University life in London; It isn’t as daunting as it may seem.
Arriving to study in London can feel daunting. The magnitude of the city and the competitive atmosphere that surrounds it could leave you feeling lost and apprehensive. You might not know how the public transport system works, how to save money in an extremely expensive place, or whether you’ll be able to build good friendships with quite so much going on around you. Don’t worry. Almost everyone I know who came to a London university from outside the city shared these feelings, at least in part. This post’s main aim is to encourage you that, whilst intimidating, London can be the most exciting place in the country to study. It is vibrant and full of opportunities, if you know where to look!
The most important thing when applying to university is that you choose a course you’ll actually enjoy studying. This may seem an obvious point, but it is more important than the place you choose to study. However, let’s imagine you’ve done this and you are coming into London for your first term. You sign into your halls and head up to your room. What next? Firstly (after unpacking), get to know your neighbours. The easiest way to do this in big London halls is to prop your door open – the extroverts in the building are sure to come and chat to you. Secondly, explore the neighbourhood. London can feel huge, so it’s important you are grounded in your local area. Where’s the nearest shop/pub/park/tube station? Lastly, get clued in on what your university is doing. Everything will look different in a COVID world, but universities usually put quite a lot of effort into making your first week as good as it can be. No doubt they will have a variety of events, calls, and freshers’ fair type things that it’s important to go along to.
After a full-on freshers’ week, students in London could feel isolated. Despite the fast-paced nature of city life, it is surprisingly easy to feel lonely. This is why the most important thing for any student coming to the city is to build good communities. Fortunately for you, London is a uniquely amazing place to do this, because of the sheer volume of clubs/societies/volunteer groups in every conceivable area. You can easily meet friends at your university, at other universities or completely outside the university bubble.
The best way to do this is to throw yourself into anything that interests you. I’ve seen friends who have never properly danced before join the dance society, just because it intrigued them. Don’t be shy and just stick to things you’ve done before, it’s always fun to try new things and you meet great people along the way. Furthermore, one of the best ways to make really strong friendships is to volunteer. Lots of people don’t jump at the idea of this, but it was one of the best pieces of advice I got when I arrived in London and has helped me build some of my best friendships.
The last thing I thought I’d do is give some really practical advice that I wish I’d known prior to coming to London. I’ll briefly talk about money and transport because, whilst community is vital, it’s also important not to be anxious about the fundamentals.
Prospective London students can worry too much about how affordable the city is. I’m going to say three things to help mitigate these worries. Firstly, if you are straight out of school and were 18 on the 31st of august, apply for a 16+ zip oyster card. You get free travel on buses and trams and discounted tubes so definitely worth having, If you don’t fit the criteria, still look into oyster cards because you can end up saving quite a bit of money. Secondly, you get a bigger maintenance loan than the rest of the country which should help on the financial side. Lastly, look to see if your university has any bursaries or scholarships you qualify for as this can ease the burden.
There are basically four methods of transport in London for a student; walk, cycle, bus, tube. Usually the fastest way to get from A-B is using Santander Cycles or getting the tube. Walking is the most time consuming, but often the most pleasant. Getting the bus can be useful for more obscure routes, or late at night. During the daytime, I think the best way to travel is to use Santander Cycles, as long as you feel confident enough to cycle in the city.
I am going into my third year of studying in London and have loved being there. I can honestly say that even with its challenges, I think it’s the best place in the country to study. As long as you build a good community, handle your money well, and know the right way to get from A to B, I’m sure you will find London to be a city full of opportunity and life.