What to Expect When Starting University


Starting at university can be both exciting and daunting, and maybe even both of these things at the same time! Often it can feel daunting because either we don’t know what to expect or we might even already have created some expectations about what it will be like at university. In terms of the practical expectations of starting at university, you can expect your university to clearly communicate with you instructions for arriving at your accommodation (if you move away from home) and attending your lectures, as well as information about activities around campus in good time before your first term starts. Here, we’ll focus on two key areas of starting university to think about what you can really expect when you get there: making new friends and your learning.

As part of our work with young people across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, we often get asked questions about where you can meet new friends at university, and what happens if you don’t get on with the people you’re living with. When you first arrive at university, you can expect there to be lots of opportunities to make new friends when you start. You might meet new friends in your accommodation (if you move away from home), on your course, in societies or clubs, sports teams, and both the university and the student’s union will put on a variety of activities for you during Welcome week.

It can, however, feel really daunting to meet so many new people in those first few weeks, and it’s really important to remember that you can also expect to make friends throughout your time at university. It is okay and often really normal if you don’t make your best friends at university right away, there are still lots of opportunities to meet new people. In your second and third year (and fourth depending on your course), you can choose who you live with if you move away from home to study, and many people meet their good friends on their course so you shouldn’t feel pressured to have to meet your best uni mates right away.
The reality of starting at university is that you don’t know who you’ll be living with or studying with, so it’s important to start university with an open mind about who you’ll meet and where you can make new friends. It’s also important to remember that you can expect there to be lots of support available to you when you arrive at university, and if you’re struggling to find opportunities to make new friends the student’s union will be able to help you find clubs and societies you can join. And if you are happy in your allocated accommodation, there are lots of people in student support services that you can talk to about it.

How you learn at university is very different to how you learn at school. You can expect to be independent in your learning, but you can also expect to be supported in your learning. What this means is that you have both the freedom and responsibility to keep on top of your work, and there are lots of important positives to this. You can expect to learn lots of new and interesting things about the subject you are studying. You might have some choice in some of modules (which is a specific topic or mini-course) you take, so you might have to take some compulsory courses to get essential knowledge and skills, but you might have opportunities to pick some modules based on your own interests.

But it is important to remember that your tutors will not chase you to check if you’ve done any preparation ahead of your classes, but this is really important to making sure you’re getting the most out of your studies and are able to complete your assessments to the best of your abilities. There isn’t homework in the same way you have this at school, and it is up to you whether you want to do it or not. You will have to manage your own timetable, and you will be responsible for ensuring that you attend all of our classes as well as submitting your work on time.
It also means that if you’re stuck, need help, or are struggling with any part of your university learning, that there are a lot of people at university you can rely on to help you. And this can range from emailing a tutor after a seminar with some questions about some things you didn’t understand, to some additional writing support from the university library, to support for personal things (such as wellbeing and health, disability support, financial guidance, employability)!

Essentially, in terms of what to expect to when you arrive at university, you can expect to be independent, but you can also expect to be supported in your independence. It can be really helpful to identify what support you can access at university (for example, your tutors, your friends, family and carers at home, student support services at university, the student’s union) before you arrive at university so you know exactly where to go for the help you might need. There will be lots of opportunities for you to develop your personal and academic skills, and you should always remember that universities are there to help you when you need additional support, as well celebrating all of your successes too!