What’s university really like?

No two university experiences are the same. Being at York for over a year now, I thought I’d share some of the things that I didn’t know before coming to university which you might find useful.

Instagram vs reality

At my sixth form, the majority of students weren’t applying to university, so student life wasn’t really covered. All I had to go off was what I saw on social media. This was mainly pictures from nights out, socialising in the day time, and students joking about missing their lectures. Social media really underplays the work that actually goes into a degree, so I thought that uni was essentially just going to be a three-year-long Freshers’ Week.

This wasn’t actually the case.

Central Hall on campus

The option to go out every night or a lot of the time is there though, and if taking advantage of the nightlife and freedom that uni offers appeals to you then that’s great.

The main point I’d stress is that on Instagram and other forms of social media, you only see the good times. You might see someone post about a night out that looks amazing. However, you’d be far less likely to see someone hungover the next day, curled up in bed and missing their dog.

So I’d really avoid comparing your own experience to how someone else’s appears on social media. If you’re feeling low or homesick at any point, that’s completely normal. Chances are, so are they.


Me and my flatmates

A lot of people excitedly told me I was about to make ‘friends for life’ during Freshers’ Week. I was lucky that there were some lovely people in my flat and I made great friends quickly, but some of my closest friends I met way after my first week!

Don’t panic if you don’t feel like you’ve found friends straight away. Some people find their best friends on their courses, some from societies/sports clubs, or some just by chance.

In my first year, I joined a few performance societies and college sports clubs and loved the social element to them. I would definitely recommend getting stuck into things like these!

You’ll get the chance to meet new people in your second and third years too. For example, in second year I also took up a part-time job, as well as volunteering, and have met a whole load of new people through these. So even though uni goes by really quickly, you’ll have plenty of time and opportunities to find your people.


With a bit of luck, you’ll love your time in college halls if you’re staying on campus! If anything does go wrong, there’s a lot of support available for you.

It’s a really good idea to get your second year accommodation/housing sorted early, ideally in your first term. I found this so weird, it felt like I had just arrived and already had to start thinking about my second year! However, make sure you’re sure about the people you want to live with and try not to rush into it if you’re not sure yet.

If there’s someone you know you don’t want to live with, it’s much better to be honest with them if they do ask you. It might feel uncomfortable as you won’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but living with someone you don’t want to live with for the next year would be a bad experience for you and for them. Sometimes it’s not selfish to do what’s right for you. It’s better for everyone in the long term.

You shape your own days and your own university experience

xmas market.jpeg
Christmas lights in York city centre

Finally, this might sound ironic, but no one can really tell you exactly what your experience is going to be like. Your time at university will be what you make of it. Whether you really do join particular societies, work a part-time job, volunteer, go clubbing, or a bit of everything. Whatever appeals to you, it promises to be a lot of fun.

Just remember: this is your time, your degree, and your experience. Have a think about what you’d like to get out of it.

Don’t be afraid to ask your tutors for help, to try new things and to make university work for you. It’s completely okay to be nervous sometimes, but don’t let this hold you back, because your time here will fly by!

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Hi, I'm a second year English and History student at the University of York.

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