Three Things I wish I had known before starting University

We’ve reached that point in the year where people have graduated in the summer in a flurry, albeit virtually due to government restrictions. September now marks the month many start university for the first time and others start the application process for university. I write this with these groups in mind as I hope I can relay some wisdom to them in order to help them make the most of their university experience.

  • Mental Health Matters

When I say university can be tough, I mean TOUGH in all caps. Reading can pile up and the occasional pest of essay writers block means writing an assignment is not a simple thing you can add to your to-do list and then quickly tick off. Rather, you have to chip away at it over gruelling hours of intense thought and typing. In the midst of all this it’s definitely easy for your mental health to take a back seat. From personal experience sometimes it seemed like every time I took a break i.e. listened to music, took a nap or decided to read something non-academic I was wasting time which could potentially be used to study. From that comes guilt which deters you from doing such relaxing activities often.

Stress can eat away at you for such reasons so it’s important to attend a university that has the mental health of its students high on the agenda; counselling services, leave of absence policies and available resources or stress reducing activities i.e. sports, Pilates, arts, baking etc are important to things to have on campus, for example. If I had known about this in advance, I would have definitely added mental health services to my list of criteria when choosing a university and I would advise prospective students who are shortlisting universities to do this too.

  • Any Placements available? 

I did a philosophy degree so I didn’t see much universities offering this option and I may be wrong but placements don’t often get offered with humanity degrees like the one I did. They’re unfortunately often only for practical based subjects like STEM degrees. But whilst on the search for my first graduate role I realised what a difference one year of work experience (which is what you get on a placement) could make. It would particularly help when trying to tackle the now very common issue of employers require 1-3 years work experience for entry level roles. Or…employers could just be more realistic with expectations and become more willing to invest and train graduate employees, but I degress…

  • University can be lonely.
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I think this realisation kicked in more in third year if anything. Particularly if all your friends are studying different courses or live away from you this can cause difficulty in frequently aligning your schedules to meet up. This becomes more of the case during exam season where everyone tends to cut themselves off from people more than usual in order to minimise distractions. It puts you in a weird position where you tend to savour social interactions and become more grateful for them. I remember watching late night dramas or having conversations about philosophy and politics with my flatmates in second year and those are honestly some of my more treasured memories. You go away feeling lighter, feeling happier and feeling closer.

Friends are what help to shape the university experience since its purely not enough to attend and attempt to survive with a ‘I only came here to study mentality’. When they say you get what you put in, this applies well to friendships at uni. Where I met most of my friends is through my course and through random societies – socialising with people within these two groups is the best way to bond with people who have similar interests/passions to you.

That’s it from me! I hope this was helpful; people often tend to romanticise the university experience and although yes, it can be rewarding it definitely has its difficulties too. This shouldn’t put you off but it’s always worth having such knowledge so you dive into the experience well equipped and well informed.

From Graduation to the Grind: the Post-university Experience

accomplishment ceremony education graduation
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Graduating from university is such a surreal experience. Funnily enough, when starting a university course- you don’t actually imagine what it will feel like for that course to end. All your energy is focused on studying and surviving your degree. The graduating process- and even the run-up towards it- is an ideal time for reflection and thanksgiving. Everyone’s experience has been different, with most people at some time or the other experiencing the feeling they may not actually make the end of their course. Yet, that moment as you secure your parchment or stand with family under the lens- smile beaming is a testament to your perseverance and hard work. You can proudly look at your transcript and say, ‘I did that.’

The significance of the completion of this specific stage in your life, especially for many BAME students is immense- with many being the first generation in their family to enter and complete higher education. As you sit in the hall for your ceremony waiting along with pride and excitement, there is a sense that anything is possible; a room packed with students will be tomorrow’s politicians, lawyers and entrepreneurs.

For those that recently graduated, along with a huge congratulations, here are some tips to steady you in this new phase of your life:

