10 rules for new university students

Graham Jones
7 min readSep 9, 2018

In the next couple of weeks, hundreds of thousands of excited, but anxious, teenagers will be heading off to university for the first time. They will all be anticipating “Freshers Week” with all its drinking and socialising. They will all be eager to discover more about the course they are going to be studying and meeting their lecturers. Plus they will all be a little homesick, as they will be on their own for longer than before.

As a university lecturer, I see new students every year and each time I notice a similar set of issues which can sometimes limit what they get out of university. So here are my “ten rules” for new students to make the most of these exciting years.

1. Enjoy yourself

Don’t take it all too seriously. Yes, you are there to study and earn a degree. But you are also there to gain experiences you cannot gain in any other way. You will meet people from all kinds of backgrounds and cultures. You will get the opportunity to do things you couldn’t do if you were at work, or at home. You will also discover new ideas, new ways of thinking and new possibilities you did not previously know about. Take it all in. Enjoy it. Have fun. You will remember your university days for the rest of your life. Everything you do at uni will have a lasting impact on your life. So enjoy it.

2. Join things

There are more clubs and societies than you can possibly imagine. There is something for everyone. Whether you like sport, stamp collecting or sewing, there will be a society you can join. There are political societies, clubs to do with special interests and weird groups you never thought existed. There is bound to be something that interests you, or which you find curious. Join whatever takes your fancy. You will meet new people. You will discover new ideas. You will have fun.

3. Socialise (at a distance)

Student accommodation has places to socialise, like the kitchen or a lounge area. Go there. If no-one is there, read a book or a newspaper, or check your online messages. Sooner or later someone will pop by. Chat with them. Go to the student union bar, even if you are teetotal. Just get out, meet people and get to know people. Not only will you be exposed to new ideas and cultures, but you’ll also make new friends, some of which will last a lifetime. Plus, it will help you feel less alone.

4. Volunteer

Every club, society and organisation on campus needs a group of people to run it. If there are no volunteers, there are no societies to join. Volunteering helps keep things going. But it also provides you with additional benefits. You get to understand leadership and teamwork — which are important when you get to work after you graduate. Helping run an organisation while at university shows a potential employer you already know what teamwork is like — and that makes you more attractive to them. Plus, many universities provide on-campus accommodation for student representatives on various committees. That means you do not have the hassle at the end of your first year of having to find your own accommodation, away from campus.

5. Learn how to study

Schools are great at getting you to university, but there is a real problem with schooling. Even when you are doing A-Levels, you have access to teachers and support to guide you through your studies. But when you are at university you are on your own much more. At school, the study skills you learned got you to where you are now, at Uni. But you need to discover new study skills now you are an undergraduate. There will probably be some optional sessions on study skills. Go to them, you’ll be able to discover how to increase your marks. Get books on study skills. Listen to what lecturers say about studying. They will not focus on this, because they will be imparting knowledge and ideas about the subject you are studying. But along the way, they will drop hints about how to study. Keep an ear out for those hints and tips — it will help you gain good marks.

6. Set good habits

Every year I see students who suddenly realise the exam season is upon them (as if they hadn’t been given enough warning) and who find it hard to revise. That’s because they have spent a term or two going to bed far too late, or not getting up at the same time each day, or drinking every night to excess, or thinking they can read a 1,000-page textbook in an afternoon. In other words, their daily habits are not conducive to good academic results. While it is important to enjoy yourself and use university to the full, it is also important to establish good habits in your daily life, as that will help ensure you get the best possible grades.

7. Make year one count

In most courses, there is the notion that “year one does not count”. That’s a false idea. It does count. In the UK your degree will be made up of courses that produce a total of 360 points. That’s 120 points per year. You need to pass the first year to get the required 120 points. However, only the level of study in years two and three counts towards the grade of the degree, such as First Class Honours, or Second Class Honours and so on. So, it is right that Year One “does not count” as no matter how well you do in your first year’s modules, there is no impact on your degree classification. Except there is. It may not be in the marks that count towards grades but it is about establishing good study habits. If you have studied well in year one and got good grades, you have clearly learned how to study and set yourself good studying habits. If you have thought that “year one doesn’t count”, you end up having a bit of a mountain to climb at the start of Year Two. That means it is harder to get the good marks, which in turn means your degree classification can be affected. The people who do best in years two and three tend to be those who did well in Year One. In other words, Year One does count, because it influences your own performance in subsequent years. So always aim for the best possible marks even if you think it doesn’t count.

8. Get to know your personal tutor

Every student at uni gets allocated a “personal tutor”. This is one of the lecturers who are there to support and guide you through your entire time at university. They can help you with study skills, with understanding the academic rules and processes and with any administrative issues. They are there if you get into any kind of dispute or if you are concerned about any aspect of your life at uni. They may not be able to help you directly, but they know where to go for the help you need and who has the right expertise for each specific situation. The better your personal tutor knows you, the better they can help you. So don’t go thinking that you don’t need to meet up with your personal tutor unless you have a problem. If you get to know them, should you have a problem, they’ll be able to guide you more appropriately. Plus you won’t feel so awkward approaching them as you will know them.

9. Don’t be scared of asking for help

All too often students sit alone in their room worrying about something. It might be a concern about the subject they are studying because they don’t “get” something or quite understand it. Or it might be a personal issue, such as a boyfriend or girlfriend concern. Sometimes students worry about relatives at home who might be having a tough time. Or they may sit in their room feeling lonely. If you are sitting in your student accommodation alone in your room worrying about something, I am bound to win the bet that just down the corridor there is another student in the same position. Although you feel alone in your worries and concerns, you are not. University staff want to help. Indeed, we get frustrated when we realise that students could have avoided difficulties if only they had come to us sooner. No-one on the staff is going to think badly of you if you ask for help about anything. Indeed, they welcome it. After all, every lecturer was a student themselves once, so they do understand your situation. So whether you need help understanding something about the topic you are studying, or you need support to guide you through some personal anxieties, ask for help sooner than later.

10. Write a blog or journal

There is really good evidence now that people who keep a diary or make a few notes about their day, tend to have lower stress levels and less anxiety. There is also evidence that shows that people who keep daily notes tend to be more successful in life generally. The world’s top entrepreneurs, for instance, tend to make notes about everything they do and think. Just jotting down a few notes in a personal blog, or in a journal, will help ensure you get the most out of university and make it last a lifetime.

So, there you have it — ten rules that will help you ensure your first year at university goes well and enables you to have fun, learn lots and be successful.

Graham Jones is a Lecturer at the University of Buckingham and an Associate Lecturer at the Open University. He has been a university lecturer for more than 20 years. He studied initially at The University of Surrey, Guildford.



Graham Jones

Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who helps business understand online customer behaviour http://www.grahamjones.co.uk