Preparing to start uni

With pandemic-related restrictions starting to lift, here’s the information you need together with tips from students, so you know what to expect and to help you prepare to start your uni course.

Check your uni website and course pages regularly for details and read updates from your university or college – make sure you stay informed, as arrangements may change over the coming weeks.

Universities and colleges are working hard to provide a positive student experience and high-quality teaching. They are expected to following government guidelines, particularly to communicate clearly to their students about what they can expect from planned teaching and learning. This should include how teaching and learning is working now, and changes that would be made in response to health advice, so that you are well informed. They should take into account the views of their students when making decisions about how courses are taught. When the new term starts they will be working to ensure students have access to high quality, well-resourced provision.

Universities are very aware of the experiences of new students over the past eighteen months. Many are actively building in catch-up classes into their first-year modules, so that new students can fill any gaps in their learning or subject knowledge.

Your university or college will offer a range of different support services. These are in place to make sure you have the best student experience possible. This can include counselling and mental health services, wellbeing teams and academic support teams to ensure you are supported to develop your study skills. There will also be careers advice support in place, either through your institution or other providers, to develop skills for your future. Joining student societies and clubs are a positive way of building your confidence and working with them will enhance your employability skills.

Your university or college is the best place to go for information about your course, accommodation and access to facilities. We encourage you to make use of their support services. Your students’ union, guild or association (if your uni or college has one) would also be a good place to seek advice and support. See our student life and settling into uni content below for more information.

Teaching and learning

On campus or online learning: Last year most unis and colleges moved to a mixture of face-face and online learning, and it looks like many courses will continue with this approach, at least for the first term. Unis have provided online-live teaching, recordings and resources to make sure students can access the teaching they need. As and when the pandemic restrictions are lifted, more on campus, face-to-face learning may be used. Where universities plan a mix of in-person and online learning, students should receive a good quality experience of higher education however teaching is delivered.

Courses with practical components or placements: As and when pandemic restrictions are lifted, arrangements and timetabling may change. Your institution will inform you of any changes. If you’re doing a lab-based science or medical course, there may be some changes such as to room layout, barrier screens and reduced group sizes. Students may be given weekly time slots to be on campus, and there may be special arrangements for placements or practical course elements. International travel restrictions are also likely to continue which may affect overseas placements.

All universities and colleges have arrangements in place in response to the pandemic including wearing facemasks, one-way walking systems, social distancing in cafes and shops, hand sanitization, and coronavirus testing. Elements of this may continue as needed over the coming year. The rules and requirements may change as and when restrictions are lifted. Find out more for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Vaccines: UK and international students registered with a GP (doctor) can book a vaccine through their GP. You can find information about registering with a GP here to book an appointment at a vaccination centre, a community pharmacy run site or at some GP run sites through the NHS national booking system. If you have received your first vaccine already, either in or outside of the UK, you can book a second one at a location convenient for you. The vaccine is free of charge. You can also find vaccine advice for students in England on the NHS website.

International students and quarantine: universities and colleges are offering support for international students who need to quarantine on arrival in the UK. This may include subsidised accommodation and food provision. Check with your institution about what support is available.

Mental health and wellbeing: Many unis are offering health and wellbeing classes to students. You should find information on the university's website or social media pages. Student Minds has created a guide to help you prepare for uni or college.

Once you have decided what and where you will study, you need to look at your accommodation options.

  • There are usually different types of accommodation available, which can include university or college owned accommodation, student accommodation owned by private companies and private accommodation. You may prefer to live on campus, it may be important for you to have a short commute to uni or college, or to be in an area with lots on your doorstep.
  • Check your uni or college website and social media for advice and information about accommodation in the area. If you decide on halls of residence, you may be able to secure a room online.
  • If you’re a disabled student or have particular learning needs, there may be some particular arrangements you need in place. Every university should have accessible accommodation, though it may not be available at this late stage. Your uni student disability services can support you in finding the right place. They should also be able to advise you on any funding which you can access. Get in touch with them to find out about your accommodation options.
  • Before you move in you need to find out what furniture and facilities are provided: from beds, bedding, desks, chairs, and kitchen equipment through to what rent and bills you will be expected to pay.
  • Look at the details: most accommodation providers (including halls of residence) have rules. Find out all you can so you can plan and take what you need with you.
  • Check out social arrangements. You can make contact with your roommates through social media beforehand. Institutions have social media pages, and it may be useful to make contact through these. You may also want to research societies and clubs beforehand through the students’ union, as well as looking at blogs from current students, as they may offer some handy tips.
  • All students, have the right to a house or flat that’s safe and fit to live in whether you’re in university-owned or private accommodation. This includes having good ventilation, being insulated and providing a heating system. You can find more information about your rights and get support from Citizens Advice.
  • You can also find out more on our starting uni page.

