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SPS student voices and experiences
What I wish I had known before starting university

What I wish I had known before starting university

Lulu is here to share her wisdom with you on the things she wishes she had known before starting university and those that she’s learnt over the past two years. 

Blog by Lulu, Sociology and Politics.

Going to university is like starting a new chapter of your life and lots of emotions can come rushing in almost unexpectedly. “What if this happens? What if I can’t do this? What if I end up not reaching certain targets? What about making friends? What about culture shock?” Here are my tips for settling in.

Google Maps is going to be your best friend

Starting a new life in a new city always calls for a navigation system, a way to get around. This was Google Maps for me and several of my friends. This was how I found grocery stores, cafés, pubs and even some of my lecture theatres.

When you’re new, Edinburgh can feel like a big and confusing city. Moreover, the University has several campuses in different areas of the city; an exciting yet stressful aspect when you’ve just arrived. I recall arriving 20 minutes late to my first Spanish class as my sense of direction was almost non-existent at the time. The campuses and the city felt like a maze. However, knowing what I know now, I recommend making maps your best friend and to check out this website on how to get around in the city:

I promise you won’t get lost!

You don’t need to join every society

There are lots of events during Welcome Week that introduce students to University clubs, societies, and sports. The number of options can be overwhelming and if you’re anything like me, you may end up biting off a little more than you can chew. Don’t feel obliged to join every society available as you could end up not having enough time to engage with them all.  I suggest considering the options strategically and only joining societies in which you have a genuine interest. Don’t be afraid to try out new things and if you don’t have the time for it right away there is always going to be a next year or next semester.

Learn how to cook

I am a total foodie, so cooking is something I hold so close to my heart. I know that some of you will only start cooking for the first time when coming to university and this shouldn’t worry you too much. There are so many cooking recipes online so don’t be afraid to try out different recipes every day. If all else fails, you could always snack on biscuits or survive on noodles and carrots (*nervous laughter*!), although I would recommend learning how to cook some healthy meals. It can also help with unwinding after a long day of lectures.

healthy food

You don’t have to buy your books brand new

Instead of buying new books, you could always get second-hand books at a cheaper price from Blackwell’s (you can order online or go to their store on South Bridge, EH1 1YS). You can also just buy from Amazon.

Your course will most likely have a Facebook group

Many of the courses at the University have a Facebook group where you can make friends and ask questions. Make sure to join!


Make sure you budget effectively. It is important to plan how much you want to spend on social activities, personal effects, groceries and bills. Some students use the Monzo banking app to calculate and allocate their finances while others just keep a track of it themselves. I suggest finding what works best for you and sticking to it.

Photo of phone calculator

Your first year counts

You may find that there are so many students who come to university with the mindset that their first year does not count, so they end up skipping lectures and, on occasion, tutorials. I would advise taking it seriously because it lays the foundation of the rest of your study for the coming years.

Work/life balance is important

You may find yourself spending a lot of time outside class on lecture readings, revising, or working on essays. Don’t forget that ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. However, this does not mean that your life should only be about parties. It is important to develop time management skills early on during first year so you can get the right balance of working while maintaining a healthy social life.

Victoria Street, Edinburgh

Cite your sources (like your life depends on it!)

Citations are very important for most, if not all, of your university work. It is important to cite your sources accurately. Therefore, I would recommend citing as you write your papers. Leaving citations until last minute can be daunting and leaves room for a lot of errors. It is important to be very careful with citations to avoid plagiarism.

Look after your physical and mental health

Lastly, I recommend taking time to look after your own mental and physical health. Remember that it is okay to struggle and there are so many resources available at the University and accommodation services for mental health support.

For starters, you could talk to your Resident Assistant or reach out to University student support services.

Finally, and most importantly, make sure you make every moment count by living it to the fullest and just being yourself!


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