It’s hard to know what university is like until you get there, and all universities are different. In some ways it’s easier to describe what university isn’t! Well, everyone says that it is not like school or college. So, what IS university really like? Here we aim to give you a brief realistic view, based on what students told us they wish they had known.


Studying at University is a new experience for everybody. Whilst all students look forward to the prospect of becoming more independent; the reality of making new friends and getting used to a new environment and way of

studying, can be challenging and takes time to get used to. However, studying at university can be a very positive experience too as the student below says:

University has increased my confidence in many ways. I am more comfortable around people, more able to work in groups and thanks to the employability unit of my course I feel more confident in my ability to gain employment upon completion of my degree.

University has also helped me make new friends. Through my tutor group I have met some nice people who are very understanding of my issues and are always there for support.

Finally, being at university has showed me others have the same issues I do. Before coming to university, I felt quite isolated and that I was alone in my thoughts and feelings but it is easy to see that a lot of people have the same worries and you are all in a new environment together.

Holly, current University of Portsmouth student

How could this affect me?

One of the best (and in some ways scariest!) things at university is that nobody checks up on you or tells you what to do. You are given coursework, obviously, but often with long deadlines, and while lectures and tutorials have sign-in sheets, nobody calls home if you don’t turn up.

Students taking part in a survey conducted by the Autism&Uni team at Leeds Beckett University have highlighted some of the most typical challenges:

  • Time management is one of the biggest problems, especially during the first year when everything is still new.
  • Coping with large amounts of learning material, with lots of variation, which needs dealing with quickly and efficiently.
  • The new social environment – new tutors, other students, the people you live with, etc…
  • Life skills – laundry, cooking simple meals, budgeting, keeping up with university info (social media channels and your university email once set up – don’t ignore it as it’s the only way the university will get in touch when you start),
  • sorting out a student bank account, getting a doctor close to university, managing technology (back everything up!).
  • Finding your way around campus – campus maps exist, but sometimes it’s a good idea to use spare time allowing yourself to familiarise yourself with the buildings you need to visit, and getting lost is OK.

What to do next?

Reflect about how would you feel about being in a new social environment and having to manage your own time.

Additional information and links

Choosing the right course and university for you can be a difficult process. In the following link you can find a universities’ guide, which may help you to make a decision: Which? Guide to universities.

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This toolkit is an adaptation of the Autism&Uni project led by Marc Fabri from Leeds Beckett University, under license CC BY 4.0. The original Autism&Uni project was funded with support from the European Commission with partners in the UK, Finland, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain. For more information about this project please visit the Autism&Uni website.