How to Prepare For University

Starting university is a new and exciting experience and marks the start of the next chapter in your education and your life – so it’s important to make the most of it! Whether you have already received your offer or are eagerly awaiting results day, there are plenty of things you can do to prepare as well as possible for university. This simple guide lists 10 ways you can prepare, both academically and logistically, ahead of your course start date.

1. Do wider reading

One of the best ways to prepare academically for university is to read widely around your subject area. Many courses provide recommended reading lists that you can work through during the summer break. If your course doesn’t provide one, you could email your department or course leader directly to see if they have any recommendations. You could also look at the modules you’ll be covering and do your own research into the relevant academics and readings in those subjects areas.

It can be good to get into the habit of reading new texts, as this will be a big part of your university course, however if you don’t want to read in the traditional sense, there are many other ways you can expand your subject knowledge. For example, you could watch quality YouTube videos and TED talks, listen to educational podcasts, or listen to audiobooks.

Top tip: If your course will require you to critically analyse texts or understand contextual factors, try making notes on these things while you read. You can either annotate a text directly or make notes on a separate piece of paper or online document. This will help you to get into the habit of thinking about and analysing what you are reading and develop your own thoughts and opinions on important topics relating to your degree subject.

2. Get organised

It is important to get yourself organised before starting university. There are many things to consider when it comes to getting organised, including:

  • Finances – make sure you know how much your maintenance loan will be (if you are a UK student) and how much your outgoings will be so that you can budget for your first year of university. Note that some universities (like Oxford and Cambridge) do not allow you to work part-time while you study, and most universities have limits on the number of hours you can work, so you may need to bear that in mind.
  • Accommodation – ensure that you have organised accommodation for your first year of university, whether this is student halls or another type of accommodation. Think carefully about your options when it comes to accommodation and make sure to choose the best option for you (for example, the halls that are closest to your department buildings).
  • Local services – it is a good idea to register with a GP that is local to your university. You should also consider where and how to access other local services, such as supermarkets, dentists, and pharmacies, before starting your course.
  • Other necessities – aside from the essentials needed for your accommodation (such as bedding, kitchenware, and toiletries), you will need to consider other necessities for starting university. This includes any technology you need (such as a laptop/tablet), folders to file your assignments, any books required for your course, and more. It’s a good idea to make a list of everything you think you might need at least a few weeks in advance so that you have plenty of time to buy anything you don’t already have before you start.

3. Research societies and clubs

One of the most exciting parts of starting university is the range of societies and clubs available to you. We recommend researching societies before you start university and having an idea of which ones you might be interested in. Then, when it comes to visiting your university freshers fair, you can keep an eye out for the clubs you’d like to find out more about and ensure that you sign up for the ones that interest you the most.

Usually, societies will have their own freshers events that allow first year students to give them a try without having to commit straight away, so don’t worry if you’re unsure of what to join. Try to sign up for as many different societies that interest you as possible to make the most of this opportunity!

4. Set yourself realistic goals

Setting yourself realistic goals before you start university can be a great way to keep yourself focused. For example, if you have identified any societies or clubs you’d like to join, you could set yourself the goal of joining those and participating in them every week. You might also set yourself academic goals, such as to meet every course deadline in your first year. It’s helpful to have a mixture of both academic goals and social goals to ensure that you find a balance between studying and enjoying your time at university.

5. Practice referencing

One of the biggest differences between school level essays and university essays is the amount and quality of referencing required. For this reason, referencing is one of the areas that first year university students often find challenging. Each university department will usually specify its own referencing style – if you can find out what your referencing style will be, you can practise using it in your written work before you start university. This can relieve any anxiety you may have around learning how to reference and give you a head start when it comes to writing a top quality essay.

6. Experiment with study styles

You’ll probably have an idea of what study and revision styles work for you from the methods you used in your previous exam revision. However, before you start university, it can be helpful to experiment with study styles and note-taking strategies to see which ones really work best for you. Lectures require fast and efficient note taking, so you could practise watching mock lectures on YouTube and making notes in different ways (such as making mind maps, using shorthand, highlighting key words and concepts, and more). The more study skills you have under your belt, the easier it will be for you to learn the material on your course and succeed in exams and assignments.

7. Prioritise sleep and your mental health

One of the most powerful ways you can prepare for university is to prioritise your wellbeing. Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep and taking care of your mental health in the months running up to your start date to ensure that you are in the best position to tackle all of the new experiences you will have and make the most of freshers week and your first term. You can expect that your sleep schedule will almost certainly be interrupted once you’re at university (you are there to have fun as well as study!), but ensuring that you get enough sleep and maintain your health are still of the utmost importance.

8. Make the most of university resources

Many universities have online resources that you can access before you officially start your course. These resources could include written guides, academic journals and readings, videos and tutorials, quizzes, podcasts, and more. Make the most of these resources in the weeks leading up to your start date to really immerse yourself in the university culture and your subject area. If you’re really keen, you might even be able to email your course leader to ask if there is anything they can recommend you do to prepare.

