For new students, starting university can be daunting.

You may have been out of education for a few years and feel like you’ve forgotten how to learn. Or that you won’t be able to keep up with the workload. You may worry you’re not good enough and you may feel like a bit of an imposter.

Starting anything new involves a learning curve. There will be resistance and moments of doubt and times when you wonder why on earth you started. But it will get easier as you gain momentum and discover how you like to learn.

To give you some help this blog posts gives new students 5 top tips for getting started and getting ahead.


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1). Go easy on yourself

New student advice - ok to not be perfect

Don’t expect to kick ass every single day.

If you fall behind or you don’t rush home from work every day with a burning desire to study…that’s OK!

Ease yourself into your studies and expect there to be days when you don’t want to study. Even after 4 years with the Open University I would whine to my boyfriend that I just wanted to sleep!

If you fall behind, don’t hate yourself. Work out why you are behind and make a plan to get back on track.

A new runner doesn’t expect to be able to run a marathon straight away. So new students shouldn't put pressure on themselves to excel straight away. Go easy and you’ll soon get there.

2). Be flexible

New student advice - flexible

If you study alongside working, raising a family, volunteering or caring for someone then you can classify yourself as a busy student. Busy students need to be flexible to fit all their responsibilities into their schedules.

Try studying at different times of day. Are you an early bird or a night owl? Try studying early in the morning before work or the kids get up. Try studying on your commute or in your lunch break. What about after work or in the evening? Find slots in your day to study and see what works best for you.

You can also try studying in different places. I recommend creating a study space at home where you can sit at a table or desk, keep your study materials and really focus. But you should also try different study places. I used to love studying in cafés for the motivation – and great snacks (I’m writing this post right now in a café). Also try your local library or even outside in a park. Mixing up your location can get you out of a funk and into a focused zone.

Another way new students should be flexible is in their methods. Don’t stick to the same way of writing notes or planning your essays or revising. Look out for new methods and give them a whirl. At the start of each module reassess whether your methods are still working for you and try some new ones.

3). Take it one step at a time

New student advice - slow progress

When you first start your university journey it can be easy to get disheartened thinking about how far you have left to go. Try to stop thinking this way.

Time will pass anyway so you might as well spend it improving yourself and working towards your goals.

Focus on the here and now and soon you’ll look back and realise how far you’ve come.

New students should celebrate their progress and achievements. Tell people when you are proud of an essay score, when you’ve completed your first module, when you’ve been studying a year or even just when studying won today even though your brain tried to convince you to stay in bed!

4). Seek help and support

New student advice - seek help and support

Some people don’t like asking for help but it’s always better to ask questions than waste time panicking or misunderstanding the material.

Ask questions in class as other new students might be thinking the same thing but are too afraid to speak up.

If you’re not sure what your essay question wants don’t spend half a day worrying. Email, call or go see your tutor and ask for some help. I used to email my tutor a rough essay plan then ask them if I was on the right track.

Studying can be a lonely experience at times, especially if you’re a distance or part time learner. Try to find some study buddies. Ask your university if it has forums or Facebook Groups. See if there are any meet ups or societies you can join.

Also seek support from your family and friends. Tell them how important your studies are to you and perhaps ask that they don’t tempt you or make you feel guilty if you can’t go out because you’re writing an essay. Tell them you might need to have a little rant every so often, or that they might need to give you a hug and buy you some chocolate. See if you can arrange for help with the cooking or childcare when a big essay is due.

Don’t ever feel like you’re alone.

5). Become an independent student

New student advice - preparation and planning is key

At university you have to become independent…fast. New students may find it overwhelming how fast they have to take control of their learning. Your success is in your hands so here’s some ways to develop this independence.

Plan your time so you can fit your studies, work, family and fun into your schedule. Work out your essay submission and exam dates and plan backwards to ensure you start prepping early enough. Arrange for a sitter, prep your meals, book some time off or even get a cleaner to release some time for studying. It’s not always possible to do these things (I’ve wanted a cleaner for years) but if you look hard enough you should be able to find ways you can free up time.

Prepare for your tutorials/lectures. Go through the reading or activities before and try to think of some questions to ask. Even if you can’t do this, don’t miss them! Tutorials are important. At the Open University it’s said that students who attend the tutorials normally score around 10% more in essays and exams – that’s almost a whole grade!

Organise your notes and files and back up your work. Get a free Dropbox or Google Drive account or invest in an external hard drive. I lost a half-written essay once and I cried and cried. Since then I’ve always backed up my work.

Hopefully you picked your subject because it interests you. Read around your subject to deepen this interest but also your understanding. I studied Business so as a new student I tried to read business blogs/magazines and watch documentaries. This made me more excited about the subject, helped me apply what I was learning and gave me ideas and examples to use in my essays.

I hope some elements of this blog post resonate with you. Try to remember some of these tips when things feel a little tough.

As a new student YOU made the decision to improve yourself and start studying. This is something to be immensely proud of.

If you know any new students who’d find this post helpful I’d be grateful if you could share it with them.


How to Actually START Your Essay

Workbook + video training to take you from procrastination and overwhelm to understanding your question and mapping out your ideas with momentum. Easier, faster essay writing (and higher grades) await.

Start Your Essay

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