If you’re a UK-based student and have a place at university or college or if you’re in Clearing, you should aim to apply for student finance as soon as possible.

You can find lots of information about student finance and loans on Discover Uni .

There are currently different rules regarding travel to the UK depending on which country you are arriving from. The rules apply to international students coming to the UK to study, and to UK-based students returning from abroad, such as after a holiday. Travel is permitted between the UK nations if you are already in the UK.

The details of rules and how they apply to different countries may change so it is important to keep up to date.

Be aware: on entering the UK you may be required to quarantine or self-isolate, so it is important you check details and make the necessary arrangements in advance of your course starting. You can check the latest rules about travel here:

International students can also find more information on travel and visas our Discover Uni international student pages.

You will receive an email or letter from your uni or college with details of how and when to register for your course. You should also find details on the institution’s website.

  • Many unis and colleges have online registration: you should receive details of how to login and register. You usually need to register in the first week of term.
  • It is important you register for your course so that you can attend the course, but also to access your student loan and funding, obtain your university ID card, access to your university email account, print an enrolment certificate and ensure that you are exempt from paying Council tax.

Here’s advice from students who started uni last year:

  • Get involved in as many opportunities as you can. There will be lots of student societies you can join and events to go to, whether online or in person.
  • Get to know your classmates. You can set up a group chat on WhatsApp - uni students we’ve spoken to said this really helped them to feel at home, support and get to know each other.
  • Stay motivated. Make sure you give yourself time to plan and do any assignment exams and also to take regular breaks.

  • Revise your subjects before you arrive and also do any reading sent to you about the course you are starting. Many universities and colleges provide suggested reading lists and links to online resources. Make sure you put some time aside to study them. You could look at the outlines or details of course modules you will be doing during the first term or year of your course. This can give you some ideas of any subject knowledge or learning you might want to revisit and revise. This can help you ‘hit the ground running’.

There’s usually quite a gap before starting a university course, so you may have forgotten some content. Go back over your notes and your subject books. You can also look things up online, watch online videos on the subject and re-familiarise yourself with what you know.

  • Get up to speed with study skills: There are many resources and useful guides to help you build up your skills for writing essays and preparing for more independent study, time management and keeping motivated.

If you want to refresh your skills and get ready for university, here are some things that can help you:

  • Future Learn has free online courses by universities to help you prepare for higher education.
  • Coursera brings together a number of open online courses from a number of leading international Universities in a wide range of subjects.
  • UCAS, in collaboration with the National Extension College, has published study skills guides
  • The Khan Academy offers practice exercises, instructional videos, and some free resources across a range of subjects.
  • University Ready provides a collection of free resources from universities across Wales.

Some universities also provide useful resources, and you don’t need to be a member of that university to access them, they are usually free and open to everyone. Here are some examples:

  • The Open University has modules in different subjects to help you prepare for your course.
  • The University of Bristol as a range of information and study skills resources you can access.
  • The University of Manchester library offers a range of online resources.
  • The University of Leeds has an academic skills library with online information and resources.
  • You can also visit an academic skills centre at your uni or college for further support. Make sure to check their website for how they can support your study skills.

Student life may continue to have some restrictions, but on-campus bars, sports facilities and unions are very likely to be open. Gyms and sports centres are currently open, and sports are increasingly allowed across the UK so you should be able to participate at uni or locally. The numbers allowed to take part in these activities may be limited.

Universities and colleges offer a wide range of social societies to join, and students' unions will likely continue to run indoor and outdoor events. Last year, universities were still able to hold freshers’ week events, such as virtual quiz nights and socially distanced activities. Universities and students’ unions will be working to welcome new students whatever restrictions are in place. Events may be limited in size, require booking, test results and social distancing rules to be followed, but they will offer important opportunities to meet fellow students and socialise. Current restrictions may lift as the year goes on, depending on government guidelines.

