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Things I wish I knew before university

Monday 21 September 2015 Student journalists

Whilst there’s a certain degree of truth in the old adage ‘you have to make your own mistakes’, it never hurts to hear the wisdom of others.  We gathered some tips from current and former students on the things they wish they'd known before starting uni.

Maddie, Dinner with Maddie

My name is Maddie, I studied Classics at Cambridge and I graduated in 2012. I now work as a strategist in the advertising industry and love it. I blog at

Before going to university I wish I'd known the value of paid internships. Not for the connections they can afford you but for the sake of trying out different jobs to see what you like and don't like. A lot of careers can be really different in real life to how you imagine them to be, so a little try before you buy is never a bad thing. I also wish I'd known that the union held ice cream sundae making 'workshops' (i.e. totally unnecessary pig-outs) every Thursday. I only discovered these 'classes' in my final year, which was a shame for me but not for my waistline I guess. The stupidest clubs are where you meet the coolest people. I also wish I'd known how lucky I was to be going to university at all, let alone Cambridge. It was only after I started working that I realised how much my education had improved my prospects and (cheesy but true) my character.

(Also cherry VK stains are impossible to wash out of anything. Impossible. You have been warned.)

Maddie, Classics, Cambridge University, 2012

A photo posted by Maddie (@dinnerwithmaddie) on Jan 23, 2015 at 10:24am PST

Rachel, Handbags and Cupcakes

I wish I’d known that students don’t have to live up to the student stereotype. Plenty don’t, we just don’t hear about them. Sure, stereotypes come about for a reason, and yes, there are a fair few students who live off beans on toast, pizzas and biscuits, but there are also lots (well, some) who eat loads of vegetables. Really, a lot. (What can I say? I just love broccoli.) Oh, and not all students lounge around watching Jeremy Kyle in onesies all day long. They don’t all drink themselves into a state every night either. Lots of students never skip lectures, and a fair few get through their degrees without ever pulling an all-nighter to make a deadline.

You don’t have to worry about fitting in with the stereotype if that’s just not you – one night in my Freshers’ Week, a bunch of us stayed in watching a Mary-Kate and Ashley film while drinking hot chocolates in our onesies. Everyone had wanted to do it, no-one had been brave enough to suggest it. You have a new-found freedom to do pretty much whatever you like, and whatever you want to do is fine.

(Oh, and I also wish I’d known you don’t actually have to buy all the books on your reading list. I spent so much before starting uni, then proceeded to use very few of the books, and for the rest of my degree I used these two handy little things called the library and the internet and thus saved a load of money.)

Rachel, French and German, Bristol University, 2015

A photo posted by Rachel Hosie (@rachel_hosie) on Sep 3, 2015 at 7:23am PDT

Sophie, Fashion Nomads

As a natural hard worker, I should have cut myself some slack. Whilst most people spend their first year using the 40% pass rate as an upper target I was already setting my sights on getting the best mark I possibly could. Give the library a break; it’s really not worth it.

Never pay full price for a Dominos, they will inundate your letterbox, inbox and Fresher’s Fair with discounts – you deserve cheap stuffed crust.

Do not bring a full set of pans and crockery to halls with you. No matter what your mum says, there is no need to have a stir-fry wok and salad serving spoons. Just no.

Join as many clubs and volunteering programs as you can. It might sound like a lot of effort but you will never again have so many things laid on for you in your whole life. If you’re feeling really cynical, let me tell you it is instant CV gold and trust me you’ll need all you can get come final year.

Oh, and one more thing, your student loan isn’t free money.

Sophie, History, Sheffield University, 2012

A photo posted by @sophiecfgallagher on May 4, 2015 at 6:54am PDT

Lucy, ShinyThoughts

Hey! I'm Lucy, I work in social media at ASOS whilst running my lifestyle blog.  I graduated in 2012 from Middlesex University in north London, where I studied Fashion Promotion which was a very broad, creative degree, allowing me to experiment, try new things and collaborate with other students. ​

Picking which university I wanted to attend was a tricky task. I had a few options around the UK, but in the end it was the fact that Middlesex was in London that confirmed my choice. This couldn't have been a better decision. Living in London allowed me to really take my blog to the next level, attending fashion events, meeting other bloggers and being in the centre of British fashion. 

I got my job straight out of uni which was incredibly lucky, but it was my blog which really led to it. I displayed creative skills, dedication and a good knowledge of the ASOS site from a business point of view - which is key. 

Looking back, I wish I'd put my uni work into perspective. It sounds unusual, but I worked so hard in my first year that I suffered in various ways. In a creative degree, you can sometimes create extra work for yourself cutting and gluing and doing all those unnecessary time-absorbing activities that you would never do at work. 

I also think it's important to remember that university is an investment for the future. Make connections with other students, use your time for external projects and use the hell out of the resources, because three years may feel like forever, but it's really no time at all and then it's gone.

Lastly, don't be afraid to complain! I tried to get my voice heard on several occasions about different issues, but wasn’t sure if I should or not. Now, I'm paying back those fees and realise that I really should have put my foot down to get the education I was promised in the prospectus.

Finally, don't forget to enjoy yourself, it won't last forever!

Lucy, Fashion Promotion, Middlesex, 2012

A photo posted by Lucy (@shinythoughts) on Aug 19, 2015 at 3:33am PDT

Aindrea Emelife

I wish I had known that studying what I’m passionate about really was the best choice. There's a lot of fuss about choosing your degree tactically for the job market, but I chose to study what I truly enjoyed and had wanted to research since I was a little girl - art history. Even in the face of many questions along the lines of "what job will that degree get you?" and dismissive responses to the "credibility" of the subject choice, I soldiered on.  I'm so thankful that I did, because studying something you don't love for three years sounds horrid. If you love what you do, you do it with enthusiasm and it shows. Essays were never a chore, they were an exciting challenge - there was never a word count large enough once I got started!

Now, as an internationally published art critic, I get to see, enjoy, think and write about art all day, everyday. I'm aware that I am so lucky to be able to do what I love most and call it 'work', but it all begins with a bit of stubborn-ness and unwavering ambition from day one.  I hope to be starting my Master's degree at the same university (The Courtauld Institute of Art) in a couple of years, and my advice to myself will probably be the same then - do what you want, not what you THINK you should do. Make your own path and follow your dreams. 

Aindrea, History of Art, The Courtauld, current student

A photo posted by Aindrea (@aindreae) on Sep 8, 2015 at 4:53pm PDT