  1. Remain Positive– for those that are starting their job search positivity can easily be lost in the midst of your worries about the future. What do I want to do? Where will I be doing it? There is no denying that job hunting can be laborious- especially for graduates who are up against fierce competition when applying for roles and schemes. Additionally, as black people we are up against institutional racism which constantly remains a silent (and often covert) enemy in many industries. For example, in 2016 TUC research found that unemployment amongst BAME students is higher than that of their white counterparts; and this is regardless of their level of qualification i.e bachelors or PhD etc. However, there is also good news since the same statistics also showed- employment rates amongst BAME people are the highest they’ve other been since records started in 2001. This simply shows that yes, despite an intersection of struggles (partly due to being a graduate and partly due to being black), success is indeed possible.
  2. Everyone’s path is different– although very exciting and a great doorway to various opportunities, graduate jobs are not for everyone. This means if you find yourself in a non-graduate role, or an entry-level role different from your envisioned ‘dream job’, don’t be disheartened. This applies even to those who aren’t recent graduates but yet find themselves in this position. You may even discover you are lacking skills for the industry of your choice and therefore choose to invest in yourself by gaining a qualification, doing some formal training or a course. Remember, success is not instantaneous; rather it is a process that requires planning and premeditated steps.
  3. Your experience tells a story– getting the grades is only half of the purpose of university; the other half centres around your experience. Thousands of people can go to the same university but grades aside, what will distinguish you from the rest is your experience. Maybe you were the treasurer of the dance society? Or helped with charity fundraising and ran for a student union position? Such experience not only indicates you possess a variety of skills, it always reflects your character; you’re likely to be a go-getter, a team player and someone who is driven. And it is this experience- and the traits they indicate that is going to carry you the extra mile when applying for jobs. So, if you are applying; whether that be for a full-time graduate job or simply a summer job before starting your postgraduate reflect on your experience and ask yourself what exactly you got out of it- good and bad; both types of experiences count!

Essentials for University

So you’re heading to university soon, congrats. Everyone says it’s a life changing experience- and maybe they’re right- but the the truth is the more prepared you are, the better the experience will be. To make your life easy I’ve compiled a list of uni essentials.


Having a laptop means convenience- you can work in your room instead of having to rely solely on the computers in the campus library. When buying a laptop you
preferably want something lightweight that you can easily carry around campus. If your laptop is quite heavy- you can opt for a tablet; by design they are generally lighter than laptops and usually cheaper too.

Independence is on the horizon!

Take precautions and make sure you buy protective cases and screen covers for your gadgets too!

Data Back Up

A hard drive can be used to back up your computer’s contents and that of your USB’s just in case you lose the data on either. Other alternatives to a solid hard drive could be by using online forms such as iCloud, Microsoft’s One Drive, Dropbox or Google Drive.


These are useful for keeping yourself organized and sticking to deadlines.

Post-it notes are a great way to remind yourself of things you need to do urgently. They can also be used to write summaries of chapters or key quotes needed for essays and revision.

Post-It tabs are good for bookmarking important pages for future reference; they can be labeled too. This is handy especially for library books which you have to avoid writing on or folding pages.

An A3 paper sketchpad is great way to brainstorm ideas or make collages presentation posters.

Academic calendars are useful especially if your commitments transcend your studies e.g. volunteering, part-time job(s) or society events.

Railcard 16-25

This card allows you to get 33% any National Rail ticket you book which is very useful for any students that are studying long distance. It also makes it cheaper to visit friends studying too! The railcard comes with two options; the year long card- which is 30 pounds- and the three year card- which is 70 pounds. The rail card also entitles you to discounts from restaurants, theatres and other experiences.

Santander offers a four year free railcard to all their student account holders.


Accidents happen. One day you can be drunk and accidentally smash your phone.  Or your tablet may accidentally slip off your desk. To avoid hassle in such ‘what if’ situations it’s good to have your important possessions insured. This means they can be replaced fairly quickly; which is a relief especially if what is damaged is very valuable. Endsleigh are the most popular provider of insurance for students; they even offer discounts if you insure more than one item with them.

Most student accommodation will automatically come with contents insurance but it is good to double check just in case. Contents insurance means you are covered if anything is stolen from your room, or maybe even damaged e.g. by leakage or flooding.

Uni Days app/ NUS card

The NUS card can be used as a form of ID and enables you to get multiple discounts. It is 12 pounds a year but a portion of this money goes back to your university’s Student Union to help fund it. Unidays on the other hand, is free! It doesn’t have as much discounts as the NUS card but the little offers it does have are quite varied.

Many times just carrying your university ID with you to shops will also get you offers; but not as many as you would get with Unidays or the NUS card.

Student Bank Account

Upgrading your bank account to a student one is vital. There are many banks to choose from, but remember you can only have one student bank account, which is intended to receive your maintenance loan. You have two main options when choosing an account; you can either upgrade your current bank account. Or you can choose a different bank to hold your student account. The great thing about these types of accounts is that you aren’t charged interest if you go into your overdraft.

Many websites such as offer useful comparison guides to help you choose what bank is best. Things to look out for would include the overdraft maximum, the interest charged on the money in the account and the incentive offered by the bank. For example, NatWest offer a coach card to all student account holders which give them discount over National Express coaches.

Other bits and bobs

In terms of other household things such as drying racks and kitchen utensils; the best thing to do is buy them the first day you move in to your accommodation. This means you avoid buying things in London and transporting them to Leeds, for example, when you could have just bought them all in Leeds.

Documents such as your passport or birth certificate and NI documents may prove useful; so take those along if possible.