It is natural to feel nervous about starting uni, and many new students will have had their studies disrupted during the pandemic, so may be anxious about being ready to study at the higher level. Don’t worry if you feel like this, you’re not alone and there’s plenty of support. Here’s some tips and suggestions to help you prepare.

  • Before you arrive, make sure you’ve read the emails sent to you by your university or college. There may be things you have to do for your accommodation, so make sure you send any requested information back on time. For vocational courses you may need to fill in forms and have documents ready for things like DBS checks.
  • When you get the login for your ‘Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), make sure you test it and have a good look around. You may have instructions on what to do before you arrive, or in the first few days.
  • It’s also useful to follow your institution or course on social media. There may be helpful announcements or links posted that will help you become part of the university community. Look at what the students’ union offers, and also look at things like local transport, places to get food, sports and social facilities and personal interests like local faith groups. Some places may organise socials and helpful events like cooking lessons.
  • You could also look at campus maps, download any useful information about getting around. If you have your timetable before you arrive, check when you’ll need to be on campus. . Think about how long the journey times will be from your accommodation and if you have gaps in your timetable. Is it worth going home, or should you maybe use one of the study spaces and use the time to get some studying done? Planning your time is going to be a key skill at uni, so look at how you’ll fit in your own interests, time to study, teaching time and also things like food shopping and cooking into your day.

Academic support is different at every institution, but nearly all universities and colleges have something available. You may be sent emails with direct links to support, pre-arrival quizzes to see where your strengths lie, online resources to engage with and details of how to access academic support. Look out for names like Academic Development, Learning Support, Study Skills, My Skills, Learning Hub; anything that suggests that it’s about how to study effectively.

Some courses may offer pre-arrival events or resources, so make sure you engage with them. What is on offer will vary depending on where you go and what you study. Some institutions may offer skills units as part of your course, some will also have specialist centres (often as part of the library, or students’ union) and they may also deal with things like wellbeing, disability support and language skills. In some cases you may be directed to resources on your Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

Often an academic skills service will run online support, self-help resources, in-person or online tutorials that you can book or might be referred to which teach study skills You may also get chance to have some peer support, where somebody from your course in the year above acts as a buddy or mentor for a while. If you get a personal tutor allocated to you by your course, they may also offer academic support.

To find out what’s available, look on the uni or college website, particularly any “new students” or “welcome” pages. They’ll often have a section dedicated to academic support. If you can’t find it there, look at the course web page and make sure you read any emails your uni sends you when you’ve been accepted. If you can’t find what you need, try contacting your departmental or faculty office by email.

  • Be kind to yourself. Being a student is a lifestyle and takes a lot of adapting to. If you find it hard and that it takes a while, that’s normal. Tell yourself you are doing OK. Talk to students in the year above about what they did to feel at home.
  • Always ask. It’s OK not to know things. That’s what university is for; finding out what you didn’t already know. There are people at university who will help you find out everything from where to buy food to how to critique research articles, so make sure you ask for help when you need it.
  • Organise your time. Whether you have a full timetable, or one with less contact time, you’ll be expected to organise your time. Timetable your own life; plan time to study, time to socialise, time to relax, time to do jobs like cooking and cleaning. Leave some gaps in your timetable for unexpected things. Think about planning on a daily, weekly and term basis and use lists, diaries, and planners to get organised.
  • Little and often. Breaking your study time or doing course work into short burst will help you get it all done. If a task seems big (maybe writing a report or essay) then break it down into smaller jobs. To engage with your lecture notes, spend a bit of time each week just going through them and checking you understand them, fill any gaps and maybe add some useful examples to them.
  • Get involved. Whether it’s voluntary work, joining a society, or making sure you contribute in class, do your best to connect with others. The more you interact with people the quicker you’ll feel part of the community, at university and in the town or city where you’re living.

As a prospective student, you need to be made aware of the complaints process by your university or college and your terms and conditions. If you don’t feel your university or college has given you the information you need to make an informed choice, you can:

  • Raise it with your university or college through their complaint’s procedure.
  • If you are in England, you can also notify the Office for Students. They cannot take action on your individual case, but this information will be used to identify patterns of behaviour in universities.
  • If you are in England or Wales, you may be able to complain to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.
  • If you are in Northern Ireland, you may be able to complain to the NI Ombudsman.
  • If you are in Scotland, you may be able to complain to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman.

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