This is what students love about university
Once you reach sixth form, it can feel like everything's happening at once.
You've moved up an academic level, your workload is piling up and you're looking ahead at some heavyweight life choices.
For one: do you go to university or should you choose a different path?
Making that decision gets easier when you talk to other people, and when you hear about their experiences.
With that in mind, we hit the UEA campus to catch up with six of The Student Room's vloggers.
We asked them how life's been since they got to uni — and what they love most about being there.
Going to uni can change your life in all sorts of ways. Here are just some of them.
'I love the sense of community'
'Terrifying, yet exciting' is how third-year medicine student George, from Manchester, sums up his introduction to university.
"I didn’t know anyone who’d even heard of UEA, let alone anyone who was going there," he says. "So I came here not knowing a single soul.
"But it was great fun. You meet so many people from the get-go — I had 11 other people sharing my flat in first year."
Being thrown in at the deep end helped George settle in.
"The other people were all in the same situation," he says. "They didn’t know anyone either, so I quickly became good friends with them.
"They become your support group. They're your closest friends at first, especially for Fresher's Week when you've all just moved in."
As George settled into his new surroundings, his circle of friends widened.
"In your flat, you've got a group of people in the same circumstance, and that creates some sort of community straight away.
"You're 'this flat' and you've all come from different places, but you're all together now. It's fate!
"But, after a while, it's nice to get out into the uni a bit more and meet new people. Everyone on campus is genuinely so lovely.
"There are so many different types of people here. You like to think that you know stuff about everything, but then you meet new people and realise 'I don’t know much about that'. It really expands your perspective.
"People say that you change once you've gone to university, and I think that’s definitely true. You really figure out who you are."
'I love the challenge'
Shay openly admits 'coasting' through school and college. So when he started his maths degree, he was in for a shock.
"I expected it to be hard, but I didn’t expect it to be as hard as it really is," says the second-year student. "I sort of drifted through school and college and got good grades.
"You can’t get away with that at uni, especially by the time you get to second year. I didn't expect to have to do so much work just to get by."
What helped Shay were the support services available to help with the transition to uni studies. "You've got an academic advisor who is essentially your personal tutor," he says.
"You meet with them every semester, and can arrange additional meetings if you're struggling with something.
For Shay, his friendship group provided valuable additional support. "When you're at uni, your friends become your family," he says.
"When you’re away from your real family, that’s what makes the friendships at uni so special.
"The velocity of uni friendships is really nice — you go from meeting someone for the first time to feeling like you've known them for years the next week.
"They quickly become people you can always turn to."
Shay has been pleased to find that he thrives on the challenge of the step up from college to uni. "It's definitely made me a better person," he says.
"I've realised I need that drive, and it's made me more proactive in that I can just sit down and look forward to doing my work."
One thing that's helped Shay is that his first year marks did not count towards his final degree result — which is the case for most degree courses.
"I think that’s nice — you get a feel for how everything works and your method of learning and you get to experiment and see how you learn best.
"I'm glad my struggles came along in first year, just because I wouldn’t want that in third or fourth year when it really counts."
In fact, Shay’s experience has been so positive that he decided to switch from a three-year course to a four-year Master's course.
"After my struggles in first year, I’m looking to become a more motivated person with a healthy work ethic.
"I want to be able to motivate myself to do things, go outside my comfort zone and just enjoy my time here."
'I love the support I can get'
Geophysics student Zuza went from 'shaking with excitement' on her arrival at UEA, to being on the verge of dropping out in her first term.
The second-year had been so certain of choosing UEA that she didn't even include an insurance choice on her Ucas form. "I said, 'If I don't get into UEA, I don’t want to go to uni.'"
She was elated to secure a place on her dream course but, once the initial thrill had passed, some teething problems gave Zuza a reality check.
"About two weeks before going, it hit me that I'm going to be moving out of my home in two weeks.
"I had to sort out all the packing, and then I had problems with my student loan. It was really, really stressful.
"But once I actually was on my way, I remember I was just shaking in the car from excitement."
Despite that positive arrival on campus, Zuza struggled in the first term with homesickness. "In first term, it was stressful getting used to new things and quite hard being homesick, being away from mum," she says.
"Even though I wasn't a child, it's a bit different to always having someone around."
Adapting to the academic side of uni was also challenging for Zuza.
"At school, you have consequences if you don't show up, whereas at uni, it's on you — they don't control whether you show up or not. It was difficult getting used to the new teaching style."
Things came to a head when Zuza became unwell.
“At some point I got a really bad cold. I was on the phone to my mum and I was, like, I don’t know what to do, I don’t have anyone to take care of me.
"It just got so hard and I said to my mum that I wanted to drop out.
"She said to me, 'It's OK if that's what you want to do, but have a think about it. Speak to someone.'"
Zuza made an appointment with student services on campus, where she was encouraged to look at other options that might interest her, such as apprenticeships.
With the Christmas break looming, she took the opportunity to spend time weighing up her options.
She decided to complete the semester and throw herself into uni life, which made her realise she wanted to stay at uni.
"I came back with a new mindset. I got really good grades, I made new friends and I figured out what I liked.
