5 Things No One Tells You About Going To University

In light of the fact I’ll be graduating with First Class Honours (don’t look at me. I’m still in shock), I thought I now have enough credibility to do a post like this. So first, a little story about when I was young.

I didn’t come to university knowing what to do. I had just turned eighteen. I had just learned how to get in to Sunderland by myself. Everything was big, scary and intimidating. It was a story I was hearing often from my peers: they were just as afraid as I was.

I found later though that this was not always the case. The mature students had enough age and experience to seamlessly integrate in to the ranks of the university veterans. Stranger, though, were the people my age. Some of us were lost lambs, afraid to move in case the wolves might descend upon us. Others… they were calm. They were assured. They knew exactly what they were doing.

I realised later what had happened. I am the first in my family to go to university. Outside of Saved By The Bell: The College Years, I knew next to nothing about what university would be like. The internet explained the best it could, but Google isn’t your friend. Google is cold, and indifferent, and cares only for your search words.

Dear readers, I like to think we’re friendly. I like to think you come to me for advice you can trust.

Well, here I am.

Here are the five things no one tells you about going to university.

1. You will never have enough pens.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve bought a box of 100. I can promise you that you will be out of pens by the end of the semester. I genuinely don’t know how I do it. I must go through a pen a day. The real fear is that I’ll need a separate bank account for just a pen budget when it comes to my MA. Maybe this is an English-specific problem. Maybe my lecturers just have a lot of knowledge to give. I don’t know. All I know is that I have used miles of ink over these past three years. Always pack a spare or three.

2. Doing badly first year can get you the grade you want.

I don’t think I’d have tried so hard in second year if I hadn’t felt like I failed Susan’s module. It wasn’t as though I had totally failed it, and I don’t encourage you not to try to do your best. But I was arrogant, and I thought that I could write essays like I’d always been writing. I knew I had to learn how to write essays correctly if I wanted to pass. I honestly thank Susan from the bottom of my heart for being so tough with me. Having that one taste of potential failure spurred me on, and it was character building. I think it helps prepare you for the feeling of getting a grade you weren’t expecting. And as first year doesn’t count towards your overall grade, it is the perfect time.

3. It might take time for you to engage.

You’re not a bad student if you don’t want to join clubs or societies. I didn’t join any until my final year and I had to set it up first. I felt like I was missing a huge part of the student experience by being teetotal and living at home. I didn’t get invited many places, and I always just wanted to get home and work on my reading. Again, I was in third year when I made friends who had the time to hang out with me in places I was comfortable with. It’s okay if it takes you a while to find your comfort zone. Everyone is different. If you think you need help, there are people you can talk to. Most universities have a service that provides someone to talk to, or you can even ask the Student’s Union for advice on meeting people like you. You’re not alone.

4. You’re probably going to like a new bunch of things when you leave.

I came to university liking fandom things, anime and purely DC comics. I’ll be graduating in love with more kinds of books, Victorian style and comics of all description. More than that though, I’ve become critical of things I used to love. That’s not to say I dismiss them entirely: I love new shows and certain anime with all my heart. But I’m aware of things that I would have denied aged 17. Things like Sherlock is filled with sexism and queer baiting, and there are flaws in all of Moffat’s writing. Things like maybe Supernatural isn’t as good as it once was.

It’s not that you become jaded. It’s that you will try new things and like them. You will meet people who like the same things you do and conversation will help you realise that maybe you’ve placed your love on too high a pedestal. Embrace new things. Alison always says if you leave university the same person you were when you started, you haven’t embraced the spirit of university. The only thing that has remained consistent with me is an interest in writing, feminism and Nick Jonas.

