermarkets, the students' union and grimy nightclubs.

    One of the biggest regrets we hear from graduates is not fully making the most of their new location and exploring the local area outside of the typical student spots.

    Why not become a tourist for the day and go see all of the things TripAdvisor recommends?

  21. Night-time is the best time to go to supermarkets

    It sounds strange, but night-time is absolutely the best time to get bargains at the supermarket, as all the stock which is about to go out of date will be slashed in price.

    Make a habit of shopping in the evenings, and keep an eye out for the member of staff who's been burdened with the responsibility of sticking reduced-price stickers on food that's about to expire.

    In most cases 'best before' dates are just guidelines anyway and you can easily make food last much longer.

  22. Graduation is VERY expensive

    You know the robes and hats you get to wear when you graduate? Unfortunately, you can't usually keep them, and it'll cost you a fair amount just to wear them for a few hours.

    Save yourself the shock and start sticking your pennies in a 'graduation' jar now. All grads need at least one picture in a weird hat, after all.

Find out the top things to do when starting uni.


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