Transitioning from school to university can be difficult. Throw a gap year in between, like in my case, and you’ll find you’re dealing with a serious change of pace. A lot of school leavers struggle to adjust to university when they first start. You’ll be in a situation where you don’t know anyone, are still in the process of learning how everything works, and are trying to navigate where everything is. One of the biggest areas new students struggle with is figuring out how to balance study, assignments, and just about every other aspect of life. It can be really challenging to start with. That being said, it is possible, and here I’ll explain how.

If you’ve recently started uni you’ve probably figured out early on that it’s pretty different to anything you’ve experienced before. The people are diverse, spanning a range of ages and experiences, and the hours are more flexible than the rigid structure of school. However, you’re no longer spoon-fed. You become responsible for your own participation and work. If you’re the kind of person who needs to be prodded before you’ll sit down and work on an assignment, uni is going to be a shock. My biggest tip in order to counteract this is to be prepared. Even if there’s a while before your next set of assignments are due, start working on them early. You’ll thank yourself during the hectic lead up to submission in a few weeks time.

Another tip? Go into uni with the attitude that what you put in is going to be what you get out of it. I was pretty determined starting uni to try and make the most of the next three years ahead of me. I tried to talk to different people, went to clubs day, and sorted out my textbooks ahead of time. Developing that solid foundation meant that I’ve (mostly) stayed on track with assignments, befriended people I can go to for help if I need to, joined a club, and looked into all the different services on offer. That being said, not everyone will have the same experience. I know a lot of people who really struggled to adjust to the increased workload of uni, not finding the time to explore other aspects or make friends. That’s fine too, as long as you can learn to manage your time, you’ll find the workload aspect of uni gets easier. Which brings me to my next point, of…

Time management. This means everything at uni. I personally make a schedule each week of what I’m going to focus on each day in order to stay on track, with a set amount of time dedicated to each subject. This means it’s easy for me to have an overall understanding of how busy each week’s going to be and how much free time I have on my hands. Looking at that schedule tells me straight away whether or not I can afford to hang out with a friend on one particular day or whether I should aim for the next week instead. Knowing how to prioritise study time is important too. While in an ideal world I’d be able to spend the bulk of a day having fun and not doing any work, the reality is that it’s rare for me to have the opportunity to spend a day without any form of study involved.

Even taking all this into account, the workload at uni can be pretty full on. Once you add the possible options of work, extracurricular activities, clubs, exercise, and/or trying to maintain some semblance of a social life, you’ll find things are starting to get intense. At this point it may come down to which aspects of your life you’re willing to dedicate time to and which aspects you consider giving up, if only for a while.

Work is one of these aspects. I personally would recommend working while at uni because it can be really rewarding. It keeps you involved with ‘the real world,’ and helps to flesh out your CV before you graduate. That being said, it can also be pretty hectic, so if you have option of not working during uni, it’s worth considering. In my opinion it’s all about moderation. I personally work one day a week and manage well enough, although I’d definitely keep it to that. As a broke student, the prospect of taking on more hours to earn money may be appealing, but you have to consider how much your degree is costing you. It’s better to be broke for a while than bombing assignments for something that is ultimately an investment to make more money in the long run.

Another aspect is clubs. While I was keen to join some when I started uni, I quickly realised that it’s pretty hard to maintain attending one every week, let alone joining multiple. With this in mind I joined a relatively low commitment club (Tabletop) where there’s no expectation to show up consistently. With some of the more committed clubs such as sport groups, this can be more of a challenge. It’s important to consider this when you sign up.

Ultimately, learning to balance the different areas of life is one skill all degrees will teach you. From the people who manage to balance study, work, volunteering, hobbies, and just about a million other things, to those who had to cut back on the non-uni aspects of life just so they could pass; we’re all different. My approach suits me, but depending on the individual you might find it’s a bit too much, or too little. One thing I will say, though, is that time management is the key. No matter who you are, if you can maintain a conscious effort to spend your time wisely, you’re already on the right track.


Sophie Stone is a first year communications student and chicken nugget connoisseur. When she isn’t studying or selling people glasses, you’ll likely find her befriending cats or “playing” the piano.