Top tip: Everything you’ll need to know about your university course will typically be available in your course handbook. Usually, a copy of this handbook is shared with you during freshers week, however it might be available online before then. If so, you can familiarise yourself with the ins and outs of your course and use it as a guide as to what and how to prepare.

9. Speak to others about their university experiences

Speaking to other people, like your parents, teachers, family friends, or other students online, can be a great way to prepare yourself for university. Often, through sharing their experiences, people can pass on important lessons they learnt and tips to help you make the most of your time at university. It’s also good to connect with these people so that, if at any point you are struggling at university, you have a network of friends and family you can reach out to for support.

10. Work with an experienced tutor

University-level study is a considerable jump up from school study, especially if you are applying for a top university or a subject that you have not studied at school level. To help bridge the gap between school and university and overcome any challenges you may face, it can be really useful to have an experienced tutor on hand. For example, tutors can work with you one on one to break down complex problems and help you to understand complicated concepts. They can also work with you online, meaning you can tackle whatever challenges you are having from wherever you are.

If you have worked with a Profs tutor during your university application, that tutor will know you well and may be able to continue working with you throughout university. If not, don’t worry – we have a network of highly qualified university level tutors specialising in a range of subjects who can help you stay on top of course content, assignments and exam preparation. Reach out to our team today for support.

FAQs

When does university start?

In the UK, universities set their own start dates, so when exactly their students start can vary. Typically, UK universities start in the second half of September. However, some universities start a little earlier in September, while others start at the beginning of October, so always double check.

Can you change your university course before starting?

If you’d like to change your course to a different course at the same university before starting, you will need to speak to that university directly. Some universities allow you to change course, especially if you are wanting to transfer to a relatively similar course and your qualifications and application are still relevant, however transferring to a completely different subject area or department is a lot more difficult. If you’d like to change to a course at a different university, you will typically need to go through Clearing to see if you can secure a place on that course before withdrawing your acceptance of a place on your original course. In either case, there is never a guarantee that you can change your university course before starting, so you should consider your options carefully before making any decisions.

When does university clearing start?

Clearing opens on the 5th July 2023 for applicants who already have their grades but aren’t currently holding a university offer. Most students will need to wait until they have received their A level results on 17th August 2023 (or equivalent qualification results) – you can start using Clearing from the time you get your results. Clearing then remains open until the 17th October 2023.

Does IB prepare you for university?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) prepares students for university just as any other equivalent qualification does – by providing a solid base of knowledge in multiple subjects, particularly those relevant to your chosen university course.

Is 18 too early for university?

Most UK students start university the same year that they finish their A levels, which for most people is when they are 18 years old. Some UK students (those who went through the Scottish education system) may start university at age 17. Additionally, some people choose to take a gap year between school and university, so may be 19 or 20 when starting their course. There are, of course, also mature students who begin undergraduate university courses much later in life. Ultimately, there is no age that is ‘too early’ or ‘too late’ for university – if you are qualified and prepared, you can begin university whenever is best for you.

How do I mentally prepare myself for university?

Starting university is a significant moment in anyone’s life and can sometimes feel overwhelming or even stressful. However, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone and there are many things you can do to prepare yourself mentally for university, including getting plenty of sleep, looking after your mental health, expanding your subject knowledge, and familiarising yourself with your course and university before you start.
If you are worried about succeeding academically at university, it can also be helpful to have a tutor on hand to help you with any assignments and exams.

Is the first year of university easy?

How easy your first year of university will be will depend on a huge range of factors, including the university you are attending and the course you are studying. If you are going to a top UK university like Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial, LSE, and more, your first year is highly unlikely to be easy. Even if you are not attending one of the best universities in the UK, degree level study is always going to be a step up from school level study, both in terms of the difficulty of the content and the style of study, which becomes more independent and reliant on your own organisation and motivation.

You might hear that the first year of university is easy because it ‘doesn’t count’. While your first year of university may not count towards your final degree classification, it is still an important part of your degree course, as it will equip you with many of the skills and knowledge you’ll need to succeed in your second and third years.

How many hours a day should you study in university?

The number of hours you should spend studying each day depends on which university you attend and the course you are enrolled in. Some university courses are more intensive than others, and each university will recommend its own guidelines on how much time you should be dedicating to studying. A general rule of thumb to follow is to spend 2 hours studying per 1 hour of lecture/seminar time, so if you have 10 hours of ‘contact time’, you could expect to study for around an additional 20 hours per week. This can include required/recommended reading, revision, note-taking, watching preparatory videos, and more.

How to prepare for university as a mature student

The ways in which you can prepare for university as a mature student are very similar to the general tips for preparing for university for all students. Namely, you should do wider reading, get yourself organised, research societies and clubs, set yourself realistic goals, practice referencing, experiment with study styles, prioritise sleep and your mental health, make the most of university resources, speak to others about their university experiences, and work with an experienced tutor.
However, there may be additional considerations you need to make as a mature student, such as whether your qualifications will be considered and any additional courses you may need to take in order to qualify for entry, how you will fund your course, and childcare/additional accommodation requirements if you are a parent. Read our guide on how to apply to university as a mature student for more information and tips from our experts.