Skills I wish I had known before starting University

Written by Katie Stoker, Student Digital Champion


Kicking-off your university career is a super exciting time which offers a whole range experiences including making new friends, studying a new subject and for some, moving to a different city! While this all sounds great, it can be somewhat overwhelming too. Being prepared can be a great way to dampen the panic and make starting university an enjoyable experience.

How to be prepared you ask? Here are a few skills that I wish I had known before starting university..


The teaching style from school/college to university is a little different. We go from learning in small, intimate classrooms to lecture theatres packing with hundreds of students. Lectures can feel intimidating at first, and it might take a bit of time to become accustomed to this (which is totally normal). However, there are a few ways to combat this… 

Photo of person writing on a notepad with a pen. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

First of all, try out different note-taking software e.g. Microsoft Word, Notion, GoodNotes or AppleNotes. Each software has its own perks and finding out which one you’re most comfortable with is definitely a good start. 

Find your note-taking style. While it can be tempting to copy down your lecturer’s every word, try to practice picking out the key points. There are several note-taking methods out there, each with their own advantages. Finding out which one best suits you can really make a difference to your learning experience.  

Make time for pre-reading. This way you feel prepared for your lectures. Most lecturers provide pre-reading resources and papers, but don’t be afraid to do some of your own research too! Make sure to find materials relevant to your course online or alternatively, use the University library search tool to find books and articles of interest: Find books, articles and more | Library | University of Bristol.

Familiarise yourself with essay writing and referencing

At some point at University you are going to need to write an essay. With essay writing comes referencing. Referencing is important for crediting the research your work is based on, indicates that the research is relevant, and helps you avoid plagiarism.  

There are several different referencing styles. You should stick to one referencing style throughout your work, keeping the references consistent and accurate. Luckily several types of reference management software is available for organising your referencing. This not only ensures that your references are correct, but also saves you time!  

Referencing management tools available include EndNote, Mendeley and Zotero. The University has a great resource which offers helpful advice on when and how to reference, as well as tutorials demonstrating how to use referencing software: Referencing | Library | University of Bristol 

Wall to floor bookcases, with a sofa in front. Photo by Mariia Zakatiura on Unsplash

Give Yourself Time to Become Familiar with the University Learning Environment, Blackboard.

Try to spend some time familiarising yourself with the university online resources and platforms. Having a basic understanding of how to navigate the online learning environment from the very start can be really important for accessing course content, finding your timetable and emails, and figuring out where to find online help and resources.  

Don’t be afraid of networking

University is a great time to put yourself out there (which can be super intimidating). However, networking is extremely useful for finding undergraduate or postgraduate opportunities, connecting with those with similar interests and even finding jobs! While you might be thinking that this all sounds a bit premature, networking from the get-go can really build your communication skills and confidence, in addition to being a great way to figure out your interests and career goals.

Photo of people mingling at an event. Photo by Antenna on Unsplash

One of the best networking platforms is LinkedIn. You could also do some research on some upcoming seminars taking place in the first few weeks of university, as well as finding interesting societies to join.

Overall, my advice would be to give yourself time to become acquainted with different online platforms and other resources that will be useful at University. Digital skills are super useful and making sure you are comfortable with these definitely makes a difference. There can be a lot to take on, but don’t let this overwhelm you! You are not expected to know everything, and there is plenty of help and advice on offer at the University. Below are a few links which could be useful for learning new digital skills, or improving skills you already have.

Where to get help? 

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