"After that point, life was just the best thing ever. It was good for me to see that my friends from home also struggled at times and that it's normal to not always be at your best."
Zuza was grateful for the support she received. "The lady at the appointment was amazing, because I felt like I wasn’t on my own.
"I felt like, OK, my mum isn't here, but there are other people here that care about me and want me to do my best. That was really good to know."
'I love the independence'
Medicine student Toyin arrived at university with one thought on her mind — to strike out on her own.
"You have the freedom to be more of an adult here ," she says.
"There’s no one to cook you dinner anymore, do the washing, the small things. So, you have to be more independent.
"If I am honest, all I thought of when I was thinking about going to uni was, 'I'll finally be 18, I'll finally leave my house. I'll finally get the liberty to do whatever I want.'
"I love my parents but obviously they had their rules and stuff. As you get older, you're like, 'I don’t want to be bound by rules anymore.'"
While family may be only a Facetime chat away, it's new uni friends who can provide the most immediate support.
"I’ve always been a little bit independent, but moving to uni challenged me.
"It taught me to rely on other people that weren’t necessarily my family, because your family isn't there anymore."
The importance of those newly formed friendships came to the fore in Toyin's second year, when she suffered the loss of a friend.
While she wasn't necessarily ready to talk to a professional about it, she felt comfortable speaking to her uni friends.
"I was talking to people I'd met on my first day of uni that I’ve been friends with ever since.
"Definitely get yourself out there and find people you like — it can make a huge difference when you really need it."
'I love being part of societies'
For maths student Ed, joining societies was a core part of making friends at university.
Ed commutes to UEA from his family home in nearby Norwich, rather than living on campus.
"Normally, first years meet a group of friends in their flat," he says. "But you don't get that as a commuting student. You have to go out of your way to meet people."
But that first meeting doesn’t have to be in person. Before he even got to UEA, Ed connected with many of his coursemates via social media.
"I managed to find the maths Facebook group and joined that," he says. "There were probably 50 or more people on there. I met them in real life later on, having already developed a bit of a friendship."
It gave Ed a headstart in meeting new people - as well as finding out about things happening around campus.
When someone posted on Facebook that there should be a commuting society, Ed agreed and the UEA Commuter Society was born.
Other connections he's made have led to him joining groups as varied as the Investment Society and the Wine and Cheese Society.
"I've gained friends, but also, from being on the committee for a society, some practical experience," he says.
"I'm the treasurer for one society, so I've learnt a bit more about finances and making and managing budgets.
"I'm the head of technology for another society, which was really good because it gave me some experience making websites.
"I made a forum for our website last night, which I was really proud of."
Some people might be put off joining societies because it's joining in with a group of people you don't know. Ed suggests going along with a mate. Or, if that's not possible, just getting stuck in.
"It can be a bit daunting going into a group of completely new people if you don’t know anyone there.
"I think you've just got to try and say hello. People are normally feeling the same anyway. Other people are always feeling equally shy, so just say hello to people.
'I love all the opportunities'
For international development student Becca, one of the greatest challenges of university has been fitting everything in.
"Uni was a bit overwhelming at first," she says. "It’s such a big campus, and there are just so many different things to do.
"You are kind of like, 'What do I do? I want to do everything.' You have to try to find what you actually want to do."
A keen dancer, Becca joined UEA's Tap Dancing society in her first year. This year, she's the society's social secretary where she organises nights out, cinema trips and the Christmas meal.
"I run all the socials and social media and stuff. That's actually really good for not only developing in a leadership role, but also having a more in-depth role in the club itself."
Becca also helps out as a course rep, a role where she meets with lecturers to ensure student opinions are heard and acted upon.
"We address the problems, see how can we sort them and try to make the course better for those in the future.
"It's really good for students, because they can voice ideas to me about things they want to see."
Becca says she gets a lot of satisfaction from working in this role, because she sees things changing.
"It's really cool when students have come to me with ideas for the course and I’ve sorted it out and that goes out on an email.
"It's like, 'Yes, I did that. That helped make it better for the next year.' Even if it wasn't better for my year, the people who come after us are going to be like, 'Oh, this module looks really good.'
"Then someone mentions, 'Oh, it wasn’t like that originally, but we've changed it now so it’s better.'"
And, while she's balancing the demands of a course that will take her to Malawi for an international placement next year, Becca's also got her eye on another role — helping first year students settle in and make friends.
The scheme enables second and third years to sign up as 'buddies', running regular events to help people socialise.
"It's what I wish I had done in first year, just to make sure that I had friends from different aspects of uni really.
"I feel like that is a really good thing to get, advice from someone older, which is why I like to help out and do the things that I do now."
Words: Kayleigh Tanner and Nik Taylor
Design: James Brooker
Photography: Andi Sapey
The Student Room's partnership with UEA
The Student Room (TSR) is proud to work with UEA, a UK top-25 university (The Times/Sunday Times 2020 and Complete University Guide 2020), as the official partner of our student life section.
Not only is UEA highly rated in the league tables, it has also received a TEF gold award for excellence in teaching, learning and outcomes.
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