5 Realistic University Expectations

You’ve seen it in movies, you’ve read about it in books and you’ve heard tales from your friends. You’re probably buzzing about going to University – and you should be, it’s a fantastic experience. However, it’s by far an easy journey, and it’s by far the cliché it’s made out to be. Here are five slightly more realistic University experiences to set your expectations…

1) You will most likely be broke

People joke about it all of the time, but it’s a harsh reality. Unless your parents can help you 24/7, the maintenance loan doesn’t stretch as far as you hope it will. With rent, food, socialising (A vital part of University), and the countless number of academic books that end up costing a fortune, it’s rare to have much excess. And though it’s easy for people to turn around and tell you to get a job, not everyone can manage one during University, which leads to a shocking lack of money.


  • Make sure you have a student bank account, as these tend to come with interest-free overdrafts. Though it isn’t ideal to live out of your overdraft and I don’t actively encourage that you do, sometimes it’s unavoidable, and at least this way you don’t have to pay interest.
  • Try and get a job with your University itself – these usually come in the form of tour guide positions, phone answerers and department helpers. Not only do Universities tend to pay pretty well, but they have more flexible hours than other jobs, will be local to you, and take your student status into account.

2) You won’t get along with everybody

Whilst it’s great to envision finding your best friend in the form of your first-year flatmates, and braving the rest of University, you’ve also got to brace yourself for the worst. Don’t get me wrong, for some people it definitely does happen. However, the people that you’re thrown together within the first year have been chosen by chance, and they may not be people that you properly align with.

The first few months of University can be incredibly intense when it comes to friendships: you’re all trying to get by, you’re all trying to find your feet, and you cling to each other before you even know whether you have anything in common. Brace yourself for fallouts and conscious uncouplings and try not to take it too personally if you find out you’re not everyone’s cup of tea (And vice-versa). It’s better to go through the ending of a friendship than trying to force something that isn’t right for you.


  • Join societies in any sort of subject/sport or activity that interests you. You are more likely to find solid friendships in situations where you’re all drawn together through a common interest.
  • Make your circle big at the beginning of the year – chat and get to know different people in different areas of your life. This way, you have people to fall back on if you massively clash with your flat, or your course mates, or your society buddies.

3) It’s likely you’ll experience periods of loneliness

Whether you have a solid group of friends or not, University can be an incredibly lonely place at times. Ironically, I thought I was alone in experiencing this until I spoke to other friends from various Universities and they all said the same thing. It’s a hard period of your life, and despite having people around you, it’s easy to feel like you’re alone in what you’re going through.


  • Talk to “outside people”, be that parents, siblings or friends from home. Sometimes University can make you feel like you’re trapped in one small bubble, so talking to people outside of the said bubble, who know you separately from University, can help you feel a little less alone at times.
  • Check out your University’s wellbeing services, to see what sort of support they offer. Though counselling and therapy are great for people with pre-existing mental health issues, they are also great for anyone at University who is experiencing dips in their mental health. It can be really cathartic to just talk things out with a professional.
  • Let some trusted friends know. As I said, I didn’t realise loneliness was a common University problem until I spoke to friends of my own. So you could find the same.

4) You’re truly in the deep end

If you’re not good at self-motivation, now is the time to learn that, because University really throws you into the deep end. With most courses (Especially humanities and arts subjects) you’ll find that most of the teaching is now down to you. In my final year of University I had 8 “contact hours” (The term for face to face lesson time with a tutor) a week, and the rest, I was supposed to figure out for myself.


  • Get good at self-motivation by setting yourself targets or forcing yourself to spend a certain number of hours in the library a day. Remind yourself that your free time during the week is not actually free time, it’s just the time that you’re supposed to be working by yourself.
  • Use your tutor’s office hours! Most tutors will have a set couple of hours a week, dedicated to anyone from your course that wants to come and chat to them, and they’ll let you know about them at the beginning of the course. If you’re struggling with something, or you want some extra teacher-student time then email them and use them! They’re very willing to help if you’re willing to learn.

5) You have more time off, but it sure doesn’t feel like it

I remember going into University and finding out that I now had 3 weeks at Christmas and 3 weeks at Easter and feeling overjoyed! However, I quickly learned that these breaks aren’t breaks at all. Between travelling home, seeing family, and studying for January/summer exams…. Not to mention the coursework you’ll inevitably be set, you’re so preoccupied that the break is over before it’s even begun.


  • Schedule your studies, but not too intensely. You’ll most likely have friends you haven’t seen in months and family that’s desperate to ask you how it all is – you really don’t know how each day will take you. Instead of setting yourself specific study goals each day and inevitably stressing when you’re behind, try creating wider goals. For example, tell yourself that you’ll do X amount of hours over the week, with no specific days allocated. That way you can work when you’re able to, without feeling guilty every time you go out.

All in all, University is a fun time. However, that doesn’t mean that every single thing will go to plan. As long as you go in with neutral expectations and the mentality that you can rise above obstacles, you’ll be absolutely fine. I hope that these 5 truths will help with that.

One thought on “5 Realistic University Expectations

  1. Wow, this is all so helpful and something I wish I could have read before my uni journey! I lived in my over draft but I did get a job at a local cinema- perfect hours for a student!! It also was a lonely time so I’m thankful I kept in touch with my best friends back home and my family frequently.

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