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How to prepare for university

Preparing for university can seem like a daunting process. But, don't stress – we've broken it all down into just a few easy steps.

girl with thought bubble of university

Credit: Ainul muttaqin (bubble), ppa (bedroom), Ranta Images (girl), S-F (university) – Shutterstock

Are you heading to university soon? When you're not experiencing the mood swings between excitement and anxiety, it's important to take a moment to prepare for uni.

Being ready to start uni will help you set off on the right foot. From picking the right student bank account to learning some essential life skills, here are the key things to do before uni.

Get ahead of the game and find out what graduates wish they'd known as freshers.

Preparing for university

Here's what to do when you're preparing to start university:

  1. Open a student bank account

    Possibly the most important thing to do before going to university is open a student bank account. There are two good reasons for this.

    For starters, you'll need a bank account to get your Maintenance Loan. Without it, you won't be able to receive the crucial funding that most students rely on.

    Secondly, unlike regular bank accounts, student bank accounts come with fee- and interest-free overdrafts. This means that during your time at uni (and for a short while afterwards, when it becomes a graduate bank account), you can use your overdraft without having to pay for the privilege.

    Head to our comparison of the best student bank accounts or watch our student bank account video and see what other benefits you could land (hint: free cash, Railcards and gift cards).

  2. Apply for funding

    We mentioned the Maintenance Loan a moment ago, which is one of the main sources of cash for students.

    While we'd definitely recommend applying for a Student Loan, you shouldn't stop there.

    Our research consistently finds that the Maintenance Loan isn't enough to live on. There are so many extra types of funding out there and, in most cases, it's down to you to apply for it.

    There are bursaries for students who meet certain criteria, like coming from a low-income background or excelling at a certain subject.

    Plus, there are government-funded pots of cash, like the NHS Bursary and Disabled Students' Allowances.

    But, as some weird bursaries prove, almost everyone is eligible for something. It's definitely worth taking the time to check. You can start with our list of bursary and scholarship sources.

  3. Create a budget

    We're all about saving money here at Save the Student. So, there was no way we'd do this list without advising you to create a budget. Given how busy you'll be during freshers' week, you should get your budget sorted before you start uni.

    Don't worry, it doesn't have to be a drag. We've got a guide to budgeting as a student that should make it as easy as pie.

  4. Decide what to pack for university

    cat in a suitcase

    No matter how much you're preparing for uni, all of your plans could unravel if you don't pack correctly.

    We're not just talking about forgetting to pack things, either. So many students are guilty of overpacking, which will eventually clutter up their uni rooms with stuff they won't look twice at after unpacking.

    Fortunately, we're here to help. Our tried-and-tested checklist of what to take to uni features everything you need to pack and, perhaps more importantly, leaves out everything you don't.

    We even have a video on what to take to university on our YouTube channel.

    what to take to university youtube video

  5. Find out where you'll be living

    By this stage, you've hopefully already applied for accommodation (if not, get on it quickly!).

    If you've been given a place, or you've found a home to privately rent, look into the area around your university accommodation and do some research. This way, you'll be familiar with your surroundings when you arrive.

    And if you're driving, it's also a wise move to scout out the route and where you can leave your car. You don't want to pick up a parking fine.

  6. Join student Facebook groups

    As part of your university preparation, it's worth finding some student Facebook groups. There will almost certainly be groups for freshers at your uni to get to know each other, typically with specific ones for different courses and uni halls.

    In fact, even if there aren't, you're always welcome to join our Facebook deals group.

    Get involved with as many as you feel apply to you. You'll soon feel part of the community before you've even arrived.

  7. Get a student laptop

    A laptop is right up there with the most important things to pack for uni. And because of this, retailers will be running all kinds of offers in the weeks and months before uni starts.

    We know that they can be expensive purchases (not to mention confusing if you don't really understand all the jargon), which is why we've put together our guide to the best student laptops. As well as selecting the top buys, we've outlined what the technical terms mean, and the level of spec you should look for.

    Take advantage of the back-to-uni sales. And, don't forget to check out our deals section to see if there are any special offers on laptops.

    Before you set off for uni, kit yourself out with the best gadgets for students.
  8. Get a Railcard or Coachcard

    Unless you're lucky enough to own a car and reckon you'll have enough money to keep driving as a student, you'll likely be relying on buses and trains at uni.

    On a local level, look into student bus passes. These should save you money on your day-to-day bus journeys.