5. Sharing is caring

I know you came to university to do well. You want the high grades. I’ve seen people isolate themselves from their peers out of some stubborn pride. I can promise you that is not beneficial. Some of my best ideas have come from discussions with friends. Having a network of people is nice. We had a Shakespeare study group this year, and it was brilliant. We traded notes, ideas, and I can guarantee they made an appearance somewhere in my exam. More than that though, it was nice to know that people were struggling with you and you had people enough in the know that you could ask. For every concept you cannot grasp in class, there are two universal truths attached to it: you are not the only one who didn’t understand, and someone in your class did. Seek out both. Make a pact. Make a friendship! Share your books and sources and you can all pass.

And those are my top tips. They’re not things they tell you on Google. I could tell you how to stay safe, who to contact when things get bad, but your university will have specific protocols. Ask questions, and don’t be ashamed. If you want to hear the broader advice from me, use the Contact Me tab and send me a tweet or an email. I love doing requests.

And so, dear readers, we reach the end of another post.

Let me ask you this: are you heading to university soon? Do you have any advice to add to my list? And do you have any course-specific stories you want to share?

Let me know your thoughts!


About Stephanie Gallon

I'm an author, a blogger, and a zealot of all things written. I work as an English teacher in England, and have a PGCE PCET, a distinction in MA English studies and first class honours in BA English and Creative Writing. I have more degrees than friends
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6 Responses to 5 Things No One Tells You About Going To University

  1. I don’t know about mature students “having enough age and experience to seamlessly integrate in,” I was a bag of nerves when I started. Great blog though!


  2. hanna says:

    My God, this was perfection.

    Everything I needed to hear, you said. It was as though we both sat at the end of the table, with a cup of tea and you shared your wisdom with me, whilst I listened in complete awe.

    I start university in exactly two weeks to study English Literature. I have been googling ‘things nobody tells you about university’ with the hope I would learn from previous students mistakes and be on the ball… preparing ahead indeed! But everything I read so far was so repetitve, so monotone. But this, this was briliant. It was personal, indepeth and honest. I loved it.

    Oddly enough, I read the first sentense (congrats on the first class honours by the way!) and thought, “it’s almost as if I’m reading a post from me in the future”. I just felt as though I could really relate to what you were saying. I’m glad you mentioned the friends/socities thing. I don’t think I will be particularly keen to join societies right away, I’m not putting them off completely, just want to do things at my own pace and your post is really reassuring.

    The things you loved at 17 are identical to my loves too… To think I could possibly change my views about Sherlock and Moffat’s writing is rather interesting… By no means am I offended, I’m quite excited about the possiblity of falling out of love, making mistakes, and offering a new perspective on things. Hey I’m 18, I’m suppose to change my mind and be confused. Despite recently having huge fears, worries and doubt (mostly about myself) your post has reassured me that it is completely okay to feel this way, as long as get back on track. I am going to mess up and properly kick myself for it but I hope I just remind myself that I might write a blog about this in a few years and might just inspire someone, like you have done for me.

    You are absoultely spot on about google; it’s a distant lover that we keep turning too in order to satisfy something that will never quite be full. However, today I give it the credit it desserves. Afterall, it did lead me to you and this blog.

    Thank you very much for this blog, it made a wonderful read.
    From a very excited/nervous/keen Fresher,
    Hanna. X


    • This is possibly the nicest response I’ve had on this blog! Thank you so much! I’m glad you found this useful.

      Good luck to you! You’ll really enjoy your uni experience.

      I post other university-related things too. I have a post about the lecturers you’ll meet, and an up-coming guide to making the most out of your degree time if you’re interested.

      You have a brilliant attitude towards the prospect of change. For that, I applaud you. Keep that mindset. It will be your greatest ally.

      Where and what are you studying? 🙂


      • hanna says:

        You are very welome!

        Thank you! And I have read many of your posts already… I resiststed the temptation to comment on all of them.

        I am off to the University of Westminster to studying English Literature 🙂
        Keep up the blogs, I really enjoy them and you’ve made me consider whether I should start writing one too (I’ve always wanted too…but just kept pushing the thought to the back of my mind).

        Stay happy!


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