What I wish I knew before starting university

Three years ago yesterday I moved into halls at the University of Sussex. The car had been packed with the jenga blocks of my life – books, clothes, bedding, kitchen utensils all balancing on top of each other. Some of it was reminiscent of childhood and home while other stuff still had stickers and labels on. I had driven from Uxbridge to Falmer but it really felt like I had stepped into a portal to adulthood. 

Starting university is scary, overwhelming and anxiety inducing but above all it is a chance to start fresh, meet new people and explore who you are in this wonderful city you have come to. As a recent graduate myself, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the last three years. A lot of my friends are now in a transitional phase where big questions linger like, “what do I want to do next?” But before that, you lovely freshers have a whole three years minimum to immerse yourself in study and socialising. My not-so-baby brother has just begun his very own adventure at Brunel University, and I have loved being able to use my experience to guide him and calm any nerves. So, should you find yourself as a 2023 first year student, here is some advice. These are the things I wish I knew before starting uni. 


First of all, it is essential you register with a doctor near you. Sussex University has a Medical Centre on campus, while Brighton University encourages students to register at one of the local GP practices (Moulsecoomb Medical Centre, Stanford Medical Centre, or St. Peter’s Medical Centre). Remember to keep the practice informed if you require any repeat prescriptions or if you move house, particularly when you transition from halls into second year housing. 

Most GPs allow you to have phone consultations and fill in online forms therefore doctor appointments mean you can query any health condition or illness you are concerned about. Never think a problem is too big or too small to discuss with a professional.  For mental health support, The Student Centre at Sussex can offer advice through email, telephone and pre-booked appointments. Or, you can arrange a meeting with a Student Advisor to support you with practical or emotional support. At Brighton University, support services include a Student Support and Guidance Tutor, and counselling. 

‘Freshers Flu’, I am afraid, is not a myth.

Imagine how many people are coming from different areas and homes, all mixing in a brand new pool of germs at lectures and parties. Chances are, you will probably get a cold within your first couple of weeks of university. However, if you experience the symptoms of a high temperature, being sick, headache, stiff neck, rash, or drowsiness, this could be meningitis and you should seek medical help as soon as possible. 

Your sexual health is just as important as your physical and mental health too, and you will probably see lots of posters on this scattered around your campus. Condoms are free at most GPs and sexual health clinics while your GP can also help you decide which is the best contraception for you. Brighton & Hove Sexual Health & Contraception Service is free and open to everyone. They provide services on contraception, STI testing, Sexual Assault help and advice, and other queries. 


Maybe you have only ever had one friendship group throughout your childhood, or you have one person who you really did not want to leave at home. Perhaps you are incredibly close to your siblings, and the thought of making friends fills you with doubt or fear. Remember, everyone is in the same boat and probably feels the same! The joy of going to university is you have a whole campus, even a city, full of lovely enthusiastic people to meet. Put yourself out there and introduce yourself to someone new. 

Hopefully you have already settled in and got to know your flat mates. TikTok is a God-send for suggesting fancy dress parties (dress as something which starts with the same letter as your name, cowboys and cowgirls, movies, iconic British celebrities, to name a few suggestions). You could also have a sleepover in your lounge area, host board game nights, bake together and arrange group dates to pubs, restaurants, and cafes you want to discover.

While these are all good fun, doing mundane tasks with your flatmates like the food shop, cooking dinner and doing the laundry will help tackle loneliness and motivate you to find some sort of routine. On this note, something I found useful was playing the television on my laptop in my room for background noise. It was a familiarity that made me think of home and helped me transition into my own routine (because Bradley Walsh at 5pm means it is time to start thinking about dinner for me!).

Joining a society is also an amazing way to have another group of friends outside of your flatmates, and gives you something to do away from studying.

This is your chance to try a sport you have always wanted to attempt, join a book club, or maybe create real life Pitch Perfect via Acapella Society. Societies can be skill based allowing you to gain work experience, active allowing you to keep fit, culture or religion based, or totally casual. The fun of societies is that they can be completely niche, so make sure you head to your Student Union to see what is available because you never know what might interest you. If you go to the gym, play an instrument, or love drawing comics, try to keep this up in your own time too. It is good to attempt something new, but also don’t lose sight of what you already love. 


You are in the best term of your university life. First term of the first year is for getting to know your course. It is simply the buckling up and strapping yourself in before the ride even starts. This also means it is possibly the scariest part: you have the butterflies in your stomach of thinking you will love the journey ahead, but apprehension of not knowing the track. This term I would encourage you not to get off the rollercoaster before you have even been on the ride. Take risks by putting your hand up in lectures and writing essays which feel near impossible. These are the dips and loops which make the rollercoaster even more enthralling. Your whole academic life so far has built up to this point. You chose this course because you love it and are passionate about it, so dive right in and show off. 

Make sure you use the library and its facilities to the maximum.

You will have access to printing services, careers guidance, quiet and group study spaces, and a whole wonderful array of books, articles and essays. If you have a module or class you are particularly interested in, do some extra reading on it right away. This will put you in an excellent position for when you start writing essays or revising for exams.

Note as well that the library will have most of the books or essays on your reading lists. Even if it says you have to purchase an item, check the library for it first! The sooner you get into a good routine of getting your readings done for classes and lectures, the easier it will be to maintain that structure. Whether you love the morning grind, or are the evening-shift kind, stay on top of your workload and you will be able to contribute to class discussions more and throw yourself into assignments with vigour. 

With the benefit of a student loan, you may want to focus on settling into your course instead of earning money. However, if you are interested in working, I would first suggest seeing what is available at the university. There are often opportunities for you to make money on campus which can work around your studies. For example, you could be a Student Ambassador who works on open days and school visits, a Student Connector working between your peers and the staff, plus there are opportunities to tutor, mentor, or even work at on-campus shops, bars and cafes. Brighton University’s ‘Careers Connect’ or Sussex’s ‘Student Hub’ will inform students of any campus opportunities. While you may want to work, remember that you are first and foremost a full time student and you should not lose sight of your educational commitments. 


The scary ‘M’ word – Money. If you have not already got a student bank account, you should  open one so that you can budget and separate your student loan from any other money or income you may receive. If you open a student account with Santander, you receive a free railcard which will save you so much money on your travel. Or, you can buy a railcard on the Trainline app which is £30 for one year or £70 for three years. Railcards save you up to a third on train fares and is something I regret not buying sooner. It is much quicker to get the train from Falmer to Brighton than the bus, and the railcard saving also comes in very handy for your journeys between university and home. 

You can also save money on tumble driers by buying your own airer/drying rack. For savings on food and drink, read BN1 Magazine’s guide to student deals in Brighton. When you pack your pockets for a night out, always have your keys, wallet, phone and student card because you never know what deals you may find in town. 

www.gov.uk/repaying-your-student-loan provides you with all the information you may need on student loans, and getting an idea of when and how you will start paying this back. 

You have only just started your university adventure, but it is always beneficial to think about next steps. Around Christmas time will be when you start thinking about who you may want to live with in second year. Will you work in your hometown next summer? Perhaps there may be some internships available that you can look into? I do not write these questions to scare you, but as a reminder that everything you do and achieve in the present moment is for the benefit of you in the future. How can you maximise your university experience to ensure you leave on the best footing? Perhaps there are lecturers that particularly inspire you, or you go to a talk by someone in your dream job. Network, learn, be curious and be driven. The world is yours to conquer. 

This article is dedicated to my best friend and brother, Harry. I am so proud of everything you have achieved and I know you will thrive in this next stage of your life.

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