    When it comes to travelling a little further, you could get a National Express Coachcard or a 16–25 Railcard (which, unlike the Coachcard, can be used across all operators).

    And as if all that wasn't enough, we've also got guides to saving money on coach travel and getting cheap train tickets.

  9. Learn some cooking skills

    row of herbs spices seasoning kitchen cooking

    Credit: Ed Samuel – Shutterstock

    We've all heard the stereotype that students live off pot noodles and baked beans. Admittedly, there are some incredible (and, dare we say, gourmet) baked beans recipes. But, you could still try some more adventurous dishes.

    The key to becoming a talented chef is to nail the easy parts. Making sure you're fully stocked with these kitchen cupboard essentials is a big part of that.

    Take some time to master some basic cooking skills. Learning how to season properly, for example, can be the difference between a 6/10 dish and a 10/10 masterpiece.

    Once you're more comfortable in the kitchen, you'll be able to try more recipes. Our student meal plan should see you through 28 days, covering breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, all the while treating you to delicious and nutritious meals.

  10. Learn how to do laundry

    Alongside the whole 'only eating baked beans' stereotype, the other big student trope is that they don't know how to do their own washing and just take their laundry home to their parents.

    This might be true for some students, but don't let it be you. Doing this kind of thing is fundamental to gaining your independence and surviving uni. So, learning how to do laundry is a big part of preparing for university.

    Our guide on how to use a washing machine has everything you need to know. From which compartments you need to use in the drawer to what the symbols on clothing labels mean, we've got you covered.

  11. Get an STI test and some contraception

    The idea that everyone is having sex all the time is one of the big myths about uni, but that's not to say it doesn't happen. And that's especially the case during times like freshers' week when people are going out most nights.

    While getting an STI test isn't exactly the sexiest thing in the world, it's a hundred times better than contracting something or passing it on to someone else. So, get a free STI test before you go to uni and keep you and your future partners safe – both from infections and the awkward conversations that come with them.

    If you get tested by your doctor or at a clinic, you should also take them up on their offer of free condoms. Or, depending on where you live in the UK, you could even get some free condoms delivered to your home.

    Don't have a chance to get tested before freshers' week? Make sure it's one of the first things you do when you start university.
  12. Learn some drinking games

    If you're reading this and thinking, "I don't like drinking alcohol, uni is going to be a nightmare" – don't panic. Despite what you may have heard, there are plenty of students who don't drink.

    In fact, if you don't enjoy drinking (or just don't want to), you shouldn't feel pressured into it. Anyone who forces you to do something you're not comfortable with isn't worth your time.

    Pep talk out of the way... If you do like alcohol, you'll probably end up playing some drinking games at uni. Never Have I Ever and Ring of Fire are two of the most common, so we'd recommend learning how to play them.

    But if people are getting a bit sick (possibly literally) of playing the same games over and over, you can save the party by teaching them some more of the best drinking games. You'll be making new friends in no time.

  13. Download your free money cheat sheetstudent money resource

    A bit of shameless self-promotion here but, in our completely unbiased opinion, our Student Money Takeaway is the best way to get ahead of your money worries at uni.

    We've crammed our top student money hacks, plus a budget sheet and quiz, all onto two sides of A4. It's the perfect starting point when you're preparing for uni.

    Best of all, just like everything we do, it's completely free! Download your money cheatsheet.

  14. Try to stay calm

    Preparing to go to university can be stressful. It could be that you're worried about making friends at uni, having to deal with homesickness, the danger of running out of money, or any number of things.

    First and foremost, remember that you are not alone. The vast majority of students are in the same boat as you.

    Simply talking about these concerns with friends and family, and working out solutions, will help you prepare for uni.

    For instance, when making friends, others will likely appreciate you saying hello and starting a conversation. After all, they're probably just as nervous about meeting new people.

    Of course, sometimes stress and anxiety don't go away, despite your efforts to rationalise your concerns and resolve them. If you find this is the case for you, try not to beat yourself up. Just take some time out, give yourself a break and indulge in a few of these self-care ideas.

Now you're all set to start uni, make sure you don't end up being guilty of these classic freshers' mistakes.

Tom Allingham

WRITTEN BY Tom Allingham

Tom joined Save the Student in 2017, initially heading up the editorial team before becoming Communications Director. He has appeared as a Student Finance expert on a range of TV and radio stations including the BBC, ITV and Sky, sharing his top tips for saving money and cutting student bills.
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