Woman walking through university for the first time smiling

What I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Uni

Reflecting on her last three years as a student, Anna is imparting some essential and well-worn advice for students about to start university.


Like most people, I spent the months before starting university building up a collection of idealistic and slightly unrealistic expectations for what I would achieve over the next few years. Among other things, this included a long-term relationship and a solid idea of what I wanted to do post-graduation.

I expect this was one of the many effects of lockdown. After all, obsessively playing Lego Harry Potter on the Wii and constantly searching for part-time work gave me a lot of time to get excited about finally leaving home and starting what felt like a more adult life. 

But alas, three years have passed and I can confirm, I am without a relationship and remain just as clueless about what I want to do after uni as when I first arrived.

Although coming to uni was one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself, I did not foresee the many days spent working alone in my room, evenings sat in the hallway crying to my housemates over failed dates, or my growing intolerance for nights out. 

So, for those currently at university, expecting to go soon, or for anyone just looking for advice on how to gain a better sense of self, I aim to impart my patchy wisdom and outline a few things I wish I’d known three years ago.

You Are Not Going to Get on With Everyone

This one is directed at my fellow people-pleasers. 

University is undeniably a great way to make new friends, however, being surrounded by so many people can also feel quite overwhelming.

When I moved to uni I definitely felt the pressure to find a perfect group of friends straight away. I saw so many examples of people who clung to the friends they made in fresher’s week because there was reassurance in being able to say you’d already made friends (even if these friendships did break down in a few months).

While it is important to keep an open mind and give everyone a chance, there is also something to be said for being slightly picky about who you spend your time with. After all, you are the company you keep.

Drifting from friendships is normal. Especially during the first term of the first year when some people may be putting on a slight façade to seem cooler or more likeable. It is not unusual to discover that you’re not quite platonically compatible with some people after the first couple of weeks. To put it simply, there are too many people at uni to expect to get on with everyone.

I like to think that it is all those strange campus characters and the dodgy housemates that you were happy to ditch in your second year that really add some flavour to the whole experience. 

Everyone Makes Friends at Their Own Pace

This may be embarrassing to admit, but my search history during my first few weeks probably included something along the lines of When is a normal time to make friends at uni? 

Looking back now this seems slightly dramatic but it was something that took up a lot of head space during my first term. I remember thinking that everyone else had already formed solid groups of friends and that I had missed my chance. I had it in my head that no one would be open to making new friends after the first few weeks, which is not true at all.  

Many of my closest friendships weren’t solidified until halfway through my second year. At the time I thought this was quite late but it seems most people had a similar experience. 

One thing I will add is that you don’t need to throw yourself into the deep end when it comes to meeting people. I think there is an expectation that you must be going out every night if you want to meet people but this isn’t the case. 

In every year at uni I’ve managed to meet people and make new friends. I think that’s the great thing about starting new modules on your course or joining societies – there are always people to meet and almost everyone will be open to getting to know you! 

There isn’t a set way to meet people or a deadline by which you have to be friends. 

You end up meeting people in so many random and unexpected ways. I met my closest friend after she’d lost her room key and I offered to help her find it. We’ve now lived together for two years and she is the one person I tell every insignificant and boring detail about my life. 

It can be tricky moving away from home and away from close friends but if you’re open to meeting people and willing to give it a bit of time it will be worth it!

Spending Time Alone is Not a Bad Thing

I think this may be one of the most important things I’ve learnt over the past three years. 

Though I have always been quite an independent person (I think an ‘introverted extrovert’ may be the appropriate term to use here), I used to lack the confidence to spend time by myself.

When starting uni it can feel like you should be putting all your time and energy into meeting people and making friends. 

While this is important, it can be quite overwhelming if like me you have a smaller social battery. I found doing things by myself was a really easy way to recharge without feeling unproductive. 

Visiting art galleries and museums or going on long podcast walks were great ways to not only build up my independence but also to get to know the city I had just moved to. 

Building up a knowledge of what’s going on in your area also gives you a selection of things to invite people to or suggest that they visit in order to get to know them better. A lot of the places I discovered on my own in my first year have become regular spots for my friends during my final year. 

It can be easy to burn yourself out in the first few weeks of uni, so acknowledging your limits and taking time for yourself is important.

Consume the Right Kind of Media

As dramatic and main-character as it may feel to listen to the most soul-destroyingly eye-bawlingly sad music when on your own it’s not going to make things any easier. This is coming from someone who thought blasting Spotify’s finest lonely girl playlist on their first night at uni would be a “cathartic experience.” It was not.  

What may help, however, is putting on your headphones and blasting some of the funkiest (occasionally cheesy) tunes you can get your hands on. 

Artists like Remi Wolf and Olivia Dean are my go-to for moments like this. Paolo Nutini’s New Shoes has never let me down either. 

I found the media I consume has a ridiculously big impact on the way I view myself and my ability to deal with certain things. 

As much as I love a rom-com, it can be a bit too easy to fall down the rabbit hole of watching films about annoyingly happy couples and telling myself that I’m failing at life for not having my life perfectly planned out. 

Films like Frances Ha and The Worst Person in the World served as another helping hand in encouraging me to embrace the time I had alone. Everything seems a lot less scary when you see Greta Gerwig is in the same boat. 

I think this idea can also be applied to social media. 

I ended up deleting Instagram at the beginning of first year due to a terrible habit of comparing myself to everyone else while not giving myself credit for how far I’d come. 

I found the endless feed of people making the move to uni look like the easiest thing in the world did not help on the days I was struggling. 

Though it did initially make me feel slightly out of the loop at first, having a night in watching pointless YouTube videos with a mug of camomile tea is far more relaxing when you’re not bombarded with photos of people going out. 

No One Knows What They’re Doing

I think this is a good point to conclude on because you don’t need to know what you’re doing. 

Part of the fun of uni is trying to figure it out both by yourself and with everyone around you. I’m about to graduate and I still don’t know what’s going on. 

As long as you remember to bring those extra tea towels (you will lose them all), leave your heels behind (I haven’t touched mine in three years), and give yourself credit for getting there in the first place, the rest will come far more naturally than you can expect!

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2 thoughts on “What I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Uni”

  1. Excellent article. I hope people who are about to attend a University read this.

    I did not go right after high-school. I was way to lost and somehow smart enough to know it wouldn’t do me any good. By the time I went I was older and (maybe) a little wiser.

    Life at a University is wonderful. I had a great time. But I wish I had taken it seriously. I took fun to an extreme with little to show when it ended. A University isn’t for everyone and for some, it’s best if you wait a few years and a better idea of what you want in life.

    1. Thanks Bryan, I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
      I completely agree with you. I think it can be easy to view uni as something you have to do immediately, as well as a way of avoiding thinking about the future (I certainly did haha). There is definitely something to be said for waiting a few years and ensuring it is the right choice.

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