University Survival Guide: an insider’s tips and tricks to ensure that you survive, but most importantly, thrive at uni.

Branded as being the ‘best years of your life’ there is no doubt that the university experience is met with extremely high expectations. And yes, whilst these can be the best years of your life: meeting new people; studying something you are passionate about and enjoying your newfound independence, there is no doubt that it can also be an incredibly daunting and, at points, stressful experience. Whether you are starting uni in September or are a veteran going into final year, here are a few of my most valuable tips and tricks on how to survive and most importantly thrive at uni.

ORGANISATIONAL ADVICE:

From juggling deadlines to attending extracurricular activities and various coffee and beer appointments, it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on, where you’re meant to be and what you need to do. Here are a few steps to help navigate uni life.

  •  Keep a diary or planner: it may sound basic but having a physical diary or a large wall planner is vital to staying on top of your academic and personal life. Write all your deadlines in at the start of each term and even put warning messages in the days or weeks approaching deadlines so you are not taken by surprise.
  •  Write ‘to-do’ lists: these are a great way of keeping yourself motivated, on top of things and providing a sense of fulfilment when you can tick things off. Do this at the beginning of each day: what do you want to achieve that day? Break up each assignment into manageable tasks and split them across a couple of days. E.g. you have a 2,500 essay due in a week, break it up into sections: reading, planning, writing (intro/para 1,2,3 / conclusion). This way tasks seem more achievable and less daunting!
  •  Make appointments in your phone calendar: phones can be a great way of staying organised too! Write yourself memos, set reminders or appointments.
  •  MAKE BACK UPS: there is truly nothing worse than watching hours of hard work disappear when your computer crashes and your files are wiped. Back up everything!! And frequently! Choose your preferred method: email, memory stick or storage sites like Dropbox or OneDrive and get going.

ACADEMIC ADVICE:

  •  Find a study buddy: is there someone on your course that you can go to lectures and the library with, or revise and share ideas. This is super helpful when it comes to completing assignments or exam season and can be a great way to share ideas, motivate each other and make the studying process a little less daunting and more enjoyable.
  •  Reach out to your tutors: don’t be afraid to reach out to your professors or personal tutors if you are struggling. Arrange a meeting if you want to understand something further or send a plan or draft for your assignment. Teachers are there to help and most importantly they want to help and watch you succeed. Pick their impressive knowledge filled brains!
  •  Take advantage of all the facilities university has to offer: whether that be the careers service, mental health services or speaking to your personal tutor. University has a lot of resources to help its students, but it is something that you must be proactive about.
  •  Apply for extensions & special circumstances: if you are struggling to cope or keep up with your workload for whatever reason, tell someone. Extensions and special circumstances are put in place for a reason and something that should be taken advantage of. Speak to a member of staff you are comfortable with and get the support you deserve.
  •  Speak to yourself: this may sound like a weird one, but it was a method that really helped me focus and sought through my ideas. I often found that sitting at my desk or in the library for hours on end stifled my thinking. So, when this would happen, I would change my environment and go for a walk or run and speak through my ideas out loud. Make sure to record yourself or write down key points, so you don’t forget the genius points you are coming up with! Disclaimer: you may look like a bit of maniac, but the end results are worth it.

FOOD: MORE THAN JUST FUEL:

Do not underestimate the power of food. Not only does it fuel our minds, souls and provide us with energy for the day but it is also hugely social and a good way to make friends.

  •  Make food social: invite friends over and share your favourite meal, cook a dish from your home country and speak about your heritage, or use it as a gesture of love and friendship and cook someone their favourite meal if you know they’ve had a bad day.
  •  Prepare meals in advance: if you know you have a busy schedule (thanks to looking in your organised diary…) than batch cooking meals and preparing in advance is a great way to save time, money and relieve stress. Plan your weekly shopping in advance, browse recipes or cookbooks (MOB Kitchen feed 4 for under £10 is student friendly) and write out a shopping list before you go to the supermarket to ensure a quick and easy shop. Also take a note of what you have in your cupboards before you go out, so you don’t buy repeat items.

DON’T STOP MOVING:

There is no denying that exercise is proven to make you feel good both mentally and physically. Exercise has always been a huge part of my routine and an effective way to deal with stress and anxiety. It provides a mental relief after a long day in the library or a day of feeling out of sorts but is also a really good way of making friends and being social. I would recommend joining a sports club at uni, or if that’s not your cup of tea than doing a home yoga session with friends or just going for a walk. Getting outside and immersing yourself in nature is a sure way to boost your mood and make you feel better.

SAY NO & BE KIND TO YOURSELF:

  •  Be kind to yourself and others: cut yourself some slack. There is a lot to balance at uni, especially in first year when faced with the pressure of finding friends and adjusting to living on your own, but it will all be okay. If you have had a bad day or week do not worry. We all do! Getting wound up and anxious is only natural but it is also not helpful. Take a deep breath, do something or speak to someone you love, eat your favourite food, get a good night sleep, and try again tomorrow. Every day is a new day and a new opportunity to succeed (and you don’t always have to achieve, surviving is alright too).
  •  Check in with yourself: look after your mental health and others. Keep a journal to relieve tension and stress and keep in touch with how you are doing. Offload and share your worries with your friends and family, you’ll feel 10x lighter having spoken about what’s making you feel worried or weird.
  •  Meditate: this is a very quick way to centre yourself, calm yourself down and re-focus. Use apps like Headspace & Calm.
  •  Say NO: It’s important to understand your own limits and boundaries. Practice saying no to things you don’t want to do or don’t feel comfortable doing. Yes, uni is about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and trying new experiences but it is okay to say no. Get enough sleep, eat healthily, exercise, drink lots of water and keep in touch with loved ones. You will not lose friends over saying no and prioritising your wellbeing, and frankly if you do, they are not friends worth having.

Written by Connie O’Neill